Who thought shooting targets from horseback was fun? Well, they were right. In a manner of speaking.
A friend, a horse lover and keeper had requested the pleasure of my company for a ride. It was weekly arrangement, though sometimes we rode together more often. She had three horses and her husband didn’t ride. She had no other rider friends in the area and I was available. We weren’t really close otherwise, but we both enjoyed nature, animals and were minimal talkers. Relevance was key. If it was relevant to the moment, we spoke. Otherwise, we were comfortable in our own minds and silence. Which causes me to backtrack a little. She had other friends who had offered to ride with her, and some who had, but idle chatter wasn’t something she tolerated. Great girl! That’s why we got along perfectly.
This day was no different than the usual for early spring.
The sky was milky blue and white. The air was not warm, only coolish, moderate. You didn’t need a jacket. A little exertion with only a simple layer of undershirt and flannel was enough. Buds sprouted on certain branches, the little reddish purple ones which taste like fruit punch when you bit them, great for salad or just for a snack when wandering by. They would have been greatly welcomed by ancient natives and others after the depravations of winters. I told her about them after she asked.
Most places in United States of America, even from what some locally would call a “big city”, had countryside nearby and of course, we know of the wide open spaces more commonly found in the midwest and north. We were in an area with a smallish city bordered on one side by a Tennessee River loop. A series of valleys and shallow peaks were just past a spanning bridge on the other side. Mostly a wild country for a few reasons. Many little steadfasts abounded, groupings of a half dozen houses, usually family groups were hidden here and there. A few tenders of livestock like cattle for the most part, goats occasionally and chickens. Ungoverned animals like black bears still roamed, coyotes on occasion, wild dogs and those of the meth producing variety.
What I had a somewhat melancholy interest in were the occasional old houses falling into decay in lonely spots. The ability to feel “backwards in time” was easy. The solid clip-clop of the horses walking steps, the jingling of the tack, the breathing of the great animals: we were enjoying it. It was a kind of peaceful buzz where you can hear the wind whistling in your ears.
So what made us decide to shoot targets? One of those hellacious spur of the moment thoughts.
At the time I kept guns as I worked for the police department still, and she had a few as well. Though we’d both never done it, I for my part was confident I could because I’d seen it done on television. Yes, can you believe that?
We circled back to get our guns and ammo, and set out on a longer trek to a more isolated area. It was a ride of a few miles before we found the kind of flat land we needed. Measured off the length we were need to build up to a full gallop, approximated how much time we’d need to sight, aim and fire. We stopped to have a bite to eat from our packs before starting, and noted black bear tracks in the soft soil of the ground near the river.
One major thing we didn’t take into consideration, that I do know now (and should have thought about then): it takes a while to train a horse to get used to gunfire. Some horses never do. Btw, this is how you do it: Intro to Mounted Shooting.
Her horse was comically unruly at times and very headstrong. He hated bridges, especially wooden ones; was terrified of birds and if there was a body of water nearby after he finished running he’d head straight for it and plunge into the middle, with or without rider. Mine was more sedate, level-headed but headstrong in a quiet way. If she didn’t want to do something, she just didn’t do it. No amount of coaxing, bribery or taps would change her mind. It’s why we got along so well I suppose. That was entirely fine with me, because I’m the same way. I could respect that.
So here we go, and we’re eager. Guns are primed and ready. I’d played it over and over in my mind, just how I knew I needed to be positioned in the saddle, how to hold the reins, the targets we had fixed up the dirt road, all the nuances I thought I had taken into account. Then we were off!
She was slightly in the lead and to my left, and would take the first shot. A tough rider she was California born and bred. Not the “valley girl” type, or the “L.A.” or hipster. Out of Escondito, she’d ridden since a toddler. She was of medium height and strong, with the thickest, most beautiful blond hair but was very…plain. She’d once been pulled over for some traffic infraction or another and presented her driver’s licence. The officer had become suspicious after seeing it. Asked her to step out of the car because he said she had a fake I.D. A stupidly fake I.D. “They screwed up and put FEMALE on this!” He’d laughed scornfully. “I am female,” she said. He didn’t believe her but it was true.
Back to the story:
So this tough rider and her “flighty” horse were at the gallop and I was in hot pursuit. I admired her poise and balance, could imagine the look of determination on her face as she leveled her gun and fired, and the horse seemed to jump sideways and put on a new burst of terrified speed.
I didn’t have the opportunity to fire myself, for in the thrill of the moment and the new shock at the occurence, I hadn’t paid attention to the fact one of my stirrup straps was steadily loosening. And before I can act, I also found myself sideways. All sound stopped and the road, the trees lining it, and the river of sky above froze as if in a shutter click second as distinctly I said, “Oh shit!” before the impact came and everything went black.
I awoke somewhat on my right side with a quivering visual of my horse disappearing in the distance followed by a cloud of dust. From second to second I became aware of other things: the chirp of birds, the buzzing in my ears and a nausea so distinct I could almost laugh if I still had teeth. And it felt like I didn’t anymore.
Everything hurt. And once I thought about it. I didn’t know exactly where I was. I hadn’t known before either, only that we were nearer the river than farther away. I did know I was hella long way away from any help, so I picked myself up and started walking up where “everyone” must have gone.
It took her a mile or so, she said, to get her horse back under control and ride back for me. She had been terrified when she’d come across my own horse when she doubled back on the path. Without rider, she’d feared the worse, and it was bad enough, but we got the girl calmed enough for me to mount up and we began a long, slow walk back to the stables. A very painful walk.
Unless you’re very sure of someone, you don’t let them saddle your horse or you check everything over just to make sure it’s all good to go, just because something can be missed. I normally don’t forget to do that, even with friend, so I considered it my own fault. She apologized perfusely. The right side stirrup had come unbuckled, and when you’re standing in them and one goes? So do you.
I’d fractured my pelvis and had a serious concussion but I made it back. (Of course, I’m writing here, after all!) But I was strongly warned by a doctor not to go back riding again, for if I did and happened to fall, I could be paralyzed or worse. The “or worse” didn’t phase me however, because I knew how lucky I’d been. I could have easily broken my neck. I didn’t try shooting targets that way again, however.
It’s just the thing. Once you ride and really love it, you can never not do it if you have the opportunity. It’s exhilarating, and not to sound sexual in the least, but there is just something exciting and primitive about having such a powerful creature beneath you who is intelligence and strong. You can feel their desire and emotions, the need to run, to jump, to prance or go jump straight in a lake with you screaming for them to stop.
Bad fall. Great memory.