Saturday, January 16, 2010

Black Magic

I don’t know what it is about black horses being named Magic, but I’ve run across plenty. Only one, though, really was Black Magic.

We were out on a large corporate ride; one wrangler leading, one riding drag, and two of us outriding. The outrider’s job is to ride parallel to the trail, monitor the riders and help with the pacing of the ride when it’s too large for one or two wranglers to handle. Should there be a tack adjustment that needs to be made or an object fetched from the ground, it’s the outrider’s job to do it. Having outriders really keeps the ride moving along nicely and good outriders can spot small problems before they become big ones.

Most of the time.

I was working with a couple of wranglers I’d worked extensively with in the past and one newer, inexperienced wrangler. The Boss’ son and I pulled rank and chose the outriding positions, the Boss’ daughter rode drag and the newbie got stuck leading the ride.

The ride went well despite having twenty-eight guests. Managing that many horses and riders can be very tricky, but we had no real problems. One rider required constant reassurance, as she was a nervous Nellie, but she had finally relaxed halfway through and a smile was breaking through where a grimace had previously been. She had been paired with Magic, a horse we often used during kids’ camp, who was easy going and taking great care of her.

Boss’ son and I were “parked” near the head of the switchback leading back to the livery. We were visually checking each rider and their tack to make sure that there wouldn’t be any problems headed down the switchback. The newbie wrangler was just approaching the switchback when I saw Magic, three horses back, stumble out of the corner of my eye. I noted that she’d regained her balance and directed my attention to the next horse in line; Boss’ son was reassuring Magic’s rider that it was okay, horses stumble over rocks sometimes.

Then I saw Magic stumble again and stagger a bit before regaining her balance. I told the newbie to hold up the ride and rode back to see what the problem was. Sometimes little rocks can get caught up in the horse’s shoe and can cause repeated stumbles, so that’s what was going through my mind. I had my Gerber tool already out and was flipping it open to the pliers so I could remove the offending rock. As I neared Magic on my horse, I saw her start to topple; her front right leg buckled and she started a slow fall to the ground. She was trying to stay upright, but her right front leg just wasn’t working. I called to the rider to kick her feet out of the stirrups and jumped down off my horse, dropping my rein to the ground and calling out “stand”, her command to ground tie.

The rider was frozen in her saddle, despite repeated commands to kick her feet out of the stirrups, she just sat on the horse’s back, feet still in the stirrups, her face blank in shock, as Magic fell heavily onto her right side. Had she kicked her feet out of the stirrups as she was told, she could have literally just stepped off of Magic by putting one foot on the ground and letting Magic fall under her. Instead, locked in her fear, she froze, only coming back to herself when she realized her right leg was going to be pinned. She started to scramble away from Magic before the horse’s full weight could pin her down, getting most of her leg out of the way, only getting her ankle hung up under the horse.

As long as there have been commercial trail rides, there have been stories of horses dropping dead on the trail. After years of taking out trail rides, I knew that it was always a possibility, but it never occurred to me that it could actually happen on my watch.

Boss’ son helped the guest untangle herself from the saddle while I ran around Magic’s head to get hold of her bridle, praying fervently that I did not just have a horse die on me. Even before I got around her head, I knew that the groan she’d let out as she fell was her last breath, there hadn’t been an inhalation since. I looked at her eyes and there was no sign of life. Magic was a d-e-a-d horse. Besides being traumatic for the ride, it was logistically a nightmare. Magic was the third horse in a line of twenty-eight and completely blocking the only way back to the livery.

I got hold of her rein, called her name, and gave a tug, not expecting a response and not getting one. I sighed in frustration and looked at Boss’ son. He knew as well as I did that we’d just had a horse die on us. This was not a seizure; this was not a horse laying down in protest; this was a dead horse.

Muttering explicatives, we looked at the horse, at the line behind the horse, and back at the horse. Out of frustration, Boss’ son wound up and kicked Magic as hard as he could in the ribs. Not exactly the professional behavior one would expect and fairly brutal. And Magic responded by drawing a large, loud, ragged breath. We looked at each other, not really believing what we’d just heard. Magic exhaled loudly and struggled to draw another breath. She blinked and tried to look around, seeming to ask, “where am I?”

Now, I’d been an EMT for longer than I’d been a wrangler and I know dead when I see it. That horse was dead.

Dead-as-a-doornail dead.

Went-to-meet-her-Maker dead.

Call-the-glue-factory-guys dead.


