On December 26, 2019, I needed an adventure and went out to ride my horse, Tru, on the Canyon Creek trail off Hwy 49 towards Downieville, CA. An old stagecoach road, it’s a wide cut into the steep rock slope, with a hawk eye’s view of the North Fork Yuba River canyon. The light was bright, flickering and splashing with winter shadows. The cool, crisp air was alive and free, soothing to my cooped-up winter self.
We curiously investigated the old mining claims and camps, trotted long out to the creek and then turned back. As we slowed to a walk for narrow section of trail, a fallen tree I clearly did not see poking down the bank, stabbed me in the chest, pushing me out of the saddle. I tumbled backwards into the blackberry brambles. When I could look up, I saw Tru in a full-body leap. His front hooves were on the trail, his heart was even with the edge, and his powerful hindquarters heaved downward against the cliffside as he tried to regain the trail. The cliff was churning out from under him.
I called out “You can do it, Tru!” and then the cliff gave way. He tumbled backward. I watched him free fall and tumble 150 feet down the cliff and disappear into the brush. I sucked in my breath and said to myself “Oh my God, I’ve killed my horse.”
I flew down that cliff calling to him, “Tru, you’re okay. You’re okay. I’m coming, buddy.”
I found him standing. (First, “Thank God.”) His flank was quivering. Blood ran from his nose and a small cut a quarter inch from his eye. (Second, “Thank God.”) He had another small cut on his hip and a potentially serious a gash behind his knee. (“Oh God, please no.”) I spoke to him soothingly, untangled him from his bridle and the brambles from his tail.
“Help,” I yelled as loudly as I could a few times, just in case someone was nearby. Only the rushing water of the Yuba and our breathing.
“I’m getting you out of here, Tru,” I promised. And before dark. It was about 3:30 PM.
But how? I looked up. We were definitely not going back up that embankment. I couldn’t even see the trail from here. Helicopter evacuation? It is done, but I had no cell service for miles. Perhaps we could walk up the river. “I need you to wait here. I’ll be back.” He stood quietly, while PupPup, my McNab-Border Collie, and I went down to the river.
Serpentine green and crystal clear, the river flowed by, but the water was too deep and slick on the rocks. PupPup was bounding about with complete ease over the steep terrain. My eyes followed him up the canyon, and saw a contour.
With three passes, breaking and clearing branches for head space, checking the footing, we made a “path”. There would be several turns. It was deep, wet duff and pretty much hand over foot for me to climb. PupPup’s 40 pounds just flew up and down the slope, but Tru would need to take the big leaps and use the momentum to get his 1,100-pound body up the hill. And I had to have a place to stand clear.
Would he trust me to guide him and not thrash off into another fall?
I asked him to try. He looked, sniffed, looked. He took two big leaps and stood knee deep in wet duff. Now he had to back up a step and make a hard-left turn uphill. I asked him. He looked at it for a while. I asked again, and again. He backed up one step. I turned his head and asked him up the hill. He stood quietly looking, thinking. I kept asking, softly tugging. PupPup barked at him from behind; probably the only time I’ve ever thanked him for barking. And then, Tru heaved up and again to the next juncture.
I climbed up and around to get ahead of him, re-directed his head to see the path, and urged him up twice more. Now we were facing the last leap up to the trail. It would take three full body strides. I had to let him go on his own or I would risk throwing him off balance or reversing his momentum and causing him to fall again. Before we started, I had tied his bridle and reins across the trail, just in case adrenalin fueled him to take off down the trail. I showed him the way up, threw the lead line over his back, and watched.
Tru got to the trail and stood quietly, waiting for me. He was so calm, so courageous. My heart almost burst with gratitude for his trust, and for the clarity and calm we were both experiencing.
We started our ~4 mile walk back to the trailer. Tru walked steadily, evenly. I wouldn’t try trotting, instead said another prayer of gratitude, and one that soundness would be confirmed later.
Now for the next hurdle
On the drive out, I had forgotten my wallet, couldn’t fill up the tank, and it turned out to be a bit further than I had anticipated. When I parked, the range meter on the truck said 23 miles. That was likely not enough fuel to haul uphill out of the canyon. I prayed quite specifically for a person with a can of diesel fuel to come by so we could make it back to the gas station in North San Juan, and cell service range.
We got to Highway 49 and I began flagging down cars. About 5 went by, then a Mercedes diesel van turned around and came back. He didn’t have fuel and couldn’t siphon. He was clean shaven, dressed up for a holiday party, and stood ready to help. He put my husband Rick’s phone number in his phone, called him to save it, and accepted my instructions to ask Rick to get a can of diesel, and drive toward me on 49.
I loaded Tru and we started out, watching the gauge. The truck immediately increased our range to 35 miles—that was encouraging—and it stayed at 35 as we climbed over the first pass. Maybe this trip would be like Hanukkah and our fuel would last longer than it should, I mused.
I saw the Mercedes van coming back toward me and pulled over. He rolled down the window and his son handed me a gallon of diesel fuel. “Your husband isn’t picking up. I bought you a gallon of fuel. Merry Christmas!” Thank you. Wait, what’s your name? Will Martinelli. Downieville. Fireman.
Tears streamed down my face for the first time. “You sent me an off-duty fireman with a can of fuel!” I said to the smiling face of Paramhansa Yogananda, hanging from my rear view mirror.
My favorite affirmation from this Saint popped into my mind: “I will go forth in perfect faith in the power of omnipresent good, to bring me exactly what I need, just as I need it.”
I put the fuel in the tank and drove on. Our fireman angel kept calling until my family picked up. They met me just as I got service and was calling vets. We fueled up and hauled another hour into the clinic. Dr. Jessica Simpson of Bear River Mobile Veterinary Clinic cleaned Tru’s wounds and confirmed everything to be superficial.
Once home in his stall, he was standing facing away from his water and food, looking uncomfortable and despondent. Healing prayers popped into my head. I grounded, centered, asked to be a channel, and said Yogananda’s prayer for healing: “Divine Mother, manifest thy healing presence in Tru’s body, mind, and soul,” running my hands over his body and seeing him surrounded in light.
Tru lowered his head 6 inches, exhaled, licked and chewed. He closed his eyes for a moment, and as he opened them again, he turned to me with a gentle, profound look of gratitude. I reached out with a palm full of hay pellets. He nibbled them, and then, gingerly, but soundly, turned himself around to eat and drink.