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Horse that held its hooves in melee

- Police mare Pritilata credited with sparing fans serious injury during near-stampede outside Eden
Pritilata in her stable on Thursday.
Picture by Kinsuk Basu

Horse sense apparently saved several people from serious injuries during the near-stampede outside the Eden Gardens last Tuesday.

An unruly crowd had been trying to gatecrash into Eden for the Kolkata Knight Riders’ IPL victory celebration when a mounted police sergeant astride a white mare galloped into the heart of the melee, only to lose his balance and fall.

By then, many in the crowd had fallen on the ground too even as others tried to scamper away to escape the police charge.

Pritilata lifted her right hind leg and halted in her tracks. Inches away from her hooves lay those unable to make a timely escape. None was hurt seriously.

Senior officers in Lalbazar admitted in private that but for Pritilata, several people might have been badly hurt that afternoon. The mounted police officer who fell suffered minor injuries.

An equine behaviour specialist in the UK who has examined photographs of the policeman slipping off the saddle said the images suggested that the horse was a little reluctant to move towards the crowd. Her swishing tail was indicative of her reluctance to move towards the crowd, said Jill Butterworth, a veterinary doctor and member of the Society of Equine Behaviour Consultants in the UK.

“This temporary disobedience may have caused the rider to slip from his mount and in the confusion of the crowd and possibly the surprise of losing its rider, it is likely the horse then simply stopped to await instructions from its rider,” Butterworth told Metro.

“A horse would not usually charge into people unless it was in blind panic or was being asked or forced to do so,” Butterworth said. “The horse does not appear afraid of the crowd — police horses are trained not to be — hence seeming to be calm,” she said.

A police sergeant astride Pritilata moves into the crowd in front of gate numbers 3 and 4 at Eden last Tuesday, only to lose his balance (above) and fall

Revaz Z. Martin, who runs the riding school at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, said the mare’s decision to stop showed how intelligent horses were. “Had she gone ahead, she would have not only trampled several members of the crowd but also dragged along the officer who was riding her, leaving him seriously injured. The rider wasn’t using his brain. The horse was.”

Inducted into the Indian Mounted Police nearly a decade ago, Pritilata — named after freedom fighter Pritilata Waddedar — is one of the more reliable horses in its stable. Last Tuesday, when the gathering outside Eden started pelting stones at the police, she may not have been keen to move into the crowd.

“The sergeant was so engrossed in dispersing the crowd that he may have missed some of the signals the horse was trying to send out,” said a senior officer. “He lost his grip on the reins, his knees loosened and he lost balance. While falling down, his legs remained stuck in the stirrup. If Pritilata had cantered away, the injuries could have been critical.”

Veterinary experts say horses need to be trained to move towards crowds. “The obedience of a horse will depend on the quality of training,” said Ram Avtar Legha, a senior scientist with the National Research Centre on Equines in Bikaner.

With several medals to her credit — the last one came at the 2011 police sports meet — Pritilata has undergone rigorous training with a few others in her group, including Bahadur and Artiness.

Pritilata may have saved many but the mob wasn’t kind to her. A gash from one of the stones hurled at her is still fresh. There were enough reasons for her to panic and gallop ahead. But she didn’t. “Onnyoder theke onek bhalo. Khub thanda ghora (She’s much better than the rest. A very calm horse),” said Chatur Sardar, the man who has been handling her for over a decade.