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November 15, 2019

Safety on the Trail – Be Prepared

A Trail Riding Horror Story

Several years ago, I had planned a “send-off” ride for my best friend, “T”. She was moving to Tennessee, so I organized a group ride with some of our closest friends. Her mare, Rosie, hadn’t been ridden much since T was preparing for the move. Rosie was a spooky horse and T was always a bit nervous about riding her in large groups, but she was really looking forward to one last ride with all her friends.

Rosie the spooky horse - Be Prepared and safety on the trail.

Blanchard trail system is a beautiful, scenic ride with challenges like bridges, switchbacks, narrow trails and steep terrain. For seasoned riders it’s a pretty enjoyable but challenging ride. Our group started out together but early into the ride, Rosie came up sore, so T and I decided to turn back. She didn’t want a lame horse for the long trek to Tennessee. The rest of our group continued on. We planned to meet up at the trailer after the ride then go into town for dinner after everyone was back.

My Friend T with her horse Rosie - Safety on the trail.

A little while after we started back another group of riders was heading up the trail towards us. T dismounted and stood with me on the upper side of the trail to let them pass. As soon as the first rider got by us Rosie took off between horses down the bank. Rosie being a claustrophobic horse ran right over top of T and crashed through the underbrush down the mountain side. T lay there motionless. I was stunned, never seeing a horse run over top of someone like that, I prayed my friend was going to be okay. The group of riders immediately stopped, and we all dismounted to see what T’s situation was.

T was out for a few moments but woke up obviously in a great deal of pain. Fortunately, one of the riders who met us was a paramedic. He assessed the situation and discovered T had dislocated her shoulder. T was panicked and screamed anytime she got sight of a horse. While the off-duty paramedic was tending to her I tied up my horse, Dawn, and made a call to 911. I have no idea how I got cell reception but fortunately I got help on the way.

Rosie had made it down the embankment but had lost both reins. She came galloping back up the trail to be with the other horses. T heard her coming back and began screaming to keep her away. One of the other riders tried to get near Rosie and get a hold of her. Rosie wheeled around, kicked the girl in the chest, knocking her off her feet. Now we had two people down. The young girl just had the wind knocked out of her, but the mare was obviously too frightened to get close to safely.

After much deep breathing and talking to the mare, I finally got a halter on her. I left my horse tied by the side of the trail. I couldn’t get her past T without her screaming, so I had to leave her behind. T was in good hands, so I started back down the trail to the trailer with Rosie. Rosie had cut a tendon and was bleeding. I managed to get her down to the road where a sheriff gave me some water and bandages to clean the wound and stop the bleeding. I was able to keep walking her back to the trailer, but Rosie tried to walk on top of me most of the way back. We were quite a ways off the trail when this happened, so it was a pretty unpleasant walk. Worried about T, I tried to get ahold of one of our group to let someone know to grab my horse and meet me back at the trailer.

By now the ambulance had arrived on the road below the trail where T was. The 911 dispatch had asked me how far off the trail we were. I had thought about ¼ mile. As the paramedics came walking up the trail with all their gear it was obvious, I was a little off. Red faced and breathing hard, I know they didn’t appreciate the inaccurate estimate. It was over a half mile to reach her. A guy with a mule was called to pack the heavier gear. It ended up with them having to slide T down an embankment to the ambulance through heavy underbrush just to save time. She was finally in the ambulance and on her way to the hospital in Mount Vernon.

The adventure didn’t end there. While I went to find who had my horse and load her in my trailer (I had come with Wendy, another friend), Rick, one of the guys in our group took T’s rig with Rosie to a vet in Mount Vernon. While I was on my way to the hospital, Rick and the injured Rosie had to go find the vet on call. When they got to the vet clinic, the doc immediately got to work on Rosie to stitch up the wound on her front leg. She had torn the tendon sheath, so it was going to be tricky to get her sewn up.

At the hospital I was with T, waiting for them to clean her up and X-ray her shoulder, Rick called. The mare had cow kicked the vet in the knee. She had passed out and Rick had to call emergency for the injured vet. Rick ended up taking Rosie all the way to Lynden to another vet closer to home.

A delayed trip, having to leave Rosie behind to be treated daily with antibiotics, and an arm in a sling, T had a sendoff she would never forget.

Here’s what I learned from this:

  • Know your horse. While any horse can spook unexpectedly, you should know your horse well enough to avoid situations they can’t handle.
  • Don’t get off your horse unless absolutely necessary. You’re much safer on their back then on the ground. (Wisdom from Si Kingma)
  • Avoid large groups with a skittish horse. Unless you’re a skilled horseman and confident you can handle the situation, ride in small groups until you know the horse better. Many horses can really get amped up in a large group.
  • Carry a GPS locator. It was sheer luck we had cell reception.
  • Always go with good riders and quiet horses. We would have been fine if we hadn’t met the large group coming up the trail. While this could not have been avoided, we should have been prepared. We knew the mare had issues with tight spaces.
  • Carry a first aid kit. While this is common sense, how many times have you gone without one?
  • Always carry a halter & lead rope. You never know when there might be an emergency. Very glad I had taken one.
  • Find a horse that suits your level of experience, your age, your physical fitness and please get rid of a dangerous horse.
  • Have I.D. Tags on your horse from a company such as Equestrisafe. That way if you become disconnected from your horse, all your contact information is on him.

T loved that mare and she had her for many years until she died. Even though T had trained and shown horses professionally, she had lost some of her ability when she went to work in a corporate job. Rosie was the type of horse that needed a fit, skilled rider. Honestly, I never understood why she kept that mare, but she loved her.

There are many good, safe horses out there. It just may take time to find the right horse. The fact is no matter how long you’ve gone without being injured on a horse, it’s usually a matter of when. Circumstances can’t always be controlled. The best thing you can do is buy the right horse, take lessons and be prepared.

Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages.  Now 25 years later, it's an online magazine and website with a reach of over 19,000 per month and growing! Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses!

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