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It was a bright, warm, sunny Sunday in early September 2006. Our horses are stabled in Epping Forest, which in good weather becomes crowded with cyclists, riders, walkers and runners. I decided to ride at about 10:30am, and you may be surprised to know that some of you have heard about this one ride, but never the detail. I set off for a quiet, relaxing ride; I headed towards the back of Gilwell Park, an area in the forest which is generally fairly quiet. Gilwell is well known as the world headquarters of the Scouting Association, and while it can be noisy when they have their discos and jamborees, the people are always well behaved and pleasant.

I was riding one of my mares, Jams or BAS Jameela to use her correct name, a grey pure Egyptian, out of Crusader and BAS Jowhara. She was eight years old when I bought her from a friend, who had recently discovered she had MS and was unable to ride. Jams had been used as a brood mare and was only broken in at the age of seven. My other mare was just three years old and even now is too young to compete in endurance, my riding preference. I had to retire Harry, (ok, Hazara Khan) my older gelding, from competition as he had injured himself and never really recovered. He is now a steady hack in semi retirement, out on loan. So with one horse too old, and one too young, Jams arrived at the right time for us. Our plans were to use her for endurance for two or three years, and then to put her in foal and use my other mare for endurance. If the other mare was not as good as Jams for endurance, then the following year we would put her in foal and ride Jams again.

This was a nice arrangement as it meant that my husband, who can no longer ride, could still have an active interest in horses, and when we retire we can continue to breed and show, even when I am too old to ride. So, with our future clearly mapped out, we set about bringing Jams into the world of endurance. She competed in a number of rides in her first season and reached intermediate stage. I was very pleased with her because she could move so quickly and never break into a sweat. She was very compact but a deceptively tough girl, being both very muscular and fit with excellent recovery, all important factors in endurance. She was also a great looking horse, with a lovely nature and very trusting of us both.

This particular morning as I rode around the back of Gilwell Park I followed a track that takes you over a hill as my usual path was closed due to forestry clearance that had been going on in the area for the previous few weeks. Generally, the tracks through the forest are bounded by hedges and trees on both sides, or else you are in wide clearings. Horses tend to feel threatened when they are enclosed, and our flighty arabs are not unknown to spin when a bird, plastic bag, deer or dog appears out of the trees and bushes unexpectedly. At the weekend, dogs and cyclists probably cause the riders the most reason to curse, as the cyclists may be heard by the horse before the rider knows they are there, so the horse reacts and the rider doesn't. Most dogs are well behaved but there are some which are inquisitive, some which are cautious, some that just bark and those that are vicious. Some of the younger or less confident riders can be put off by a dog barking, especially if they do not own dogs themselves. We used to have two King Charles Cavaliers that would bark at horses, but were too cowardly to go near them, we could put them on their lead, but could we stop them barking at horses, no! Eventually, when they came up the stables with us they learnt just how big horses are close up, then they stopped barking. Our other dog is a border collier, Labrador cross and while even as a puppy she would herd all the other dogs we met in the forest, our two younger mares gang up and herd her out of their field. It’s quite interesting to observe this behaviour when performed by horse; I guess it is not dissimilar to driving cattle.

The summer had been dry in August and September last year, and the ground was dry and rutted. As I rode down the other side of this hill and was coming to a clearing a Staffordshire bull terrier approached me. I asked Jams to stand, because I didn't want her to be scared of dogs, and because the ground was so hard if she ran down hill I would be likely to get thrown off if she stumbled on the hard uneven surface. The dog came up to her and started to sniff her, and then it started to growl and snap at her legs and pulled her tail. Moments later a woman and two children appeared from behind a large bush about fifteen yards away from me, and she had a second dog, which turned out to be a cross between a Jack Russell and a Staffie. I asked her to call her dog off and instead of putting the second dog on a lead and then getting her other dog; she just stood there and called the first dog to her. Suddenly the second dog rushed forwards and lunged at the chest of Jams, and then there was a frenzied attack by both dogs for between one and two minutes. First one dog would attack, and when it stopped the other would take the lead, taking it in turn to bite her. They bit her underbelly and chest, clinging on, as well as snapping at her legs. Still, the woman would not do anything to get the dogs. I tried to turn Jams to face up the hill so she could run safely away, but by this time she was rearing and spinning to throw the dogs off her. Eventually I fell off backwards as she was facing up the hill and rearing, and gravity took over. I landed mostly on my side and back before banging my head on the ground, but fortunately I was wearing a safety helmet. Jams then turned and ran down the hill, clipping me as she ran past. The dogs chased after her barking and returned after they had run about thirty to fifty yards.

