Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lost and Found

Me and Red leading, G and Gimi following, the Saturday afternoon sunlight.

Yesterday began in a pleasant enough manner, getting ready to ride Red while G got ready to ride Gimi.  Plan A, to trailer over to our close local trail, fell through due to a low tire on the trailer.  We switched gears to Plan B, hoof it over to the trail and see how much ground we could cover and yet make it home before dark.  The afternoon sun was barely warm, but its brightness was very welcome after a couple of cloudy, gray days.

I climbed aboard while waiting for G's last minute preparations.  The sense of tension and resistance in my horse was instant, as soon as I settled into the saddle and picked up the reins.  I think he just wanted to GO, but, atypically for him, he tossed his head, braced against me, and refused to comply with my request to back or sidepass.  I had a brief internal discussion and decided not to listen to the little voice telling me to get off and find his running martingale.  By this time, he was listening moderately better and G was ready to go, so off we went.
Riding beneath a wintry sky on our way to the trail.

Now it seemed as if he didn't want to GO after all, and he kept fidgeting and stopping as if he had to pee.  Once we made it to the trail, about 3 miles, I got off to adjust my saddle and see if he would pee - at this point all his stopping and posturing was beginning to worry me.  G and Gimi continued on the trail out of sight, which was a big accomplishment for inexperienced Gimi and Red doesn't get upset at being left behind.  He did finally pee, start grazing, and seemed perfectly normal.  Once remounted, he felt great, relaxed, and happy and we motored along with G and Gimi, sometimes trying to get Gimi to lead but mostly taking the lead ourselves and setting a forward trotting pace.  This was my normal Red!

Both G and I wanted to go as far as the bridge, because it's the natural turning-around spot and Gimi hadn't been across this particular bridge before (it has a metal grating along the center of the wood planks, I think to protect the wood from studded snowmobile tracks.)  We realized we'd be racing the daylight a bit, but continued on, crossed and recrossed the bridge for practice, and headed for home.  Both horses were doing great, and of course wanted to pick up the pace on the way home.  We let them a little bit, but continued our strategy of walking the steeper downhills and the bad culverts.

About one quarter of the way back along the trail, heading up a gentle but fairly long hill, Gesa asked Gimi for a canter. This is another new skill for them to add to their repertoire - cantering up a hill in balance and listening to the rider's cues on speed - which apparently he did well with, but I wasn't around to see it!  I don't honestly know exactly what happened, but Red began to canter as well and it almost immediately turned into a flat-out run.  I think something spooked him - perhaps even Gimi's rump rug flapping up suddenly and Red only seeing it out of the corner of his eye - but I don't truly know.  At any rate, we were in a full-scale bolt and I had no say in the matter.  I was vehemently wishing for that martingale right at that moment, and the thought passed through my mind to bail off, but I immediately voted no on that plan due to our alarming speed (who knew Red could go that fast? I for one didn't!), so grabbed for some mane instead.  He was flinging himself along the trail, totally out of balance and clearly out of the range of rational thought at the moment (perhaps "rational thought" is never appropriately used to describe equine brain activity, but he was definitely in flight mode and nothing else mattered to him in that moment.)  I guess one of his front boots came off, as G found it in the trail behind us, but the "oh, shit" moment happened when both his back feet went out from under him on a tiny patch of mud in combination with a left turn.  Down we went, on our left sides, though by the time I could look up, he was on his knees then on his feet, and away.  He did not land on me, and in fact barely touched me (grazed the inside of my left knee with a hoof, I think,) but was gone so fast I hardly knew what had happened.

Now, I usually have several "unplanned dismounts" from Red every year.  He tends to be a bit spooky.  He has never, ever bolted on me before, and except for our very first ride in November of 2002 when he was terrified of a corn picker, dumped me, and ran off across the field, has never taken off before, either.  I was a bit dumbfounded, really - what the heck just happened??

G and Gimi came calmly walking up the path, easyboot in hand, and I told her what happened.  We set off on foot, expecting Red to be just over the crest of the hill.  Well, he wasn't.  Nor was he over the crest of the hill after that, nor any of the hills or turns the entire three miles of trail back to the nearest road.  We found his second front boot, and after that no evidence of him at all.  My left hip was pretty sore (I think it was first point of impact - well bruised but already better today 24 hours later), and on our long walk down the trail we lost our dimming light until it was dark night by the time we hit the road.  Luckily both of us had our cell phones on our persons (learned that lesson years ago,) and G's husband was on his way with the trailer to pick us up.  I believed Red knew the route home well enough that he had probably just taken himself home.

We got home to no Red, anywhere.  I walked the outer fence line and our route through the neighbor's property, then up the gravel road to the steep hill trail, our cut over.  G picked me up in the car on the other side of the trail, and we drove the roads in every feasible direction he could have taken.  We scanned the shoulders of the road for hoof prints.  We examined both the gated entrances to the trail for hoof prints.  We talked to the guy with the aggressive Newfoundland (yes, an aggressive Newfie - I didn't know they existed!) at the end of the trail which we don't normally take, but had ridden only three days before on a short ride.  We drove around the roads some more.  I called the local horse people I knew, and the folks where Red used to board (about 10 miles as the crow flies from where we were) in case he headed back there.  No sight, no sound, no tracks anywhere of my boy.

