Four Ways to Save Your Life

As published in The Northwest Horse Source, November 2017 edition.

My summer of trail rides and horse camping was wonderful. Until it wasn’t.

You might have heard that I took a tumble recently. It’s true. I was riding in the Three Sisters Wilderness in central Oregon when I joined the unplanned dismount club. Although I don’t remember all of it, I got to visit the hospital ER, met some great doctors, toured the surgery, and now I have a shiny new shoulder! Fun times.

I can’t tell you with certainty what went wrong, although I think it was bees. One moment I was in the saddle taking pictures and the next my head was impacting a tree followed by proof that Newton’s law of gravity is true. As I’m finding that narcotic-fueled dreams are anything but pleasant, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder what went right during my misadventure.

Riding with a partner.

The first thing that I did right was riding with a partner.

Kim McCarell, the author of the Northwest Horse Trail Book series, was my Oregon riding companion and guide as we rode and horse camped around the Three Sisters area. Kim was not only excellent trail company; she gave me a second set of eyes on my injury and was able to take care of my mule as we made our way off the mountain.

Had Kim not been nearby to help I might still be out there. She helped get my floppy arm stabilized and generally watched me like a hawk during the long slow walk out. She even arranged transportation to the emergency room while we were still on the trail.

Your life may depend on it, so choose your riding partner wisely.

READ MORE – How to pick the right riding buddy

Carrying 1st aid kits and having the knowledge to use them. 

The second thing I did right was carry a first aid kit and have the knowledge to use it. When we found that I couldn’t move my arm, we were able to stabilize it with the first aid kits that we both carried. Between the two kits, we were able to get an oddly floppy arm stabilized enough that I could make my way off the mountain.

The emergency room staff was quite impressed with our efforts and the ER nurses made a point of saying we did a good job of improvising in using a belt to immobilize my shoulder. They also made of point of mentioning that most people don’t know how to help themselves in an emergency.

The incident may have had a different outcome if we hadn’t carried 1st Aid supplies and taken the time and effort to learn how to use them, before the ride.

Having the knowledge to use a first aid kit, and improvise if needed, is just as important as carrying the kit.

Carrying a Communications Device.

Being able to call for help is a good thing. Having good communications is the third thing we did right.

Kim and I both carried tools to contact help in an emergency. We used them that day. Between the two of us, we had cell phones, a personal locator beacon, and a Garmin InReach. With these tools at her disposal, Kim arranged for emergency transportation and even let my wife know that there had been an accident. I was awfully grateful that I had options other than sitting on the side of a hill hoping that someone would come along.

It’s important to carry communication devices that work for in the area you’re riding. Cell phones don’t work everywhere and not all messengers are created equally. I’ve tried others, that didn’t work, and I’m very glad that I could rely on my Garmin InReach when I needed it.

READ MORE – The Garmin InReach

Wearing a helmet.

Lastly, I was wearing a helmet.

If scars are sexy my helmet should be in a pinup calendar. According to my helmet, my head hit a tree on my way to the ground. I certainly don’t remember it. Having a multitude of plates and pins in my shoulder is plenty. I’m glad I don’t have shiny hardware in my head as well.

If you choose to wear a helmet (and I hope that you do) make sure that it’s ASTM / SEI certified for equestrian use. My Troxel Sierra model took the beating so that my head didn’t. I guess it’s time for a new helmet.

Well, that’s about it for now. As you can see I’m still typing, slowly and with one hand but typing! I’ll be back in the saddle as soon as the docs give me the OK. For more trail riding tips and the world’s largest guide to horse trails and camps, visit

  • Pojo

    I am sharing this article. I’ve seen people riding along with a leg hooked over the horn, sitting backwards and more. Riding a horse is like driving a car. You have to pay attention to your horse. Even the most well trained horse can go wonky when you least expect it.

    • The_TrailMeister

      Thank you for sharing. It’s never “just” a trail ride

      • Bella Anthony

        Well horses are animals and are never dead broke, all that means as long the rider doesn’t take over the reins the horse is dead broke, but if you want the horse to do something it can blow up in a very bad way.

  • J

    Lots of great info, thanks for sharing your (miss) adventure! I hit the ground after flipping over and above my horse, helmet and air vest saved my life per ER Dr. busted clavicle and one fracture on my neck . Just starting out on a trail ride when I turned to check my buddies and all h… broke loose. On my quiet horse, no less. Ride on and safely!

  • Charlotte

    My horse and I were on a trail that dissolved and we both fell or slid down a ravine. Helmet was cracked in three places. My horse survived just fine. Always wear one!

  • The Equestrian Vagabond

    wow, glad you are OK, and nice to see you advocate wearing a helmet!

  • Bella Anthony

    I literally learned to fall slow. the only time i didn’t use, was when some slammmed the aluminum bleachers and freaked me and my horse, i went left onto a metal barrel and broke my back. It was only the L1-L4 processes. boy did that hurt. I usually don’t go anywhere when something happens. but the pms wouldn’t let me up until the helicopter people came. I started yelling “I am not going on a hellicopter” but on the hellicopter i was b*tching i could see out and i needed ear plugs. LOL. Went home the next day. If i wouldn’t have had a helmet on, i would have had to pay $35,000 for the chopper ride.

    on another ride my horse turned to the left when i was mounting which caused vertigo and I fell onto a stone wall then the ground. was knocked out. when i realized i lost my glasses i went to where i fell. and then thats when i realized i was knocked out cuz where i found my horse was far away to far for me to get up and get him. I broke my pelvis in 2 places. so i went back to house and looked at my helmet and it had a hole the size of a silver dollar. Being a nurse, I blew everything and went to bed.

    Once a horse flipped over an embankment with me still on him and he rearranged my guts and abdomen. it was sticking out to the left at my waist still does. also tore up my right rotator cuff and gave a 4inch black hematoma in my left groin.

    the others aren’t all that much to right about.

  • Bella Anthony

    Oh forgot to say that i am glad yinz are here after bad accidents.