Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another horse calamity, narrowly averted...

Riley's alternate title: "Mom never lets me have any fun..."
At the end of my life I may not be an expert horsewoman, but I'll be eminently qualified to write the book, "1000 Ways Your Horse Can Get Injured" -- thanks in large part to Riley. My heart is still racing, just a little, as I write.

Friday 1pm
Friday afternoon I call Riley's barn manager to find out the weekend work schedule. She tells me in an apologetic tone that the horses have not been out in three days. The pastures are a sheet of ice after a series of rain/sleet and freeze/thaw cycles. Riley has never been stallbound for more than one day, and I speculate he must be bouncing off the walls. I want to go out to the barn right away, but my stepsons are in town and Bob wants us to take them out to dinner. I campaign for a very early dinner so I can go out to the barn afterwards.

Friday 7pm
Dinner is over by 7pm, partly because I lie and tell everyone "the desserts here are awful." Then Bob and I drive out to the barn. The plan is to turn Riley out in the indoor arena and let him work off some steam. Before leading Riley into the ring, I brief Bob on his turnout duty--to hold the lunge whip and keep Riley away from the end of the arena where jumps are stored (he could run into the standards and get hurt). We otherwise Riley-proof the ring and I go get my horse.

I lead Riley into the ring, close the door and turn him loose. To my surprise he is energetic but not crazed, and he does a few laps around the ring. On the third lap, he passes the jumps but the huge sawdust pile adjacent to the jumps catches his eye. This is the mother of all sawdust piles, an 18 wheeler loads-worth that is well over Riley's head and runs almost from corner to corner of the ring's short side. I never dreamed Riley would look twice at it. But he trots toward it, ears perked and head lowered, and starts to paw at the edge. I yell at Bob to move him away, but Bob doesn't see any danger and is only sauntering toward Riley.

Without warning, Riley leaps into the sawdust pile as like a kid plungeing into a pile of leaves. He scrambles up the mountain of sawdust, makes it nearly to the top of the highest mound. Then he slides halfway down, toward a narrow space between the pile and the corner of the indoor. He isn't exactly stuck, but he is stifle/elbow deep in sawdust and flailing. It's easy to see he could roll and get cast behind the gigantic pile. I run around the back of the pile and make my way toward where Riley is. Wading into the sawdust up to my thighs, I crack the whip, hoping to flush him out. I can't see what effect this has, but Bob, on the other side, does. Riley leaps up throws himself in the other direction. As he clambers down the side of the pile he tips forward, loses his balance, and goes down on his chest and neck. Thankfully it's a short, soft fall, and as he frees his legs he slides to the bottom of the pile, landing on the solid footing of the indoor.

I follow him to the other end of the ring, grabbing a lunge line that is looped around a jump standard. Clipping the line to his halter, we finish his exercise in a more controlled fashion. He is okay, but my mind is filled with visions of Riley on his back, lodged between the pile and the wall, feet flailing. I want to throw up.

Riley, on the other hand, is trotting merrily at the end of the lunge. "What a goofball," Bob observes.


  1. I swear you can barn proof everything BUT the horse! I am glad he is okay after his little adventure! Good thing we love our horses or the years they take off of our lives wouldn't be worth it!

  2. I know the feeling well...your heart just closes up.

    This reminds me of the time I turned a friend's horse, a 3/4 Arab cross, out in a fenced in area between the sheds and barn where he could nibble on grass. Little did I realize he would eye the wood pile as a means of getting to the apples on an overhead branch. Once on top he was looking around to where he could step next as he couldn't quite reach the apples above him. There was a shed roof, and just as he was carefully moving his legs so he could step up I managed to coax him down with a bucket and a couple of handfulls of grain. He wasn't allowed out there ever again.

  3. OH!
    Goes to show ya..never underestimate the clever equine's mind for adventure!
    That was harrowing, just reading!
    Glad that he is okay.

  4. Phew. Narrow escape. You are a devoted owner and Bob sounds so supportive.

    A friend and I once kept our daughters' two ponies in a paddock next to a railway embankment. I once got a frantic call that ours, Taquila was loose on the embankment. Fortunately we got there before she reached the railway line itself. She had barged the fence, lowered it and then jumped it. When we tried to catch her she just jumped back into her field. Normally she always came right up to me when I arrived, looking for polo mints from my pocket. But that day she knew she was in trouble and wouldn't let me near her. That was certainly a narrow escape.

  5. Oh my gosh - sounds like Riley was trying to do some hill work! I'm glad it all ended with no injury. Whew!

  6. that is scary. glad no one was hurt.

    at our last barn we had an enclosure behind the barn that led to the horse's paddock. one day i was in a hurry and the horses had all gotten so good at finding their own stalls i thought, 'i'll just open the gate and they can go in on their own.' which worked great for all but one of the horses. while i was directing traffic in the barn i noticed one horse never made it in. i went out back into the enclosure to find him randomly standing in the dumpster. he had just climbed in where the back door was open and was like, 'well this thing already has shavings and poop in it; i'll stay here tonight.' he wasn't hurt and it was more funny than scary, but it just kind of reminded me how horses will always find the one place they aren't supposed to go and go there...

  7. I'm glad he is ok. A barn I used to ride at also stored sawdust in their arena and I saw a horse once spook into it, under saddle. They were Ok too.

    I'm surprised Riley wanted to jump in all on his own. He must be a playful guy. :)

  8. This is a perfect story illustrating how horses have an inerrant drive toward the unexpected catastrophe. Glad it came out OK. Also, it worries me that you guys skipped dessert. Cowgirls need dessert my friend.


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