This picks up where the posting, Prelude to a Not-So-Ordinary Day left off.
We left the barn that morning around 8 am. Me, Janis, and Jean. We headed out to the northeast, towards Spirit Dog Ranch, where we met up with Lucky. From there we headed south following a part of the old Tucson-Florence stagecoach road, a dirt road and path that saw a violent history in the days of Apache raids. We turned off the road and climbed the ridge along a rugged trail we call Frank’s Trail, after the man who blazed it up the steep side of a long finger ridge in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas.
At the top of the ridge, we followed the scenic trail northward— making a loop that would bring us back past SDR, where we would leave Lucky and head back to Pusch Ridge Stables. To the east we had an expansive view of the back range of the Catalinas, with the Sutherland Wash cutting deep into the landscape below Samaniego Ridge. To our west, the broad alluvial basin, dotted with the tile roofs of Rancho Vistoso, rose gently into the Tortolitas. From this trail we had a 360 degree view that was spectacular. It was a favorite ride.
After the ridge trail joined the 50-Year Trail, we encountered several rocky areas, requiring the horses to pick their way through carefully. Often, I look down at trails like this and I’m thankful I’m on Paco’s back letting him find the best way along the trail.
We had ridden for a couple of hours and were on the downhill return trail above SDR when it happened. In spite of Paco’s recent problems with stumbling, I was confident that we were not in any particular danger. I had been always been able to pull up his head and help him regain his footing, and besides, we were just a couple of days away from the first corrective shoeing that I hoped would resolve the problem once and for all. (See my ‘horsey’ blog, Stable Thinking, for a post on the shoeing issue and how it led to these events.)
Fortunately, the downward slope was not steep nor was it as rocky as other areas we had ridden. Lucky was out in front on Sedona, a pretty little Paso Fino. I was second, with Jean behind me on Chant, a solid Quarter Horse gelding, and Janis brought up the rear on Dundee, a quiet Paint mare. Suddenly, without warning, Paco stumbled and his front legs collapsed; we slammed into the ground. I had no time to react, nothing I could do to avert disaster. Jean, who had a clear view later said that Paco’s rear legs lifted completely off the ground. Had the trail been steeper, he might have rolled. I shudder to think how bad it would have been in that case.
I remember the moment vividly—the ground coming at me as we went down, instinctively, but futilely, reaching out to break my fall, the screaming pain that shot through my body on impact. When that moment passed, Paco began struggling to get up. My right leg was pinned under him with his 1100-plus pounds crushing it and crushing it again until he managed to rise. As he did, I realized my left foot was caught in the stirrup over his back. I was hanging from his side. Sometime, while this was unfolding, Jean was there trying to help.
I was indeed fortunate once more as Paco did not panic and run. He took a couple of steps and stopped. Then my foot slipped out of my lace-up boot, even with a spur strap across it. Sometimes I wonder about that–I wouldn’t have expected it to come out so easily. Jean said Paco stood there and looked down at me. I wish I knew what he was thinking. I know he was hurting, too.
The next thing I remember was sitting beside the trail, looking downhill. Janis had Paco a short distance away. I think I asked if he was all right and she pointed to a laceration by his eye but assured me he was okay. She started down the trail taking him to Spirit Dog, where he would be safe. Suddenly, then, the sky turned green and the landscape shifted oddly. A wave of dizziness came over me, and I considered lying down, but I didn’t. I remember thinking that if I did, I might pass out and that would scare the others. I didn’t realize I had already been unconscious.
In the meantime, Lucky had called 911 and went down the hill to meet the ambulance. Jean stayed with me as I became more and more aware of the pain. Because it hurt to breathe, I was pretty sure I had broken ribs. My leg burned more than it hurt, so I was reasonably sure it wasn’t broken. We heard the wailing ambulance, and we saw it as it approached the gate to the state park, which they would be unable to drive through. Fortunately (again), because we were not as far out as we had been earlier, they didn’t need to call for a helicopter. After some creative decision-making, they got me down to the ambulance.
I had six broken ribs, severe bruises and abrasions on my right leg, and a shoulder injury. There was no head injury, although there were some bumps. Clearly, I was lucky. I also believe having riding companions who were able to handle the situation effectively was important.
Janis saw to it that the vet came out to check Paco and stitch up his laceration. The corrective shoeing began that weekend and eventually, I had Rene Noriega, an equine therapist, come out and give him a once-over. With his help, and with Karl Rossi’s farrier work, Paco is in great shape now.
There are a number of lessons to take away from this. I’ll explore them in a future post.