The owner was hysterical and kept saying how terrible it was. I asked for her name and address and recorded the details on my mobile phone. The dogs were well behaved when they returned, but when I fell from Jams I didn't know whether they would attack me or not. I then set off after Jams on foot, somewhat sore from the fall. I rang my husband and he drove to meet me by a road which would cross the track she ran down. I also rang the farm as horses seem to have a homing instinct, and they went out to look for her in the forest.

We live less than a mile from where this happened, so my husband was able to drive there in just a few minutes. He followed a police van up the road, so he knew something unpleasant had happened.

My husband got out of the car and saw Jams on a track at the edge of the forest. He was asked to stay away, but explained that Jams was his horse and that she had been attacked by dogs. He walked towards her and could see some people around her. One was a fellow rider, and also a nurse, as am I. She stood with her back to Jams gently holding her reins and keeping her still. She told him that Jams had broken her leg and he knew immediately the likely outcome. A second person, a cyclist, was holding her saddle cloth around her front right leg, using it as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding from the broken and exposed leg. He stayed bent down for well over an hour with no break and never even told us his name.

In front of Jams was a pool of drying blood, about the size of a dinner plate and two centimetres thick. We never found out how Jams broke her leg, but we do know she galloped along the lane that led from where the attack took place to the road. The nurse had been riding her own horse when Jams past them, her horse went into a ditch on the side of the track and the rider was thrown off. Her horse had also bolted, and her stables were close by. When her horse arrived rider less people came out from the yard looking for her. We all met on the corner with Jams, and they all knew her, it's a close community among the riders in Epping Forest.

Looking at Jams, she had puncture marks and lines where the dogs had bitten her legs, she had a gash the size of a large steak in her chest, and her muzzle was covered in cuts and grazes and she was bleeding from her mouth. We may never know but assumed the injuries to her head occurred when she broke her leg and presumably fell forwards.

We were fortunate that the horse people around us between them were able to give advice. One had the phone number of the vet, the nurse had used a saddle cloth as a tourniquet before, we were advised to stop Jams from laying down, as she was likely to thrash about and hurt herself and us more, and when the vet arrived they offered to stay with her so we didn't have to witness her final moments. Even this is difficult to write without tears, we cannot than them all enough. Eventually the vet arrived, and I said goodbye to Jams, and said to him, "Don't let her suffer". Once he had finished his business we went and sat with her until the van came to take her away. We had her cremated and have her ashes at home still.

Then the real agony started. The woman was arrested and charged under the dangerous dogs act. A court case was looming, and we were prevented from discussing the case with anybody, which is why we can only write about this now.

The initial hearing was adjourned as only half a day was booked, and it was felt it would take two days to hear the case. Next session

At the second hearing one of the magistrates had to withdraw as they knew one of the witnesses, this was heard by two magistrates who could not agree on the outcome, as these cases are quite rare still and the law quite complex. We learnt a lot about the legal process in court that day, and the main defence was that the dogs never bit, just one barked. This was also the first time we had heard the defence story which contained a number of fabrications which were intended to show that I had been negligent in fitting the tack, which is why I fell off, and hence why the other rider was thrown as my horse ran off, and therefore the financial liability was down to my insurance company and not to the insurance company acting for the dogs owner. The defendant was given poor, but what appears to be standard advice, whereas we think she was only interested in preventing her dogs from being destroyed. Next Session

During the intervening few weeks we made use of Wikipedia to see if the Staffordshire bull terrier was a timid dog that could never even reach a horse to bite it, which was part of the defence argument. No way, they were bred for fighting/betting as they could kill a lion about 60% of the time, not bad odds for the bookies. They were then used to fight bulls and bears in pits, again for money. The German government tried to ban them in Europe in 2001, but the Kennel Club lobbied until the UK vetoed it. They have become a bit of a status symbol where we live, but too often they are the owners first dogs, nice with people, but they don't like direct eye contact, from other dogs or horses.

The third hearing was in front of a district judge and he spotted the obvious lies in the defendant’s statement. The defendants recorded statement to the police was played back in court and she stated that I pulled the reigns up, causing the horse to rear. This is a difficult thing to do when you ride with a martingale, and we know that pulling on the reigns doesn't stop a horse. She stated that the saddle and rider slipped around underneath the horse, as the saddle was not fitted properly. This conjours up the idea of a cartoon horse, being perfectly round, and then seeing a horse galloping off with a saddle between its legs. When the other rider was asked by the judge where she found the saddle when she removed it (to get the saddle cloth to use as a tourniquet) and she stated it was on top in the normal position, she immediately exposed that lie. Verdict of Guilty. The woman was fined £250 for each dog and £200 costs. The dogs were to be castrated and to be kept muzzled and on a lead at all times when in public places. Her barrister advised her to appeal.

