SILVERTON – At least three people were run over by a horse that possibly became spooked by a low-flying drone Saturday at the start line of Silverton’s 8th Annual Skijoring Race.
Two women were taken away by ambulance, including one who had a gash to the back of her head and one who suffered a hip injury. A man also suffered a bloody chin but did not need transporting by ambulance.
The mishap occurred about 1:15 p.m. as the horse, rider and skier prepared to launch off the start line in a sprint for the finish. The horse appeared agitated, and its handler, Tim McCarthy of Aztec, yelled and waived at the drone in an effort to make its pilot fly it away.
Instead of bolting up the course, the horse darted to the left of the course where five to 10 spectators gathered on the sideline. Several people were knocked over by the horse, and a few were unable to escape its path because of a large snowbank behind them.
The competition was shut down for 30 to 45 minutes while medics tended to the injured.
Their names were unavailable Saturday evening, and their conditions were unknown. None of the injuries appeared life-threatening.
San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said he plans to issue a ticket to the drone pilot for flying over a crowd of people, which is illegal.
He declined to identify the drone pilot before issuing a ticket, other than to say the pilot is from Durango.
Event organizers said drones will no longer be allowed to fly over the event, and spectators will not be allowed at the start line, which has no barricades like the rest of the course.
Despite the mishap, spectators seemed largely unaware of the severity of the incident and remained delighted in the afternoon’s races.
“It’s so different,” said Gus von Bolschwing, of Durango, who was watching from the sideline about mid-course. “It’s part of the lovely local flavor. It’s the real thing.”
For the event, skiers hold onto a rope as a galloping horse pulls them through a series of gates and jumps. It takes about 20 seconds to travel the four blocks. Saturday’s winning time was 17.92 seconds in the open class, set by Bruce Scott (skier) and Jeff Dahl (rider).
“It’s bringing two cultures together, a millennial skier and a cowboy,” said Pete Maisel, event organizer.
To make the course, the town’s public works department and private residents brought in 150 dump truck loads of snow starting on Monday, he said. The town’s snowcat grooms the course and helps build the jumps.
It takes about four months of planning and $20,000 in sponsorships to pull it off, Maisel said. Part of the purpose is to provide a shot-in-the-arm to local businesses during the off-season.
“This is like our little Fourth of July celebration in the winter,” Maisel said.
Skiers and riders compete for about $10,000 in prize money that is divided among first-, second- and third-place finishers.
Greg Suvick of Durango was competing Saturday for the first time.
“My stomach is in knots, my heart is in my throat,” he said at the start before his first run. “I’m just hoping to finish.”
He was talked into doing it by his friend, Calvin Hinkley of Durango, who has been competing for six years.
“It’s the biggest adrenaline rush that I’ve ever had,” Hinkley said. “I would rather do this than any other ski event.
“It’s dangerous and it’s western,” he said. “Those horses are snorting, stomping and dripping snot. They’re raring to do this – it’s just like the skiers.”