By now we were running on pure adrenaline - cold, physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, a bit sore, and probably hungry (though I couldn't really eat the dinner G's husband kindly made for us.)  I was completely convinced that he hadn't gotten out of the woods and was still there on or near the trail somewhere.  He was wearing some blaze orange, and always has ID tags with my cell phone number on his bridle and saddle.  Dejectedly and very sick at heart, I went home to start spreading the electronic word, and called the sheriff's department.  Facebook and Craigslist notifications posted, and a very helpful conversation with the sheriff (he'd be sending extra patrols up and down the main road as available all night long, and assured me that when the public spots a loose horse, they invariably call it in - not a lot of hope in the pitch black night, but the nearly-full moon was shining and the sky was clear, so perhaps...), I couldn't stop my trembling, took a long hot shower, made a "Lost Horse" sign with a cardboard box and a Sharpie, and attempted to go to bed.  Between my sore hip and mental anguish, I would be stretching the truth to say I slept much.  What sleep I got was full of terrible dreams (which I can't bear to repeat.)  Late October has some mighty long nights, even if I didn't lay down until well after midnight.  By 5:30, I was staring at the ceiling and obsessively checking my phone for messages, thinking I'd missed a text.  I was in my warm riding clothes and choking down some yogurt so I could take my ibuprofen before 7, and to the barn just as the sun was coming up.

Red was still fully tacked last time I saw him, meaning that the only saddle I had to take Rhio out in is the one I've been trying to sell forever, the one that no longer fits him.  I rummaged around for saddle bags and filled one with bandage materials and a sharp knife, another with carrots and some water for me.  I tied a rump rug and a halter and lead on the back of the saddle. My hip protested a bit as I mounted, but it soon limbered up and we set off to retrace our steps from yesterday.  I left the "Lost Horse" sign for G to put up at the end of the driveway, and the plan would be for her to follow on Paco in about an hour, going in to the trail on the second route, and meeting up with me.

Rhio gave me no guff about leaving solo, which was amazing as I'm not sure I had the mental fortitude to deal with it if he wasn't willing to go.  He hates going alone, but he is getting better.  We surprised a couple of early morning dog walkers, and I spread the word to watch for Red and call 911 if they saw him.  We hit the trail, and about 8 my phone started ringing (requiring me to take off my gloves to answer...it was still darn cold out there, about 26 degrees when we set off) and I had offers of help from everywhere.  I was grateful for everyone's concern, but wanted to do the first look alone.  Having Rhio out there alone I knew would make him super-vigilant for other horses, and for the first time I did not chastise him for his plaintive whinnies, but encouraged them.  About three miles in, approximately 100 yards ahead of where the fall happened, I came around a corner, on the phone with someone offering help, and there he was!  The blaze orange he was wearing was like a beacon of light in the darkness.  I slapped my phone shut (hope I said goodbye!), and started talking to him as we walked up.  Rhio whinnied, and Red just stood there with a hind foot cocked and watched us.  Finally, when we were within 30 feet, he gave his throaty gumbly nicker.  I have never heard such a sweet sound.  The boys nosed each other, and I slipped off Rhio to give Red a huge hug and tell him what a good boy he was.

The rope reins I had used on Red were looped around a front pastern (he had stepped through the loop,) and both his left legs had some bloody spots (I am pretty sure from the fall.)  All his tack was intact except he was now missing all four boots, and had just two of the gaiters remaining hanging off two pasterns.  I fed him all the carrots I'd brought along, and checked him over from head to toe.  No rope burn on his pastern meant he stood quietly once he got his leg through the reins, and lots of poop piles in a small semicircle meant he'd spent the night standing right here, "where I'd left him."  It was probably 10 minutes before I could even call anyone to spread the word that he'd been found and was okay.
Pony-ee (Red) trying to outpace pony-er (Rhio)

Red and all his gear, after spending a frosty, lonely night in the woods.
We were about 6 miles from home, and I climbed up on Rhio to lead Red out of the woods.  Red didn't want to play second fiddle, and kept trying to pass Rhio and lead.  I stopped at a frozen puddle to break the ice for them, but neither would drink the frigid water.  We just kept on walking home, taking a slightly shorter route and cutting out to the main road, then meeting up with G and Paco and making it home in about two hours.

Once home, Red ate a big pan of beet pulp, had a huge drink from the automatic waterer, and spent a couple of uninterrupted hours eating hay in a stall.  I cleaned up all his bloody spots and they are indeed all scrapes/abrasions - most certainly from our fall and the resultant skid.  His girth was muddy and the breastcollar clip had mud and grass stuck in it from sliding across the trail.  Other than losing the boots, no overall lasting damage to either of us, and my camera, which spent the night in the saddle bag, is fully functional.
My boy, home safe and sound.
I do not wish an ordeal like this on anyone, ever.  I am indescribably thankful to have this happy ending.  I am grateful Red seems to have kept calm and stayed in one place, everything they tell you to do if you are ever lost.


  1. How scary! I didn't remember the title of your post, and was so scared you hadn't found him yet! I don't know how you slept at all. I wonder if when he ran off, he finally came to his senses, and went back to the last place he saw you. I wonder how far he went? Terrifying, but so glad you have him back. I can't imagine your relief when you saw him!

    Also good (in case someone else found him, like the dog walkers!) to have ID on the horse (my horse always does as well). Big sigh of relief after your stressful story!

  2. WOW! I am so sorry that you went through that. I had thought that your ordeal lasted only a few hours, because I learned of it from the facebook post saying you had found Red. I only had to scroll down a little before I saw the post saying he was lost. So my impression was way, way off--I can't imagine what an awful night that was! I'm so glad Red is home safe & sound, and I hope he has forgotten all about his cold & lonely night, even though you won't!