Horses & Cows

Julie’s family has a fantastic cabin in the Bighorn Mountains above Sheridan, Wyoming, at 7000 feet.  The cabin is part of an association of about 25 cabins and a few thousand acres of beautiful sub-alpine country including lakes, creeks, forest, and several pastures for grazing.  Nearly every cabin keeps a horse or two, and riding is part of the daily routine in the summer.

We had ridden with dogs many times including a few with Madison.  One day we started a morning ride, and as we were riding single file up a trail, about a half mile from the cabin, I noticed Maddie fall behind, checking out something off-trail that had caught her nose.  I remember being worried it might be a porcupine – if only.

I looked back, and after a few seconds saw her break off whatever she was exploring and start running to catch up as fast as she could. Thinking back, a small but serious alarm went off in my head, and I realized this was a bad situation.  Everything slowed down.  I heard Maddie running back up the trail, then some horse commotion behind me, then a sickening thud, and then that terrible sound of an animal screaming in pain.

The rear horse had caught her squarely in her right-front shoulder as she tried to race by too close on the narrow trail.  I dropped my reins and jumped off my horse (which was dumb) and ran back to Maddie.  She had tumbled about 10 feet off the trail. By the time I got to her, she was no longer crying, but she was panting heavily and lying on her “good” side.  The initial damage looked terrible.  Her shoulder had a circular indentation, and there was a curved gash from the hoof.

The rest of the group returned to the corral – someone must have led my horse.  Fortunately, this happened early in the ride, and we were only about a quarter mile from the nearest dirt road, so the plan was for someone to get a vehicle, and we would carry Madison to it if necessary.  It would then be about a 30 minute drive down the mountain to the nearest vet (who we soon learned had a tie to the cabins).

I stayed with Maddie, and once we were alone, a calm fell over us.  I scritched her and talked to her, and eventually she slowed her breathing, and after about five minutes, she surprised me by struggling to her feet, and she started to hobble back down the trail 3-legged.  She knew which way to go, seemed very determined, made it the whole quarter mile, and we lifted her into the car.

As we were driving out of the cabin area, we met a car coming in, and Julie’s parents recognized it as belonging to one of the vets from the clinic we were heading to!  We stopped, flagged the car down, and the driver examined Maddie right there in the back of our car.  What excellent service!

Maddie knew she was hurt and let the exam happen without fuss, as she always did when she needed some human assistance.  The car-vet didn’t think the shoulder was broken but gave us the clinic’s number and told us to call once we had a cell signal.  When we got to the clinic they got Maddie into an exam room immediately, took an x-ray, and after 30 minutes or so told us there were no broken bones.  She would be very sore for awhile but probably make a full recovery.  Which she did, though I always wondered if some of the “arthritis” she had in that leg in her later years traced back to the kick by that horse.

The next summer, for our first ride, we left Maddie at the cabin while we went to saddle the horses and start our ride.  We stopped by the cabin on our way out and invited Maddie to join. She trotted down the steps, took a few paces forward, gave us a long look (because deep down she wanted to go), and then she went back to the front door and barked.  I let her in, and her riding days were over. We later learned she was only afraid of horses with riders – but not of horses without.  Go figure.

Maddie had been on several prior uneventful rides at the cabin.  Sometimes, once we crossed onto National Forest land, we would encounter grazing cattle, and when we did Maddie proceeded to carefully maneuver so that a horse and rider were between her and the nearest cow at all times. Why she was wary of cows we have no idea.  A cow was probably the only common hoofed animal with which she didn’t have a bad encounter.

Leave a Reply