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By on July 25, 2020 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
From !eft: Jennifer, Ruth, Ian and Brad  worked with good cheer and calmness to swiftly stabilize Susan (seen somewhat flat on the ground).

A perfect day for a horseback ride explodes into a backcountry emergency

The Good Life feature writer and wilderness horseback rider Susan Lagsdin is recovering at home in East Wenatchee.

By Susan Lagsdin

(On April 29, 2020, I suffered not one, but four, traumatic injuries on what was supposed to be an easy trail ride on my horse. I was slam-dunked into a twilight world of double quarantine during hospitalization and rehabilitation that made a laughable inconvenience of the previous eight weeks of Covid-19s’ “sheltering in place.” This article is part one of that long and ongoing adventure.)

The Ride.

It was a perfect morning for horseback riding in the Methow: cool, quiet, with light cloud cover and no rain forecast. My friend Carolyn Bronson and I trailered up to Elbow Coulee Road, midway between Twisp and Winthrop, to take a well-defined route leading to the south end of the Sun Mountain trail system. 

Carolyn rode her Quarter Horse gelding, Prince, and I rode, as I had for 18 years, my sturdy little half-Arab mare, Stella. 

As we had before on dozens of rides, we readied the horses in friendly silence, checking cinches and saddlebags. 

I generally ride with longtime friends on familiar trails, with no racing or jumping, only occasionally bushwacking or trying tricky terrain. 

We joke that a good ride is one with no adventures, more like an extended scenic hike to the imagined sound track of How The West Was Won

We travel light for our short rides, with just a few essentials. That day, as always, I wore a helmet and carried a cell phone but also packed, among a few other trail-wise items, a Stihl folding hand saw for cutting branches that sometimes fell across the trail. 

Strong winds earlier that week presented us with a little downed timber, all small enough to step over or easy to bypass. 

Twenty minutes up the trail, however, we were blocked by a fallen fir tree with no detours to the side and some vertical limbs that could be easily leveled. I fetched my saw and within five minutes cut off the few small branches while Carolyn held the horses. 

I returned to re-pack my saw in the saddlebag, and that’s when an (im)perfect storm of circumstances changed my life for worse and for better. 

Stella in corral. Photo by Terry Dixon

The Wreck.

If you’ve ever cut firewood, you know the sound and the concussion of sledge on log. That’s what I heard and felt, twice: two cracking explosions of pain as I passed behind Stella and she did a fast and furious double-tap with one hind hoof. 

The first kick landed on my right leg. I remember bellowing with the shock, and I must have spun and dropped, because the second kick landed on my back, at my left shoulder. 

In the hubbub after I shouted from the ground and Carolyn hurried toward me, one of the horses — I’ll choose Prince this time — added the coup de grace and stomped on the outside of my left knee. 

 (The damage was 12 separate bone fractures and three torn ligaments, and surgeons operated on them for a total of 11 hours. But that’s another story…) 

Stella is small, only 14.1 hands and 900 pounds and, thank goodness, barefoot, with no metal horseshoes. She’d never twitched a leg in all the times I’d groomed and handled her, but in those two seconds her sudden instinct was to kick out hard, twice. 

I knew instantly that my injuries were very bad, but I also knew some positive things. 

Yes, I rode that day with a friend. Yes, we have a rescue service. Yes, there’s cell phone coverage at the county road. Yes, I was conscious and could move all my limbs and my head. Yes, I’d banked 70 years of almost flawless good health and a gym-strong body to boot. And, no, I hadn’t been kicked in the head, heart, belly, face or spine.

AeroMethow’s  ATV and the Life Flight’s helicopter made this mountain rescue possible.

The Rescue.

The next hour worked as smoothly as clockwork only better, with memorable moments of help and comfort abounding. 

My pain was oddly distant — shock had probably pre-empted those receptors. Carolyn made me secure with her raincoat for a blanket and a stone for a head pillow. She took my phone, tied Stella to a tree and led her own horse down to the trailhead, redialing 911 as she ran.

Me? I watched the trail and stayed still and peaceful, not knowing how long I might be there alone. 

I sang a little, wiggled all 20 digits for reassurance and eased myself by pre-playing the next necessary steps coming up, realizing too that I might not take any literal steps for a long while. 

The first bright moment was a lone voice about 20 minutes later, ringing out from the woods: “Susan, I’ve come to help you!” Jennifer Schumacher, on a picnic hike with her kids, had met Carolyn on the trail. 

I envisioned an angel with wings: she was also an off-duty Aero Methow Rescue EMT carrying both a first aid kit and a satellite phone. Jennifer expertly bolstered my fetal-positioned body with hers for maximum comfort and, though strangers, we chatted like old girlfriends.

More help was on the way. Soon we heard the much-anticipated rattle of a chain saw, courtesy of Okanogan Search and Rescue, cutting through the last of the downed timber to allow Aero Methow’s all-terrain vehicle a safe route to my rescue. 

After that I only remember a blur of cheerful voices, a few EMT jokes and the capable hands of Ruth Payne, Ian Ross and their supervisor Brad Scharnickel swiftly cutting away pants and boot, positioning my limbs, inserting an IV and cocooning me in a blanket as they readied me for extraction and transport. 

That meant a loud but surprisingly comfortable ride down the hill to a Life Flight helicopter already waiting for us at the roadside meadow. With the EMT’s ministrations, I was blissfully unaware of time and distance but heard later that it was a smooth trip to the rooftop of Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

Flawless collaboration simplified that chaotic afternoon. 

A passerby, Michael Dunn, hiked up and volunteered to lead Stella back to the road. And while I was semi-conscious, a series of texts and phone calls, long drives and creative problem-solving from my spouse Mike and Twisp friends Steve and Terry Dixon got my truck, trailer and horse back home to East Wenatchee. 

I’m quite sure I didn’t make any rider error mistakes in those crucial few minutes before the wreck, and the gentle mare I’d fine-tuned over the years is innocent. 

The accident may have been caused by Stella’s position close to the male horse, some unnoticed bickering between them, or maybe a startle reaction. 

I also feel no recriminations like “Why didn’t I…?” or “If only I had…,” and for me any bigger cosmic “Why” absolutely defies contemplation. 

That acceptance helped me in the next months, where I had just enough time to heal my broken bones and probably too much time to think. 

Want the rest of the story? Read “Part Two: Reconstruction and Recovery” in your September issue of The Good Life.

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  1. Barbara Calkins says:

    Wow!! Susan I am Sabrina Martinez’s mother and she shared this article with me about your accident. I recently visited her and I rode with her on both “Flash” and “Sasha”. I know Sabrina has been praying for you and I was there when she heard the news about your Injury. You have such a wonderful attitude about your injury and recovery! God bless you and you will ride again!!❤️

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