Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Legends of the Fall, Part One

Moonie was fast.  When you saw him galloping in front of the ambulance deep in the woods you could tell he had been a race horse.  His shiny white coat stood out among the evergreens but there was no mistaking that rotating red light that seemed to be nipping at his heels as he ran faster and faster.  He looked like he was leading a parade and in one sense he sadly was.

You're never prepared.  It happens when you least expect it.  And sometimes, if luck isn't on your side, the end result can be, at worst, life altering, or at best, a very painful experience.  This was to be one of those dreaded days, someone's life indeed was changed.

Ron had never been out with the hunt and he used this day in "cubbing season", a hunt warm-up if you will, to try Moonie out.  The pair had gotten along well at the boarding stable where Moonie was staying until he found his forever home but the real test was to be in the woods of the Maryland countryside.  No one had anticipated this.

The ground was hard, it was late fall, little rain.  The riders had been in their "off season" using the summer months to rest their mounts and their own aching bones so they might make it through the "hunt season" which started with cubbing at Labor Day, opening meet around Thanksgiving and then regular hunting until late March, weather permitting of course.  It took awhile to get your riding legs back, your seat, your wind.  That wasn't an excuse for what happened but it was later recounted as a contributing factor, but by then it didn't matter.

I remember Ron being summoned, he had the training from his Army days to take care of injured people in remote areas, unlike the other physicians in the hunt who saw their patients only in air conditioned rooms with nurses and equipment.  Moonie was stoic as well.  He seemed to know that something had happened and none of his usual antics were on display that day. Some horses are smart and innate.

In an age before iPhones, someone had to gallop to the nearest house to make the call.  The Medvac couldn't get in to our location in the woods.  The road was too narrow and the trees too dangerous.  It seemed like it took forever for the ambulance to arrive that day but the sight of Moonie leading the way like a gray race horse on a mission made an impression I'll never forget.

The lovely fall day started well but ended badly.  The rider had fallen over the neck of his horse when the horse stopped at a large tree covering the dirt road.  Most of the others jumped but this one did not.  The rider landed on the back of his neck much like the movie star, Christopher Reeve, had done at a three-day event in Virginia a few years earlier.  Now these two men had something in common.  So many others have had that same fall but walked away.  How did these two get so unlucky?

Galloping through the woods at high speeds on a 1500-pound animal, jumping over trees that will never move is not a safe sport, no matter how you look at it.  But we all choose to do the things we love - skiing, mountain biking, football, kayaking, car racing -  because it's what we do, it's part of who we are, our DNA; the risks are inherent, the love for it evident and omnipresent.  Many of us went out with the hounds the following weekend, putting the prior week's events out of mind at least for the four hours we were in the saddle.

Jimmy's life was changed forever that day and he never got out of his wheelchair again paralyzed from the neck down.  Whether his cherished hunting memories haunted him or humbled him from that day forward, we'll never know. 


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