Friday, October 19, 2018

Falling star

Five years ago today, the horse I was riding fell over a jump and landed on top of me. My right collarbone shattered on impact, and I sustained a lot of damage to my left leg. It was a bad wreck by almost any standard, but considering what could have happened, I got off easy. For a few terrifying moments, it had looked like it was going to be a whole lot worse

That was the second scariest experience of my riding career.

The scariest experience - the one where I was absolutely convinced I was going to die - happened when I was twenty and working at the Don K Ranch in the mountains outside of Pueblo, Colorado. 
I had taken a group of riders on the Edge of the World trail. This was our marquee ride, with fantastic, panoramic views of the forest...
the ranch...
and the plains.
The ride finished up in the grasslands west of the ranch. From there, we'd go through a gate, and make the long trek up the Don K driveway.
My mount that day was a black gelding named Star. He was a nice horse to ride, kind, willing and responsive to the aids, but also very reactive. If there was something to spook at, he would be the horse to find it. Some weeks we had guests who were confident and secure enough to ride him, but more often than not, he was a wrangler horse.
As we neared the end of the ride, I dismounted to open the gate between the pasture and driveway. The other riders passed through and continued on a ways before stopping to wait for me. The space between us wasn't tremendous, but it was enough that no one was paying attention as I closed the gate and went to climb back onto Star.

Because he was tall and I am short, I did what I usually did and used the nearest big rock as a mounting block. Unfortunately, this particular rock wasn't a stable platform. It toppled out from underneath me as I pushed off. I tried desperately to save myself, but fell backwards and landed with a whomp!, flat on my back, left foot wedged firmly in the stirrup above me.

"This is how people die," I thought as I closed my eyes and braced for the inevitable. In my mind's eye, I could see terrified, spooky Star dragging my battered and broken body all the way back to the ranch. 

I waited several long seconds that felt like minutes. Nothing happened. I opened one eye and saw Star's hindquarters quivering above me. Every joint in his legs was compressed like a coiled spring, and the skin above his flanks was twitching.

But he did not move.

Very gingerly, I tried to dislodge my foot from the stirrup. I was afraid to bump his side, afraid to breathe, afraid to do anything that would set off that very spooky and reactive horse.

Still, he did not move.

And then - just like that - my foot fell out of the stirrup. I took a deep, shaky breath and stood up. I went to Star's shoulder, leaned against him, and together we took a moment to catch our breath and calm our racing hearts.

Thank you, Star. You're the best horse, Star. I love you, Star.

When we'd regained our composure, I gathered the reins and led him forward to where the rest of the group was waiting. I mounted - from the ground - and the ride continued as if nothing had happened.

And really, nothing had happened.

Except I knew - and Star knew - that it very nearly almost had.

Thank you, Star. You're the best horse, Star. I love you, Star.


  1. OMG... my heart was in my throat. Any "real" rider would know exactly why that was so terrifying. The people on your trail ride probably didn't have a CLUE, and wouldn't have known what to do if Star had taken off. "Thank your lucky stars," indeed!

    As you know I've had a bad fall (not going to call it a wreck, since it was a stupid little tumble that never should have resulted in what it did). But I also had a fall as a kid that could have been SO MUCH WORSE. So, so...

    I was on a trail ride, an unusual thing with my lesson program. We crossed the road as usual and were heading up the little hill leading to the trail system. The trail branched, and we always went to the right. Not this day: instructor said, "We're going left!" and headed that way, along with the riders in front of me.

    Well, little stinker pony Peter Pan decided HE was still going RIGHT. He snatched the reins out of my hands and charged up the hill. Next thing I knew, WHAM!!! Big tree branch crashes into my chest, I'm swept off the pony, and I land with a thud on my back on the steep trail. To say I had the wind knocked out of me would be an understatement, not to mention the shock of the entire thing.

    I laid there for a while trying to breathe and process. Fortunately Peter didn't run off too far, but I don't recall who caught him. I do remember my instructor being somewhat concerned about me, and while I did eventually get back on the pony she cancelled the trail ride and we turned around and went back to the farm.

    I was fine (bruised but that's it), no concussion or anything, despite the fact that I was wearing the usual 1970's helmet consisting of a plastic shell and stretched-out elastic chin strap. I had no problem going back the following week and still loved that little stinker pony.

    It was only as an adult, reading on the internet about horse-riding wrecks, that I really thought about what could have happened. If that branch had fallen higher or if I'd been shorter, and it had caught me under the chin... well, I don't need to tell you that I might not be typing this normally or even be on earth at all. It's certainly happened to fox hunters and trail rides.

    Always been wary of tree branches since but I'll still ride a stinker pony, LOL!

  2. I too know how scary this was. When I was 16 we were riding in our pecan bottom on the Colorado here in Texas. My mare was a hot sort. All of a sudden something snapped and away she went right toward a humongous pecan tree with branches bout 4 feet off the ground. Since there had been several accidents recently where people were injured going under tree branches all I could think was, come on Dinky, turn....turn..while pulling the reins over as hard as I could...... Nope she wasn't going to. I had no option but to come off. Quarter Horse, going all out......did not want to but I let go and went off. I blacked out, came to with family hoovering around me. Luckily I was not injured or so we thought. I'm 66 and back then no one went to the Dr for something like this unless there was an obvious injury, so we didn't know my back was broken. By the time I found that out I was 56 with L-5 almost totally gone. Oh and no helmets of any sort back then

  3. Oh good story and so glad about the happy ending! Good good Star! It really could have been bad. I like the snake story too, it comes to my mind often, in fact, in case you haven't blogged about it too.

  4. Not knowing how that was going to end, my heart was racing while I read. Grateful you are okay, and what a good boy that Star was! He really was named correctly, wasn't he?!