For the past 30 years, I've led many expeditions into the Adirondack wilderness on horseback. All riders shared one thing in common: the spirit of adventure. Riding through harsh unpredictable storms, swarms of insects - from invisible stinging blackflies, mosquitoes, and deerflies to thousands of buzzing bees - nothing seemed to faze the guests. That is, until one particular day that turned out to be a wild and dangerous trip.
As a professional guide, my primary goal is to share the thrill and excitement of endless miles of untamed wilderness. My horses carry the riders into remote regions where we're alone amongst the spectacular sub-timberline areas of the Adirondacks. But there's always an element of danger. You never know what may appear around the next bend.
A Touch of Heaven
The most provocative aspect of this particular mini-adventure would just be blazing trails without a care. We planned to ride through alpine pastures of purple and green, past hazy meadows at sunrise, get lost in shady forests of dark-green pine and through fields of bright-red Indian paintbrush as hot, sweet blasts of pungent summer air would carry us past crimson rainbows above the mountaintops.
The day of our ride seemed absolutely perfect, with a soft breeze, puffy white clouds in a dark-blue sky, and an air temperature of about 70 degrees. An Adirondack dream!
As we began our ride, a solitary crow perched atop a red pine tree peered down on us, knowing more than we did about the ways of the wild.
We soon found our way into the towering pines, cedar, blue spruce, fir, and the places where deer drink and beaver play. The blue-green leaves of the sun-baked beech maple shimmered in the shadows. Myriad tree reflections cast a hypnotic spell. With the sound of the horses hooves, the fresh smell of leather, and the sound of the wind rustling through the treetops, we found a touch of heaven.
Suddenly, my horse, Bud, heard an unusual noise, and we both saw a strange flash behind a thick stand of Scotch pines. He stopped, sniffed the air, and stiffened his whole body. The next thing I knew, we were hurdling through the air.
I instinctively slid my feet out of the stirrups and held onto Bud's long mane. His hindquarters dropped to the ground and he sat on the ground like a dog. We sat there in the deep grass, stunned. Then Bud scrambled frantically to his feet and bolted to a dense patch of forest. Amazingly, I stayed glued to the saddle. I've had a decade of experience working with racehorses; I calculated Bud's speed to be around 40 miles per hour.
As I glanced back I saw the two other riders through a cloud of dust following close behind, instinctively wanting to stay close to the herd. Still galloping, I looked across the field, wind in my face, grit in my eyes, and saw what appeared to be a huge white-tailed buck on his knees, tail quivering, trying to get up.
I heard someone yell, "You were hit by a deer - your horse was hit by that deer!" This buck had hit us blindly, leaping and bounding at full speed, with an unimaginable force. Hit by a deer? Horse and deer alike possess the innate mechanisms to avoid such collisions in the wild.
As my horse kept galloping toward the woods, I stood straight up in my stirrups and pulled him back to reality. It took some coaxing to calm him down. Next, I had to calm the guests and their mounts. After everyone settled down, we checked Bud for injuries. Bud still trembling, we headed back to the ranch.
Element of Danger
As we neared the ranch, I pondered the scenario. "What ifs" haunted me as we rode back in silence. This could've been a real tragedy. If I'd been leading an inexperienced person, imagine what could've happened if that deer plunged into us and got tangled up in the rope. A shiver ran down my spine.
My philosophy of the wilderness is, "Always expect the unexpected." On this "perfect day," I lived those words.
Now, every time Bud and I approach the spot where we were hit by the deer, he raises his head, ears alert, and stiffens his body, reminding me of the invisible but ever-present element of danger.
If you're interested in trail riding in the Adirondacks, send an e-mail to Hedy Strauss, email@example.com.