In 2008, as a recent breast cancer surgery survivor, I decided that I wanted to raise money for breast cancer research. I wanted to raise a lot of money so decided to organize a trail ride. A 23 day, 500 kilometer trail ride. In the beginning, I thought it would be a wagon train, so I bought a team of lovely Norwegian Fjord geldings — “Troll” and “Bror” — and a wagon. I’ve ridden horses for years, but had never driven. None of the people who said they’d teach me showed up, so I taught myself. Unfortunately, there were two holes in my learning curve. The first hole was, “When you’re in the wagon, never take your eyes off your team”. The second hole was, “Always do up the throatlatch *tight* so that one horse can’t rub the other horse’s bridle off his head. Those holes were expensive.
I needed practice, so one day my husband and I drove the team over to a neighbour’s house for coffee. On the way home, we were coming up our lane and smelled something dead. Hmmmm. I stopped the team and Hubby jumped down to investigate. I stayed in the wagon … and (mistake #1) turned to watch him as he went back down the lane. The horses were standing quietly. And then it happened. Unbeknownst to me, Bror was itchy so he started rubbing his head against his brother’s head. Troll drives in a closed bridle, so he never knew that there was a wagon behind him when we were out for a ramble. (I know. Weird, right? I mean, how could he not know?) (Mistake #2.) The bridle came off. Then Troll moved forward a half step … and the wagon followed him. “What is that thing behind me?” By then I turned around and saw the missing bridle, but before I could jump down, Troll took another step and saw the wagon move toward him again and he thought, “ACK! That thing is chasing me!” and he bolted. Bror assumed that Troll took off because they were being chased by a cougar (of course!), so off he went too. We went careening down the lane as fast as they could stampede.
Fortunately for me, when we got to the home place they did *not* turn left into the pen. Had they done so, we’d have collided with the steel gate post that’s set in concrete and I would not be here to write this story. Instead, they turned right and raced behind the garage. There was literally less than an inch of clearance between the garage and a steel fence. We made it through, but there was nowhere to go! They ran right into the corner of a granary! Neither horse was hurt, but the 1.5” steel pole connecting the horses to the wagon was bent to a 45º angle as it was driven into the corner of the granary … and I tumbled head over heels out of the wagon.
As I lay there I was looking at Bror and Troll’s shod feet thinking that if they backed up (thankfully they didn't) I would be trampled by 8 shod hooves. Gotta get up and out of here … but I couldn’t move! Huh! Well then, I better crawl out of here. I couldn’t do that either! I was paralyzed! That didn’t even register as a problem. My problem was to get away from those hooves. I grabbed the wheel of the wagon and hauled myself up onto my feet. My legs held. There! Now let’s get my boys out of here. But my legs wouldn’t move! Well, crud. Now what? So I started yelling for my husband (who was looking high and low for me, never guessing that we could have gone through the small space behind the garage).
Eventually Hubby showed up and I asked him to get the horses unhitched and put them in the corral. He wanted to know why I wasn’t doing that myself. “Because I can’t move.” He blinked, but then did as I asked. (We are not very high-strung people.) Once he put the horses away, I had him come back with our car and park it as close to me as he could. Then he held me up on one side and the fence held me up on the other. We dragged me to the car and headed for town. He didn’t realize how badly I was hurt so wondered if I wanted to go to the little local hospital. I said, no, I thought I was hurt worse than that and wanted to go to the University Hospital in Edmonton. Off we went.
When we got there, they wouldn’t even help me out of the car! They said if I got myself in the car, I could get myself out! Well, the getting out took us 20 minutes. Then the ER staff left me sitting there for so long we got hungry. Hubby got us A&W burgers, but I hurt so much I couldn’t finish mine. That’s when Hubby got a bit perturbed and raised a little hell. They did a battery of x-rays and said there was nothing wrong. They suggested that I had just winded myself and I should lie there until I felt better and then go home. Ack! I hurt *way* too much to be going anywhere!
Then my guardian angel came by. He was a resident. His first name was Julian. I never got his last name. He looked at the x-rays and said, “These don’t tell me anything. Send her back and get blah-blagh-blagh x-rays.” Off we went again. Well! When we got back, Julian (and all the others) looked at the x-rays and they went into overdrive. They couldn’t tell if I’d broken my neck or not (I hadn’t), but they knew for sure that I’d broken my back in 5 places, my right hip in 3 places and my left leg!
I spent 10 days drugged to the gills in the ICU. From there they sent me off to a rehab hospital for the next 3.5 months.
In the meantime, my son ran my trail ride for me. He didn’t know how to drive a team (and besides, he felt that my team might be unreliable), so the wagon was pulled by a tractor that year! And I acted as “Trail Boss” from my hospital bed. The media got wind of us and gave us a ton of publicity, so the ride was successful enough that we decided to make it an annual event.
In year two, I was terrified to drive. I started to shake just getting into the wagon! Everybody told me I had PTSD. “Pfft! No, I don’t. I’m just scared spitless!” so my son drove and I ran the show from the ground. But by year three, I was back on the lines and driving my beautiful, wonderful Norwegian Fjord team.
Every summer we took up to 30 riders and put on 500 kilometres and visited 23 different towns. My little Fjords were rock solid. We’d have little kids squealing and crawling around them, balloons popping around them, and we’d visit old folks homes where they’d stand stock-still for the seniors to pet them.
Together, my little Fjords and I raised a million dollars for breast cancer research. I can’t imagine having done it with any other horses.
Have you driven a Fjord lately?
By Jane Hurl