Thursday, September 13, 2007
By Kiera Hay
Journal Northern Bureau
SANTA FE- Tragedy struck the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race when two
horses were killed and their riders injured after being hit by a car Tuesday
near the day's finish line near Canton, Kan.
The stage's top two competitors- Theresa Wilcox of Chadwick, Mo., and
Sandy Olsen of Edmond, Okla.- completed Tuesday's 50-mile ride just before 2
p.m. but rode past the finish line, apparently still racing.
The pair "were neck-and-neck running" in the direction of a paved road
about a half-mile west of the finish line, McPherson County Undersheriff Jim
Johnston said Wednesday.
The women were unable to stop before an oncoming car plowed into their
horses, killing the animals instantly.
"They crossed the finish line and just continued racing. I don't know if
they got caught up in the whole thing or what," Johnston said.
Wilcox and Olsen were airlifted to Via Christi Regional Medical Center
in Wichita. Both were in fair condition Wednesday afternoon, according to a
"Their injuries weren't life-threatening, but they had substantial
injuries to the pelvic area and legs," Johnston said.
The driver of the car, 73-year-old Goldie Becker of Canton, sustained
minor injuries and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where she was
later released, The McPherson Sentinel reported.
The dead horses were taken to a pasture in McPherson County and buried,
The Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race started Sept. 3 near Santa Fe and
ends Saturday outside Independence, Mo. It spans about 850 miles, roughly
following the Cimarron route of the Santa Fe Trail used by traders in the
1800s. About 500 miles are on horseback, with riders completing 10 stages of
50 miles per day. There are three idle days.
Attempts to reach race organizer Rob Phillips on Wednesday were
unsuccessful. Phillips told a Journal reporter Tuesday- about four hours
after the accident- that no major incidents had occurred during the race's
seven days of competition.
It's extremely rare for horses to perish during endurance rides, said
Mike Maul, president of the American Endurance Ride Conference, a national
governing body for long-distance riding that sanctioned the Santa Fe Trail
About 23,000 horses took part in AERC-sanctioned endurance ride
competitions last year, Maul said, and somewhere between six and 10 died,
which is average. Many perish from colic, he said, although accidents do
"It's very tragic and it's very sad that it (Tuesday's incident)
happened," Maul said.
Maul said it appeared as though riders Tuesday had adequate room to stop
their horses between crossing the finish line and reaching the paved road.
If Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race organizers demonstrate they are
producing a "safe race," the AERC will sanction the event in the future, he
Dennis Latta, director of the New Mexico Sports Authority, said that
agency- which is listed as a "partner" of the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse
Race on the event's Web site, along with the New Mexico Tourism Department-
would also evaluate the incident.
Indications are, however, that it "wasn't a matter of poor planning on
the organizers' part," Latta said.
"There were no real problems in New Mexico, and I don't think there
would (have been) in Kansas if they (Wilcox and Olsen) had stopped at the
finish line," he said.
Latta said the race, which received $10,000 in sponsorship money from
the Tourism Department, was "a great event for New Mexico" and that safety
appeared to be a top priority for organizers.
McPherson County Sheriff's Department officials consider the incident an
accident and have not pressed charges, Johnston said, adding that Becker was
on a "straight through" section of road and unable to avoid the animals.
Riders were told before the day's stage began that the road was just a
half-mile away from the finish line, Johnston added.