Lily's Story

by Kathryn Lewandowsky

Lily and Kathryn

This is Honeymoon Night Lily. I first met her when she was about 2 hours old, 13 years ago. She was named after her mother; Vale of Honey, her Father; One Night Aday, her Grandmother; Avalanche Lily and my farm, Moonshadow Ranch. She had many aspects of a great endurance horse. She had an amazing trot, her cardiovascular abilities astounded me. She had awesome recoveries. She learned to be great at taking care of herself out on the trail when it came to eating & drinking. And she was stuck with me. I think she was all that I am not. I'm not that fit cardiovascular wise. Working too much just to keep my horses. I used to say that "those Anglo-Arabians are really good at cooling themselves, Irish- Italians, not so great." The one thing that she didn't have was a brain. That was my department, but we were getting there. That had been our project for the last 5 years. Why did it take so long you ask? Not her fault at all. It was me with life getting in the way. Sick parents, marriage issues. Every year having great intentions to get some good miles under our belt. Every year, never really able to have the time to bring her to her full potential.

The year after my mother passed away, we had a pretty good year and she was really coming along. We did over 200 miles of competition that year between LD's & CTR's. We didn't complete two of the LD's because we were overtime. I was OK with that because we were just getting a good base, and she was on her way to Oz and getting a brain.

My dad passed away the end of 2012. It wasn't really a surprise. In his life he had many health issues, and he was a medical miracle in my opinion. He didn't really have much quality of life and he missed my Mom. Still it was hard and there was and is so much to do. But Lily had ended a really good season that fall, and so this year Lily & I moved up to 50's. It had been a quite a while since I had done a 50 mile ride and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do it ever again. Finishing that first 50 mile ride was a real milestone for me. And Lily finished with plenty of energy to spare. She didn't like heading out on that second 25 miles, especially when her buddy was having a siesta back in camp, but once we were out, I knew I still had a whole lot of horse left under me.

I do believe in goals. So, I set our goal this year to qualify for the AERC National Championship ride in Idaho. I love championship rides. Mostly I love the pageantry and the glory for someone even if it's not me to do well at a Championship level ride. Lily was on her way with 155 miles to her credit. Our next ride was Bandit Springs in Central Oregon.

I decided that we would ride Sunday's ride. Due to my work schedule, I probably wouldn't make it there in time to ride the 50 on Saturday. No problem. There was an ACTHA trail challenge on Saturday. We would try that as we had never done one and then ride the 50 on Sunday. I got there even later than I had planned because I just got too tired and stopped in the rest area for about 4 hours for some sleep. Left there at about 0500, but stopped at the store for food & ice. I filled up the gas tank, because you never know and rolled into ride camp about 0845. I wasn't sure I was even going to make the ACTHA ride at that point because I had to be there at 0900. Fortunately, but unfortunately, everything had to be delayed because there had been an accident on the 50 mile ride. Life Flight had just arrived and the Medics were there. Being a Critical Care nurse, I could tell that things were serious, and I did my best to just get out of their way. I unloaded Lily and got her some hay & beet pulp and saddled her up to just do an easy 6 miles, disappointed that it was only 6 miles.

Saturday night was a pretty somber ride meeting. The ride manager had received news about the injured rider and it wasn't good. Family would be having to make decisions about taking her off life support. Although I didn't know her well, we had actually ridden at a CTR together and I communicated with her via e-mail a few times trying to encourage her to promote more CTR's in Oregon. She didn't seem interested though and so I stopped pestering her, but still saw her in ride camps and applauded her accomplishments at the awards.

