A dramatic fall into a narrow ravine could have been deadly for Paula Riley and her mare Swiss Mocha. But fellow competitive trail riders – and horses – pulled together to rescue the pair, demonstrating the teamwork and training that is a key component of the sport. Marty Findley was among those involved in the rescue.
We have always known how the sport of North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC) distance riding transforms us as individuals. In my 30+ years of participation I have witnessed bold riders humbled, timid made bold, introverts changed into extroverts, and the bullied learning to be confident in the face of their peers. All this through that special bond a rider can cultivate with their horse.
Our horses are transformed as well. They become creatures able to overcome their instinctive fears. With relatively small brains, the horse depends on its instinct, speed, and strength to survive. Our NATRC training asks horses to respond to our partnership in spite of the horse’s natural instinct. I witnessed an example of that training at the NATRC’s Faye Whittemore Farms competitive trail ride in Jasper, Alabama, on May 5.
With conditions wet underfoot during the ride, Riley’s mare – known in the region as Coco – slipped off a ledge and fell 20 feet into a narrow, water-filled ravine.
Paula landed on her right side on a rock shelf about a third of the way up from the bottom of the ravine. Coco landed on her feet just below Paula.
For Coco, there was only one possible exit from that ravine – over the top of Paula. Paula reached out and touched the frightened mare on the chest and said, “Back”. Coco responded immediately, backing away from Paula, and stood still to keep from trampling her devoted owner. Coco resisted the urge to escape and waited until other horses and riders arrived. Some of the riders then scaled the side of the rocks to reach Paula and pull her up and out of the ravine, while others took care of Coco.
Coco waited while her tack was removed. When she heard the words, “Come on big girl, you can do it,” Coco started the fight to climb out of the ravine. Once out, a shivering Coco patiently waited while her legs were wrapped to stop the bleeding. Riders also put plastic bags on Coco to warm her and, when help arrived, she was led out to a waiting trailer.
Meanwhile, the mounts of the riders who were rendering aid stood patiently for two hours until the EMTs finally arrived. After determining that Paula’s neck and spine were not injured, the EMTs began assessing how to safely get her to the ambulance. The only available route was crossing a rocky river then a steep, three-quarter mile climb that was not possible to do with a stretcher. Horseback was the only way to get Paula out and, once again, an NATRC horse showed his training.
Prime Sensation WH (Prime) carried Paula one step at a time, often holding his motion between steps in awkward positions when asked to “Wait”. Prime crossed the river, swollen with spring rains, and up the narrow passage to safely deliver Paula to waiting rescue teams.
Prime and Marty Findley, along with the other horse-and-rider teams that assisted during this emergency, then went on to complete the ride.
This was an accident that, with less experienced riders and horses, could have had a completely different ending. Beyond the ribbons and obstacles, we have one more reason to be exceptionally proud of our NATRC-trained horses. No equestrian sport has the potential to create horses with the cumulative abilities than NATRC horses can achieve.
Paula and Coco will be competing again soon. Back in camp, Prime received his usual warm mash and hugs. Well, maybe a few more hugs than usual.
NATRC … Come Ride With Us!
NATRC distance competitive trail rides are fun, challenging and open to all breeds and folks from all disciplines. Riders are invited to see what they and their horses can achieve. www.natrc.org