Sunday, May 12, 2019


A very sad event happened on a local trail: a horse tried to turn on a very narrow trail, lost it's footing, and slid down the side, where it broke it's leg. It had to be euthanized. This is a tragedy for horse and rider, and I have nothing but sympathy for them. There were posts wondering what trail it was, and I realized this is a trail I ride weekly. I never thought this section was particularly dangerous, but it sadly was for that horse.

aster among the rock

Some folks called for the trail to be closed, some for it to be inspected, (which was done, and it was determined it wasn't any worse than other parts of the trail), and some remarked that horses and riding are inherently risky activities. There was a comment that all of our trails should be brought up to a higher safety standard. While great in theory, that would literally mean about 95% of the trail in question (Pioneer Express) and probably 85% of the Tevis trail (just to name a few!) would be deemed unsafe.

This brought up many different, and sometimes conflicting, ideas in my head. I DID almost slide down a (even steeper) cliff alongside the trail myself earlier this year. Luckily my athletic horse saved us. It could have gone very wrong. Maybe I should have been paying more attention to exactly where he places his feet, and riding more aggressively, but I do let Major pick the trail most of the time. Will I be more attentive in those steep sections after that? Most certainly!

But the section where the event occurred is one I have never worried about. The American River  endurance ride had gone through this same section (and the one I had a problem with) two weeks before. The trail was not different then, and all those horses were unscathed. I'll also continue to ride this trail, and probably rarely think about the hazards. But I know some folks will now avoid this trail, as is their choice.

But on another note, I have an acquaintance who is starting a green arab. And who has done lots of ground work and prepared the horse well. But when she posted a picture of her on the horse with no helmet, I think I gasped. And I thought that I didn't really want to go ride with her if she doesn't wear a helmet. But if that is a risk she is willing to take, should I be ok with that?

I rode Major on a new-to-me trail the other day. It was safely inland, with no cliffs. And we were just walking. But he managed to find one sharp rock, and cut his foreleg. I noticed when I looked down to check his boots, and his white sock was covered in blood. It was a small cut, and I was able to clean it up and doctor it on the trail, with no lasting consequences. Should I avoid this trail? Should I be more aware that something can happen?

Why are we standing here? Because I'm cleaning your cut leg!

Accidents will happen. Some due to riding, some due to horses being horses, and some due to difficult circumstances. Is it a true accident or does everything have a reason or cause? I don't have any solutions, except what works for me. I think everyone has a comfort level, and that should be respected. But I don't want to be judged for my risk analysis and decisions being different. What about you?

feather along the trail


  1. Oh - so scary and sad. :(

    We have one section of the beach trail here that is extremely narrow with a steep drop off - nothing like out where you are, but enough elevation change to cause injury. I always feel thankful after that section is traversed safely.

    Of course horses trip, lose their riders and get injuries on perfectly flat ground too. It certainly ruins the enjoyment of our horse time to go into a dread spiral about all the what ifs...

    Helmets are just good common sense. Hard not to feel judgemental about that.

    1. Thanks for your insights, the "dread spiral" can certainly be debilitating if you let it.

  2. I'm with you on each person having their own comfort level and ability to therefore decide which risks they will take. Ultimately, if I'm uncomfortable with something for myself or my horse, I'll opt out. I can't count the number of times I've headed happily back to the car or back home because I wasn't comfortable with something. Sometimes others join me and sometimes they keep going. Every time things have been okay in the end.

    1. Maybe that is why I usually ride alone. I can choose my risks, speed, etc. Smart decision making on your part!

  3. That’s terrible news. I admit to being on the more cautious side of risk as I get older and less bouncy. I am particularly careful about who I ride with, and I have a base expectation that anyone I ride with will take care of me as I will of them, and that we will manage a change in gaits or routes as a team.

    As Im still riding a greenish horse, my helmet is back on but I have no such expectation of my fellow riders. There are a lot of factors at play and I evaluate the risk as a whole rather than as a part.