Sunday morning didn't start well. Of course my alarm didn't go off. No one around me was riding the 50 so it seemed really quiet, then really light out and quiet. Yikes! It was 0530 and we were supposed to be starting at 0600. My horse didn't even have her shoes on. I jumped out of bed. Thankfully, I sleep in my ride clothes. I choked down a power bar and got my horse tacked up, boots and all. We were at the starting line just a few minutes after 6 AM. I was really tired of tail ending the last few years and really wanted to start finishing at least in the middle of the pack. Nick had done our first 50 mile ride at Bandit Springs my first year riding endurance, and I knew the trails were ones that a team could really make time on. I had recently switched from riding with spurs to riding with a crop. Lily & I were working on loping, and I was feeling like I was accidently spurring her at the lope when I didn't want to. So I had gone back to riding with a crop and had left it at the trailer. Oh well, I'll get it on the second loop. I'll just grab a stick out on the trail. Well, maybe not. There are not a lot of useable sticks to use as a crop in Central Oregon. I think now that if I had had my crop nearby Lily may not have jigged as harshly as she did that morning and maybe I would not have come off. What is it they say about hind sight? Yea, it's probably true.

It was a pretty emotional morning, what with all that had happened the day before. And about an hour into the ride, Lily jigged a hard right and I didn't and I came off. I didn't jump right up like I usually do when she dumps me. I have to admit, I checked myself, made sure I was still alive. Nope, no broken bones that I could tell. Lily stood there patiently, then started walking down the trail. When I got up and started walking down the trail she started trotting down the trail. I know it's no use to chase her. So I just kept walking after her. It wasn't very long and 4 endurance riders came up behind me. Seeing that I was OK they said that they would try and catch her if they could. I wish now that I had told them not to. Remember, she doesn't have a full set of brains yet. I'm not sure exactly what happened because I wasn't there; I could only hear it and it didn't sound good. Too much hootin' & hollerin' and thundering hooves. When I rounded the corner they yelled to me that she wouldn't let them catch her and she had run down the secondary logging road off the trail. Thanks guys for trying, but in retrospect, I wasn't that far behind you. Maybe you could have just waited with her till I got there. Oh well, lessons learned.

I hiked that road 4 or 5 times. At the end there was a big tank trap, and it looked like something had maybe gone around the tank trap through the tall grass. I couldn't be sure if it was a horse or a deer. After calling and searching of about an hour, I finally had to give up. I thought I would let the 25 milers know that I was hiking down to the main highway. When I was at the end of the road I could hear the highway very clearly, and I was concerned that she might be able to make it to the main road. I checked my ride directions and realized that they would not even be on that loop, so decided to just head down the road. And hopefully find her on the way down to the highway. I didn't realize that she couldn't really get past the cattle guards and that the whole area was fenced.

When I got to the highway I was quickly able to get a ride by a very nice lady who drove me all the way back to ride camp. I was very glad, because it was a whole lot farther than I had imagined. Once back at ride camp, Janelle & Adam hooked me up with a very nice guy. I wish I could remember his name. He took me out in his car and we searched again on the road I had hiked down. Thankfully, I had left some bread crumbs to mark the road I had come out of because I know how all roads start to look identical out in the woods. We drove around to places where he knew the trail crossed the roads and spoke with some of the local campers to let them know we were looking for a lost horse. We finally went back to camp. At that point I didn't know quite what to do next. Some friends of mine, Lynne & Chris, who had ridden the 50 on Saturday, took their horses out and searched for her out on the trail. I asked the ride manager's husband if there were any maps of the roads. I felt like I needed to get back out and go look for her but didn't feel quite comfortable doing it alone and without any sort of map of the area. "No, maybe the trailmaster has a map" he says. "OK, where is he?" "I don't know. I think he's out unmarking the pink & white loop on the ATV" he says. "Really? That's the loop my horse is lost on you know."

What to do now because to do nothing is unbearable. Doing nothing creates a huge knot in your stomach. Well, I sort of figured I would need my truck unhooked. At this point people had been leaving, and since I had arrived late on Saturday, I was parked out on the very fringe of ride camp. So I proceeded to pack up my ride camp and moved my rig closer to the main camp area in hopes of being closer to where there was information and activity. Shortly after I had moved my rig, the ride manager came up to me announcing that they had found my horse, she was safely tied up alongside the road. Her son, while driving the water truck had found her walking down the middle of the road and caught her and tied her to a tree. He took off her crupper and loosened her cinch. Oh Joy! I was torn between being ecstatic and "really, he took off her crupper and loosened her cinch? Thanks for doing all that, but I wish you would have just taken it all off if you were going to do all that." Others have told me that maybe some riders would have been upset if he had done anything with her tack. If someone ever gets upset with you for taking off a loose horse's tack in the woods, please send them my way. I will set them straight.

