Horse Accident on the Pacific Crest Trail

by Elsie Eide Kelly

I had a stallion, named Day, that I wanted to put some time on and continue his training as a trail horse. I foolishly decided that if I took him for 3-4 days on the Pacific Crest Trail, he would be fully broke by the time I finished the ride. So I started at Snoqualmie Pass and headed south toward Crystal Mountain.

The scenery was beautiful and we made some good time, even struggling through patches of snow that hadn’t melted yet. It wasn’t cold that day so I felt it would be OK for camping and being able to stay reasonably warm in my sleeping bag. There were birds, squirrels and an occasional deer which he handled very well. I could tell when there was interesting wildlife because his ears would perk up and he would look in the direction of noises he was hearing. That enabled me to follow his gaze and see what he was sensing.

two horses
Tequila and Ella

I had him packed with bedding, a change of clothes, grain, and non-perishable food, knowing I would be able to camp in grassy areas for him to graze at night. He would be hobbled so wouldn’t go far and the promise of grain would make sure he was back in camp by the time I arose. That was the plan. There were blueberries in one area we rode through and I stopped to fill up on the wonderful taste of wild berries. We came upon a few hikers who politely gave way for us to pass. My horse didn’t spook at all so I began to feel rather confident with my decision to ride this trail.

We rode on, climbing higher and hitting a little more snow over the trail. We had to step over and sometimes go around a few trees and branches that had fallen over the trail. No problem, Day handled it all in stride. The trail was actually in very good condition and easy to follow.

When we came to a section that had a steep hillside on the upper side and steep drop off on the lower side, Day suddenly stopped, snorted and reared up and backwards over the bank. We rolled over and over, me stuck in the saddle and him desperately trying to regain his footing. Half way down we stopped rolling. He lay perfectly still, not moving a muscle. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing and thought he might be dead. I was stuck mostly under him, unable to get up. I couldn’t breathe very well as he was crushing me. I frantically started struggling as I knew I would suffocate if I couldn’t get out from under him. As I squirmed and tried to pull myself out he suddenly rolled onto his belly, releasing me and enabling me to attempt standing up. It was difficult as my right wrist was broken, my chest hurt like crazy and there was blood running down my head and face. I was dazed and confused but I knew that somehow we had to get back up on the trail. With a little encouragement Day stood up with all four legs under him bearing his weight, so I knew no leg injuries had cursed us.

I tried to assess our situation but all I could think of was how to get up that steep slope and figure out what to do from there. I decided to traverse the slope at an angle because it was too steep to climb straight up so we set off. Everything hurt as I pulled Day along, trying to encourage him forward. I think he was as dazed as I was. We finally made it back onto the trail where I stopped to gather my thoughts.
I knew that I couldn’t go on so decided to head back down the trail toward my truck and trailer at the parking lot in Snoqualmie Pass. I was too weak and injured to climb back in the saddle so I started walking, leading Day behind me. The day grew hotter and my pain increased but I knew we had to keep going. I stopped a few times to rest on a log and one time to drink from a small waterfall along the trail. We passed a few hikers who were horrified at my appearance and wanted to help me. I guess I was going into shock because I refused their help. I could only think about my desperate need to get back to the truck and go home.

Thank goodness somebody had the sense to turn around and race me to the parking lot. It was a nightmare of a struggle to keep going but I felt like if I stopped for more than a few minutes I might collapse and not be able to get my horse out of the hills and safely home.

When we arrived at the parking lot there were Rangers waiting for me. They took my horse and tied him to the trailer. Then they wanted to fly me to the nearest hospital but I refused, telling them I was going to drive home if someone would load my horse for me and help me into my truck. That’s how delirious I was. I collapsed and the medics took over, ordering an ambulance and calling my friends to come and get the horse. As I lay on the stretcher I heard one Ranger say to the other, “Do you think it was the bear?” They asked me if I had seen a bear just before the accident. I had not but maybe my horse had sensed one in the area. I found out later that the bear they were referring to was a grizzly who had crossed Interstate 90 and was seen near the trail recently, a potential catastrophe.

I was treated at the hospital and released. Friends brought me home and I assessed Day, finding nothing but a few scratches on his legs. I was grateful that we had both survived. I spent the next month or so in a lot of pain, with broken wrist, broken sternum and a head injury. I was able to get my stalls cleaned only with the help of my friends. I will always be grateful to them.

The lesson I learned from this is never to go into the mountains alone, even with a trusted horse. You never know what will happen and you need to have a backup with you in case one of you gets hurt. I will never do it again.