The first appeal hearing was due to be heard by a County Judge and two magistrates, but only one magistrate arrived. It was decided to adjourn this to avoid another tied decision.

At the final hearing further lies were introduced to try and shift the liability of the insurance company onto me. This final lie was the introduction of a second dog tag on the dogs collar with the name of the insurance company on it. At the time of the incident I looked for the name and address of the woman on the dogs identity disk, but there was only a kennel club number on it. There was no second disk. As some of the same lies were repeated the appeal was rejected and the appellant was given further costs.

Her insurance company have still not settled with our insurance company or with me, and we expect this to take another one to two years to complete based on other peoples experience. Why did we go to court? It isn't to do with money, or vengeance, it's to raise publicity so that people realise they have a responsibility to other members of the public, be they riders, cyclists, walkers, other dog owners and their own family. And the responsibility extends beyond those that buy this type of animal; it applies to the breeders, the Kennel Club, other pressure groups, vets and the public. If either of the riders involved had been children, or if Jams had been hit by a car, there could easily have been a human death as well.

Since the attack we have heard of several more incidents involving dogs and horses in the forest. The City of London, who administer the forest, have been proactive, by improving notices about the control of animals, having an awareness day for dog owners, and have been extremely supportive of us throughout the actual event and subsequent court appearances.

It may seem odd, but people walking and driving past were looking at us sitting with her body, and while it seems a little surreal, in a public place, the only privacy is from covering the body, and it was a very private, grieving moment. The friends, strangers, police and forest rangers who attended the scene and those involved in the court case were all fantastic and very professional throughout, our thanks go to you all.

We learnt of some other things that caused the court case to be dragged out, which while nobody should experience such an ordeal, could help any that, do to have a less unpleasant experience. Although we had mobile phones and could have taken pictures of the bites to Jams, we didn't do it at the time, and neither did the rangers, who also had cameras with them. They were being respectful towards us, as it was a very painful experience, to witness such a noble, brave and trusting animal suffer so much and knowing it has such little time left. What we were not aware of was that the vet was emigrating a few weeks later. His report did not mention the bites in any great detail, although the police statement did. We didn't ask him to specifically write a report about the bites, as our priority was to minimise the time that Jams suffered, not to focus on a much later court case.

Nothing prepares you for an event like this; it is a truly horrific experience. There are several lessons to learn from my experience, but nothing that could truly avoid this type of incident from occurring again. Always ride in a hard hat, where injuries occur take photos with your phone, no matter how disturbing, visit the doctor if you have bruising or stress relate outcomes, (I did for both the initial injuries and the later stress), ask the vet explicitly to produce a report of the injuries and point out any caused by any form of negligence. Do support the Police or other authorities if they decide to prosecute, we were fortunate that the other nurse was present at every hearing, both supporting us and giving evidence, together with a fantastic barrister, and the excellent forest rangers and police. We also received wonderful support from the Witness protection scheme, which is staffed by volunteers and funded by donations, and biscuits.

Were there any other effects of the attack? Initially, I didn't want to ride again, and if I hadn't had other horses, maybe I would have given up completely. As it was I had to go back to the stables. Being a nurse I am well used to dealing with trauma, and it was only a few months later that I really felt the impact. As part of the police process to gather evidence, we had to return to the scene of the attack and take photos of where it occurred. It was now February and there had been lots of rain. That part of the forest is right on the edge of the London Basin, and so is good old London clay. One of the police officers had not brought any wellies, just his nice new Timberland boots. To walk from the car park down a wet clay bridleway in February will not keep your boots clean. We found out that if you wrap bin bags around your new boots and stand in the clay, it will not keep them clean either. However, on a more serious note, following this visit to the scene, I had to have two weeks off work as the enormity of the attack finally got to me. And if you ask me, yes, it is still painful, writing this was hard, and I still feel angry when I see dog walkers calling their dogs, but not putting them on a lead. Humans may know the dogs are safe, but horses do not.

The one positive thing to come out of this horrible event is that we decided to continue with our plans to breed and so about three months after the attack, we started looking for a replacement mare. December is not the best time to buy as the choice available is generally less. We saw a small number of Arab mares which were not right for us. Eventually, I saw a mare on Arabian Lines in Germany, and being German, I went and visited my parents. My father, sister and I then drove to look at three mares that were for sale. When I saw Emira (Balaton * Energia), I knew she was the right one for me. I rang the lady after speaking with my husband, and mentioned that I also liked her youngest mare, so she offered me the pair. They travelled together to England the following week and will no doubt stay friends together (except when showing or racing) for life.

I will never forget Jameela and I am very thankful that I knew her. She gave me so much in such a short time.

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