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Moonlight fades out after falling at the final hurdle

For the past three years, he had trotted his way to glory and gold at tournaments galore. He was on track for more at the RCTC Polo Club grounds on Saturday morning, when his luck ran out. His right hind leg caught a steep hurdle and he crumbled in a heap, his leg broken into two.

Moonlight was never to rise or run again — he was “put down” hours after the fall.

The 12-year-old chestnut was participating in the world challenge show-jumping competition, organised by the Federation of Equestrian International. Saturday morning gave no hint of the tragedy to come as Moonlight and his rider, R.D. Gujjar of the army’s 853 AT Company in Siliguri, had cleared most of the hurdles at a canter and were leading the pack.

After clearing three hurdles, Gujjar geared up for one final hurdle that stood between Moonlight and another honour. A gentle pat on the back was enough to send the horse on its way.

After hitting his stride, Moonlight jumped. His forelegs cleared the hurdle but his right hind leg hit the balli (space between two hurdles) and he tripped and fell.

“I could hear his leg snap like a twig. The bone, broken in two, was showing through the skin that had ripped… Moonlight was in great pain,” recalled his rider, trainer and friend R.D. Gujjar, fighting back the tears.

The tournament organiser, Col V.N. Kapre, and the commanding officer of the unit, Major Samir Lamba, rushed to the spot where Moonlight lay writhing in pain. “We immediately got the doctors and trainers into the middle. They took a long hard look at the horse. It was a compound fracture and there was no way we could get him up again. With that kind of injury, he would have only ended up dying a painful death,” said Kapre.

Around 1 pm, Moonlight was taken to the Polo Club stable, where a lethal injection was administered through a saline drip. He died a painless death.

“It was one of the toughest decisions I have taken in my life. I still remember meeting him as a young nervous colt six or seven years ago. I personally trained him before Gujjar took over and together we had formed a formidable team,” Lamba recalled.

Reared at the Saharanpur army depot before coming to the Siliguri unit, Moonlight travelled to tourneys in Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi for several national and international equestrian events with Gujjar.

“I had a very good understanding with Moonlight. He never stopped at any hurdle in his life. And he had almost cleared the final one on Saturday, but…” Gujjar trailed off.

Realising that Gujjar had spent a sleepless night on Saturday, and not touched a morsel, his commanding officer offered him the reins of another chestnut to ride at another show-jumping event at the same venue on Sunday.

“I gave Gujjar my personal horse. I didn’t want him to sit out. I have already lost a good horse and Gujjar is too good a rider to lose,” said Lamba.

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