Like a valiant fighter, Hamoud Al Dughaishi was cruising on his horseback when tragedy struck him last week. He clutched the reins firmly, held the lance on his right hand and kept his eyes focused on the peg.
He didn't make a mistake while piercing the wooden pin from the sand with the long, pointed rod, and was on course to win another medal for Oman in the World Tent Pegging Championship in Muscat. But his beloved horse, 16-year-old Tagharid, collapsed near the finish line, and breathed her last.
Hamoud got trapped under the horse and the fall damaged his ribs, shoulder, hip and some internal organs. He struggled to breathe, and every one feared for the worst. Moments later, the 43-year-old was rushed to the Armed Forces Hospital, where he continues to battle for his life.
It was the first major accident to hit Oman's sporting field in recent years, and it sent shockwaves across the country. Even a week after the incident, a somber mood prevailed at hospital, where Hamoud is being treated, as his family and friends keep vigil day and night praying for his early recovery.
"My father is a huge source of inspiration for me. I have seen him winning medals in tent pegging competitions. I hope he will come back to the field soon," said his son Mohamed Hamoud Al Dughaishi, while waiting impatiently outside the Intensive Care Unit.
The accident gave rude shock to his close friends Hilal Hassan Al Balushi and Ali Saleh Al Balushi, who visit the hospital everyday to check Hamoud's improvement.
Hilal, who led the Oman team in the championship, was next to Hamoud at the time of the accident. "We were competing in the team event (Lance & Pegs). We were riding horses in four different lanes. I picked up the peg, followed by Hamoud. Nasser Rashid and Siyabi and Ali Khamees Al Balushi, the other two members, too didn't make any mistakes," he recounted.
"Everything went well and we were almost assured of the gold medal. But I couldn't believe my eyes as Tagharid (Hamoud's horse) collapsed just before the finish line. I saw Hamoud struggling under the weight of the horse. We immediately pulled him out and rushed him to the hospital."
Now, Hilal prays to God to give strength to his valiant friend to comeback and compete in competition. "We launched our tent pegging career together. We won plenty of medals for Oman in competitions around the World. If he couldn't make a comeback, I would also call it quits from the sport. I cannot continue with out him. He is my source of energy," tears rolled down Hilal's cheeks.
Ali Saleh Al Balushi, a long-time friend of Hamoud and trainer of Qatar National Tent Pegging Team, too couldn't control his emotions while recollecting the incident. Ali had examined the horse minutes before the start of the competition. "Tagharid looked fit and fine. She didn't show any signs of nerves. But I was shocked when she collapsed near the finish line."
Ali and friends now mull options to take Hamoud to a foreign country for better treatment. "We want to see Hamoud on the saddle again, and bring glory to Oman. So we would like to bring him back to normal life as early as possible. We know the prayers of an entire nation is with him," he said, and added: "I will not go back to Qatar until he gets up from his bed."
International Tent Pegging Federation chairman, Mohammed Issa al Fairuz, who knows Hamoud for the last 16 years, also monitors his improvement everyday. "Hamoud is the best rider to emerge from Oman. Though he is 43 year-old, he still has youthful exuberance and will power that are the hallmarks of a true champion. I am praying for his recovery."
A missing medal and crown
Hamoud emerged the toast of Omani riders in the five-day championship at the Al Rahba Farm in Barka (March 31 to April 4) by clinching one gold, silver and bronze medal and leading Oman's charge towards the title. He gave the hosts a stupendous start, grabbing the gold in Individual Lance, and scooping silver in Individual Sword and bronze in the Sword and Lemon on the second day, before tragedy struck him on the third day.
Oman could have clinched the overall championship had it won gold in the Lance & Pegs. "We could have swelled our tally to three gold, one more than eventual champions South Africa, if we had won gold in Lance & Pegs. We had one more chance left on the final day, but our riders could not recover from the shock," said Nasser Rashid Al Siyabi, another member of the team.
Rule changes in the offing?
According to experts, horses never collapsed on the field during tent pegging competitions. "This is the first time we witnessed a tragedy like this," said Mohammed Issa al Fairuz.
According to the initial inquest reports, the horse had suffered a heart attack, which caused the collapse. Fairuz said ITPF will get a final report soon and an action will be taken after it. "We may mull options to change the rule of the game if it is necessary. The tragedy has been an eye opener for us," he said.