So we get a smaller horse trailer and truck because I just got this big gooseneck thing that I have brought out for the first time and feel a little bit uncomfortable taking it up into the woods and hopefully finding a way to turn it around or not. So we drive out a very long way, past where Adam expects my horse to be. All the way to the end and back again. No beautiful red horse tied to a tree anywhere. We go back to ride camp and find his son and ask again exactly where she is supposed to be. We go back and don't find her again. We can't even find where she might have torn up the ground being tied to a tree.

Back to ride camp again and that's when I find out that her son is certain she was securely tied to a tree branch. "Really? Why would you take so much time looking for a tree branch when there are all those perfect trees out there." OK, I really need to go look for my horse now, because now she's lost out in the woods with her loose saddle, dragging a branch. Did he even look in her pack to get the lead rope to tie her to the branch. I doubt it. The knot is turning into a rock and it's becoming really heavy. No, there isn't a map I can take. OK, I draw a map on a piece of paper so that I can at least go out and look for her and hopefully not get lost myself. I unhook my truck and was so thankful that another rider volunteered to come help me look for my horse. Kathy had been in the same situation a few years before and knew exactly what I was going through. She was a godsend. We drive all through the area. No horse. I dropped my sweat shirt & T- shirt out on the trail that I lost her on hoping it would attract her back to there. (OK, well it worked once for a dog I had lost out in the woods, not so well for a lost horse) Finally, we went down the last road we had not been on because Adam had said it was a really rough road. It was, but Kathy made me go down it anyway. Nothing.

At some point that day when I had found cell service. I called my son who lives in Oregon about 4 hours away. He drove up that night but didn't arrive until about 1AM. Kathy & I went to town that night to let people on the internet know our situation and to plead for help. She called her friends to ask for them to get the message out on the internet.

Monday morning. We get up early. My son found ride camp OK. We head out to go get a forest service map in town. But we check the roads & trails where she was lost and last seen first. No sign of her, but my son is adamant we go down the really rough road. We're in his little 4WD Extera. I don't want him to go because it is a really rough road. He is persistent and we go anyway. There we find fresh manure. And it wasn't there the night before because Kathy would have noticed it! Very exciting. So we go the rest of the way down the road. No more signs of her. We head into town and find the forest service to get a map of the area. We make up some flyers at the local copy store. Make some copies of the map incase people can come out to look for her. We head back out to ride camp putting up flyers on the way. We get back to ride camp and the trailmaster shows up with maps of the area that we can have. Thanks, wish we had had them at 6 AM.

Tuesday comes. On Monday we felt like we were seeing pretty good signs of her possibly trying to make her way back to ride camp. We search where we think she was headed. Where it seemed like we were seeing lots of signs on Monday, On Tuesday, it was very cold on the other side of the forest where we thought she was headed. No signs at all of her. A rider responded to Face book and brought me out a dead broke Mustang. We moved ride camp because we felt like she was probably fenced within a 4,000 acre pasture, and where she was she couldn't get to us if she were trying to get back to ride camp. A local expert tracker came out with a friend and searched the area where she was lost and last seen. They split up their horses to get them to call to each other but had no response. They recommended that if people go out they should ride out a ways together and then split up the horses and try and get them to call to each other and then listen for a response. Then get back together, ride a ways and do it again. A very good idea in my opinion. We had some riders return on Tuesday who were from Arizona. They took their horses out to search for Lily. All the Internet work was really paying off.

My son had to leave on Wednesday morning to get back to work. Kathy & I went out with Franke the dead broke mustang mare and Cinnamon. Of course Cinnamon is very used to horses leaving her out on the trail so they didn't get too excited when we tried to separate. Also, on Wednesday, my friend Denise in Washington loaded up my old endurance horse Nick who is semi-retired and brought him down. I was really hopeful that if anyone could pull her out of hiding in the woods, Nick could. No luck searching on Wednesday, and we were not really seeing a lot of signs that looked promising. Nick arrived late on Wednesday. Kathy decided she needed to go home, and I had several people there helping now so she left on Thursday morning. I don't know what I would have done those first couple of days when if it hadn't been for her; I would have been on my own out in the wilderness. She was a real blessing.