    And if the risk exceeds my threshold, then I decline to participate. Life is short, and not worth needless drama.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on risk. We all make better informed decisions with our eyes open. Living involves some form of risk. It is upon us to decide how much.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. My thoughts with the helmet part: If I am riding with others I will certainty help in any bad circumstance. But if someone isn't wearing a helmet, and their accident is much worse because of that choice, do I want to ride with them taking that risk? I've been with people who have hit their heads WITH helmets and it is bad enough! But some folks think my choices of riding alone is risky too, so, you're absolutely correct with the "Up to us to decide how much" risk. Thanks.

  4. I had a concussion and knocked out from a fall with a helmet on then rode over a mile home, put my horse away and didn’t realize I had done it til a day later. I’m glad I had that helmet on. I’m all for helmets! However plenty of people managed to live through the “old west” days without them - a greater danger maybe from smallpox or being scalped.
    Gasp! I was riding alone (as usual).
    Horses are dangerous to begin with. The safety in riding with someone else is that they can help you if you get injured, go catch your horse if you are not or just plain be mutual company.
    You have brought up several items that can be quite controversial for most people. Everyone has an opinion 🤔
    For me, it is a persons prerogative if someone doesn’t want to wear a helmet because If they get hurt I feel capable of handling the trauma...emotionally...because in all actuality if you are out riding on a trail and get injured badly there isn’t anyone who can help other than to attempt a 911...then it seems to takes forever for a team to get to you even when you are only a half mile off of a road. A calm riding partner is good moral support.
    Just getting in your car and driving to work can be dangerous.
    Then you have free climbers on steep mountains...
    We can’t live in fear of everything.
    I say choose what you enjoy. Know your ability and enjoy the company you are with. Don’t worry about whether others think if you choose to opt out because of choices they are making that you don’t feel comfortable with. Be polite in your explanation or just avoid riding with that person in the future.
    They can either take your reasoning graciously or not.
    It’s on them if they don’t want to work it out with you.
    As you stated...comfort level should be respected.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm glad many people do what they love even if it is the "wrong" thing to some.

  5. I agree with you 100%. There is inherent risk (and you could get struck by lightning on a clear day in a flat meadow). It's up to us to decide what risk we're willing to take when. I see this a lot with hiking trails. One that Mike and I hiked a few weeks ago is closing at the end of the month. A few people have died. The trail itself is not dangerous so long as you follow the marked route and don't do anything dumb. Unfortunately, people do dumb things and fall to their deaths, so now it will be ruined for the rest of us. I feel that the same thing could easily happen with SO MANY horseback riding trails. I recently saw a post about how the Old Dominion trail is way too dangerous and the ride should be completely reorganized. Meanwhile, I feel she was simply on an unsuitable horse for the course. I've done it repeatedly over the years with a variety of horses and have never had a problem. (Ok, my horse pulled a shoe one year, and that sucked... but it had nothing to do with the trail.) I think the most important factors are knowing your abilities, your horse's abilities, and what the trail involves ahead of time. Still, you can be the most prepared rider in the world, and a freak accident could still happen. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy it anyway...

    1. You certainly know the risks, having lived through many of them! I'm so sad they're closing a trail due to inherent risks, none of us would ever be able to hike up a waterfall if that becomes the norm.

    2. "simply on an unsuitable horse for the course" says it all. I've been fortunate to own & ride a few horses that I feel safe on, even on narrow cliff trails. I have another horse I would never consider taking on these trails. Knowing your horse's capability is the key to safe riding.

    3. Yes, and I think that's important in any time you ride. Know what your horse can and cannot handle... whether it's terrain, fence height, dressage movements, spookiness... having a suitable mount for the task cannot be underestimated.

  6. Been knocked out once. 100 yards from home while mounting. Latest fall was 25 yards from the gate after a 3 hour ride. I quit riding 25 yards too soon.
    People die in car wrecks every day. We all load our ponies in the trailer & drive with alarming regularity.
    One could wrap up in bubble wrap, sit on the couch & wait for the inevitable heart attack.
    Choose wisely.