The sun shone high in the liquid blue sky as blue birds lazily swooned through the warm breeze, their harsh twittering filling the air with a certain light heartedness that the onset of spring will always share. Everything was normal. That was good. It was to be just as any other afternoon ride; pleasurable and carefree, with exploring, laughing, enjoyment in the fullest. How could one have possibly expected the true outcome of this day?
Four saddled horse, all carrying us as their riders left the barn with light steps. A stray sorrel horse trotted dejectedly behind, left to tag along until another days ride. Unknowingly, she was our only mistake. One we would forever regret and never forget. But a lesson learned...
The coolness and shade that the redwood forest had to offer, beckoned to us, inviting us to leave the scorch of the day behind. So we excepted. The mulch gave beneath the horses feet as we left the warm glow of the sun behind us. The tree’s branches hung low, brushing our cheeks with their coarse needled branches. We spoke of nothing and everything as we held the reins loosely, our eyes scanning all the beauty around us as we delved into the rich offerings of the redwood forest surrounding us.
My sister and I leaned forward, urging our horses on, faster, past the others. Oh how we would pay for our unbridled enthusiasm. The horses pressed onward, but always ready to be pulled in at the soft tug of a leather rein. The horses beat out a tattoo on the forest floor as we hurried onward. Stop.
The clearing was as good as any to wait for the others and so we reined the horses in. Their breath flared out before us as they slowed and finally halted, their intelligent eyes searching for their brethren.
We could hear them. Just around the bend. Our hearts filled with the wonderment of what the rest of the day would bring. We could see them. Their mounts steady in their slow plodding pace. Everything was peaceful. Everything was good.
And with the speed of light, the world turned upside down. A flash of red and a harsh whinny as something bolted past me, jamming my leg against my horse. The domino that would send the rest crashing down. The red mare was gone, and so was I as my mount lowered her head, her eyes wild with fear as she bolted after her fellow horse. The runaway that had spooked them all. I heard a far away scream and “Bobby!” was yelled in hatred behind me.
I pulled back on the reins as branches slapped me cruelly in the face, no longer any gentleness or love in their touch. But alas, how can one stop an avalanche with a single thread of silk? That was how it felt as I pulled on her huge head. But in her fright, her bolt, nothing could stop her instincts from fleeing whatever had startled her.
There was no path, only a maze of thickly grown tree’s. And then I was falling. Or was I jumping? Was it planned? Or merely an accident? I’ll never know, only that I knew I was going to die as I hit the tree and rolled onto the damp ground. Feet pounded by me, so thunderous, so loud, so close, I knew that I would be trampled. Somehow though, I escaped the tyranny of those deadly hooves. My back throbbed where I had flown into the tree and my lungs seemed to fill with cement. There was no room for air. I staggered to my feet, every part of my body aching, my back seemed to be on fire as I fell to my knees gasping for air, praying it would come, knowing that I would die.
My two sisters who had retained their horses at a slower speed had avoided the bolt. Now they came crashing through the tree’s. I was pelted with harsh questions and I realized that they had no idea what had happened. Finally they noticed something was wrong as I emitted a strangled scream in a desperate attempt to breath. I managed to choke out my sisters name. How had she fared? I hoped better than me.
I fell back to the ground in agony as finally, oxygen seeped into my lunges and I knew I would live. It was a miracle that I was alive and I tenderly felt myself to make sure I was not broken. My ribs hurt with such fire I wondered if they could be broken and my back stung as if a million hornets had stabbed me. The relief that flooded my soul when I saw my two sisters walk around the bend was immeasurable. She had landed on a soft heap of mulch and had fared, as hoped, much better than I.
I struggled to my feet, my hands trembling. It hurt to straighten my back, but I managed to stumble to my feet. I could not mount a horse, and even if I could, I was wary to do so. The walk home was long and arduous as I forced myself to place one foot in front of the other, thanking our Heavenly Father above, that I was alive and whole.
As time slowly healed my pain I returned to the task of horse back riding. But though the pain ebbed, my memory never will. That flash back of how in less than a second my world turned into utter chaos and fear, how that even the most tamed of beasts, can’t fight their instinct for survival, or the urge; to bolt.