It took Magic a few minutes to come back to herself and stumble to her feet, but she did. We were close to the livery, but we thought that maybe we shouldn’t put her rider back up on her. After all, Boss’ son had just resurrected her, surely she was due some recovery time. I offered the guest my wrangler horse so she wouldn’t have to walk back, but not surprisingly, she declined and chose to walk back. I gathered up my wrangler horse’s reins and Magic’s reins and stood off to the side while the other wranglers completed the ride, with me and my horses bringing up the rear on foot. We took it slow and easy, and though I could have ponied Magic, I felt better leading her from the ground. She stumbled her way through the switchback but was able to keep her feet. My wrangler horse walked quietly beside Magic, literally offering a shoulder to lean on, as Magic stumbled along like a drunk most of the way back to the livery.

Magic gained strength over the next few days and was back out on the trail a week later.

The only explanation I can come up with for Magic’s miraculous resurrection is that the swift kick she received worked like a precordial thump works on a human. A precordial thump historically was used before CPR was started, but was only effective when delivered within sixty seconds of a witnessed collapse. There were many successes with them, but many more failures and they were quickly removed from the protocol for human CPR, now they’re only seen on TV or in the movies. Certainly, the kick she received was delivered within sixty seconds of a witnessed collapse and Boss’ son definitely had success.

Sadly, though, I don’t think that guest will ever climb up on the back of a horse again. I can’t really blame her; she was nervous about riding to begin with and then had a horse drop dead underneath her. I’m pretty sure that if that had been my only exposure to horseback riding, I wouldn’t ride again either.


Allenspark Lodge said...

I remember that ride. I was around to hear the gal talking with her friend about how little attention the wranglers paid to her after they got her out from under the horse. "They were only looking at the horse!" Another rider commented "If your horse was standing there, and you were on the ground not breathing, I'll bet they would have paid more attention to you".
Could be.

Linda said...

I love the story--I bet you're right about the kick and what it did to revive her. Oddly enough, I wrote a story about a horse named Magic today, too. I think fate is giving me heavy-handed clues to my unraveling circumstances. Thanks!

Mrs Mom said...

Holy Crap!

Black Magic alright... geeze....

What ever happened to the old girl? She used on rides much longer after that?

GunDiva said...

Bill, I had completely forgotten about that! Guess I was too focused on the DEAD HORSE to worry about the little scrape she got on her ankle. Lateral aspect just above her hiking boots - didn't even bleed. See? I did sort of pay attention to the human, but in a triage situation, the horse was in much worse shape.

MM - she worked the rest of the season, but we kept a wary eye on her.

Quixotic said...

As an ex-showjumper and racehorse strapper,my thoughts reading this post were "she had a heart attack" and "kick her in the middle of the girth. You are exactly right, it works like a precordial thump (which I have actually used to revice a dog once when working a volunteer vet nurse). Great work!
Typical - rider has a horse collapse under her and is pissed you didn't let it die so you could hold her hand... pfft

Nathanael Rey said...

ohh man. you have THE MOST interesting stories...

I'm not really a horseback rider, but I have been interested in it, and I think i would only be interested going out on the trail with you!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog earlier today, and I just finished reading through the archives in two sittings. Great stories! And good writing. Please do keep going, and I'll keep reading.

I only rode a little as a kid, but your writing makes me itch to be around horses again.

GunDiva said...

Anon - I'm glad you've enjoyed them so far. They're a little slow in coming this winter, as I'm not getting any ride time. It seems like I remember all of my fun stories when I'm out on the trail and I see something that sparks my memory. Without ride time, I'm really having to dig into my little brain. I'm sure many more stories will come spewing forth once I'm back on my baby girl.

RoxanneRustand said...

What a story! AND a miracle!

Our daughter was leading a trailride in the Tetons a couple years ago and a horse collapse and die on the trail, too. There was concern about the dead horse attracting bears, so when she radio'd in the news, she was told send the rest of the riders back with the drag rider, and to guard the carcass until it could be hauled out. Of course she had no weapon, just a measly can of bear spray. Yikes!

If only someone had thought to whollop the horse, maybe cowboy CPR would have worked with that one, too!!


GunDiva said...

Roxanne, your daughter got a radio? And it worked? Wow, that's impressive. Not so thrilled about her being left to guard the dead horse though. But what a great story.

Mr. Daddy said...

Great story. Rach loves her horse, me I am an old wanna be cowboy.
I have converted to quads, funny thing is they too occasionally lay down on me and I have to kick start them too....LOL

GunDiva said...

Mr. Daddy, you and the RockCrawlinChef seem to be cut from the same cloth. Rach may be right in that we've married the last two "real" men on the planet.

Rising Rainbow said...

Wow, that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I'm glad it worked out for the horse......the rider probably deserved what she got if she had such little compassion for the horse.

GunDiva said...

Rising Rainbow - I wholeheartedly agree!