On Thursday, Denise & I went out on Nick & Franke. Nick did an awesome job of calling when we separated. He just loves the ladies. He was surprised that I wasn't disciplining him for it and was praising him instead. No luck though. Tom & Candi spent 6 hours on their horses. When we met back to camp we were pretty frustrated. Tom had a great map that showed the fence lines. Now it was clear why on Tuesday everything seemed to be cold where my son Eric & I were searching that day. There was really no way she could have gotten there once the gates were closed. Their horses had done 2 six- hour days back to back and they weren't sure how much more they could take. Both Franke & Nick were not all that fit. So on Friday, we decided to have Tom & Candi trailer their horses up to where Lily was last supposedly tied to the branch, using Denise's truck & my small trailer that Nick had ridden to Oregon in. They would park the trailer there and ride back to camp. We would ride up to the trailer and then trailer our horses back down. A great plan to save the horses and hopefully cover more ground. Between riding and driving we had pretty much covered the roads in that area so I really wanted to get off the trail and into the brush in case she was hung up somewhere. So Denise & I did that. It tested both of us to the max, and I have to admit that at a couple points I lost it completely. I hope she can forgive me for that. We had pretty much had our fill of searching the woods and we heard an awful sound. We headed towards it and finally realized it was vultures or something. It sounded like they were picking on an injured animal. I totally freaked . Went off onto the hillside. Flushed out an elk and by then the noise stopped. I was frantic that it must be her and proceeded to serpentine down the mountainside, through the brush searching for whatever was out there. By the time we got to the bottom I was pretty much spent and beginning to lose all hope. We made our way back to the trailer, and at the road where the trailer was parked up at the top, I decided to leave Denise down below to search the creek area where I thought maybe I had seen hoof boot prints the night before while searching on foot. Nick & I headed up the road to go get the trailer. That's where the ranchers found me and told me that they had found Lily and that she was not alive. They told me how to get to her and offered to go down and let Denise know.

The ride on Nick up to where she had died was horrible. Supposedly that road had been checked thoroughly by the tracking expert on Tuesday, and there were no signs of her. But there were signs everywhere of a horse wearing boots. Straight up to the fence line. Then she followed the fence line up a huge hill uprooting lots of downed stumps, I think with her tack. When she got to the top, she went down a ways and was blocked by a very large tree. The rancher thinks she tried to go over the fence, but I think she tried to go under and got the saddle stuck in the barbwire. I think that in trying to get free she must have hurt her back and couldn't upright herself. I have read that if a horse is lying flat even just in the pasture for more than 30 minutes that they will just lie there and die because their muscles cannot expand their lungs in that position and they quickly go into respiratory failure. I hope that is true and that Lily didn't suffer for long. The ranchers were very kind and had removed Lily's tack and put it on the log, but her body had horrible sores from where the tacked had rubbed her. She still had 2 boots on, and 2 were totally worn through. I was right that I thought she had lost her right hind boot.

There wasn't anything else to do but clean up, pack up and go home. We went back up with the truck after the temps had cooled down to retrieve Lily's tack. It didn't seem right to leave it all in the woods. I don't know what I would have done without the help from friends and strangers alike. From people getting the word out, coming back to search many hours in the woods, loaning me a dead broke mustang and bringing my horse down to me on their vacation. I don't know what I would have done without all of them and I hope that someday I will be able to be just as generous & helpful to some other poor, lost distance rider out there.

I am sorry to share the gruesome portions, but I hope that it will impress on everyone the importance of certain things. If you find a loose horse out on the trails, please don't try and catch it from your horse. Try to take a few minutes to either wait for the rider to get there or get off your horse and catch it from the ground. If you are not able to pony him along with you, please take off his tack and tie him securely somewhere, preferably on the trail where another rider may find him. Please take the time to look in the pack for a lead rope. And most important, I think that next time I might think twice about heading out in the woods without a map.

Kathryn Lewandowsky

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