He was alone, two and a half miles from his truck where he left his cell phone charging. If he didn’t stay on his horse and stay focused he’d bleed out and die.
Meet Ben Lewis, one of the toughest cowboys I’ve ever known.
One time, when we were boys, he punched me square in the chest, right above my heart. I thought I was going to die. As only a good friend would do, he let me take the first punch. After all, it was just a simple masochistic game between two young kids aimed at having fun. My punch tickled him a little, maybe... His punch leveled me.
I fell back and coughed. He stood above me, curiosity struck, hoping I wasn't actually injured, and waited while I caught my breath. It took me nearly a minute before I could recover and laugh along side my grinning compadre with an outstretched hand. When I rose, we both stood a little taller. It was a small test of manhood only two idiot boys would attempt. A life-long friendship was born.
Yet, many years later, on the high mountain plateaus of southern Utah, I nearly lost one of my best friends to a horse accident, and I was feeling the same breath-taking punch I felt when we were kids. Only this time, it was his life on the line.
His story came slowly across the phone line, with large gaps between sentences, as if he was trying to catch his breath. In fact he was. He'd been through two surgeries, plus two days in intensive care, and two full weeks in a hospital bed. His road to recovery had just began. This was the first time I got hear his story from his mouth. He'd been too exhausted to do anything up to this point.
"It was just a handful of stray cows," he said. "I had plenty of time and figured I'd just head out and get them. My cell was phone nearly dead, so I left it charging on my truck seat. About two and a half miles into the ride I decided to speed up a bit. I picked up a canter and that's when she uncorked."
I remembered the mare he described to me. She was a farm bred mare with a history of irrational behavior. Both the dam and sire we're challenging horses. Working with horses like that requires leadership. And it's still no picnic! I expected no more from her. No one did. But what caught me by surprise, was the intensity of her buck.
"She gave it all she got on that first jump," he said. "I haven't seen her do that since she was a young filly. We came down so hard and square I thought we'd make a skyscraper in China."
"I heard something pop! And a strange thought crossed my mind," he continued. "I felt as though I just broke in-half, between my legs."
And he wasn't far off. His pelvis had split, breaking bone and sinew. But his horse wasn't about to quit bucking. He rode like only a true cowboy could and stayed on through every lift and twist. He didn't know it yet, but he was suffering massive internal bleeding. If he had fallen, he couldn't have gotten back on and surely wouldn't have made the walk back to the truck. Even if he made it to the truck, he had a thirteen mile drive across pothole ridden roads before he could even get cell phone service. Death was knocking at the door. Pounding at the door!
His horse settled soon after and his pain spiked. He instincts told him to turn back, knowing the only possible escape route lay parked in a meadow, at the start of his journey. A long slow ride to safety was the best he could hope for.
"I nearly blacked out several times on the ride back," he continued. "I saw stars, I saw flashes of light. But I could see the truck in the distance and just kept telling myself, 'I can get there.' My horse stayed cool the rest of the way back and once I got to the truck I lowered myself to the ground and slid backward onto the truck seat. When I saw my phone had no service I realized I had to make the drive by myself. Alone and nearly dead!"
"I left her there. Saddled and everything. I didn't have the strength to load her in the trailer. I watched her for a long time through the side mirror as a inched toward civilization. She stood stoically, unaware of all the circumstances, but oddly content with her plight."
When his cell phone reception finally lit up, after mile upon mile of invisible blood gushing bumps and potholes, he called 911. He arranged a place to meet a medical team and then called his family, who helped keep him awake through semi hallucinations, for the remainder of the long drive to an uncertain recovery. He also arranged for his horse to be picked up by family member. She was found, saddled and unperturbed in the same place he'd left her hours before.
"He's lost nearly all his blood!" One paramedic said to the other. "His blood pressure is too low. We have to move fast!"
A day after the accident, the same paramedic made a personal inquiry to his condition, proclaiming he had nightmares about him not making it. He nearly didn't.
"While we were in the helicopter," Ben continued feebly. "I felt my body dying. The sound of the whirring blades outside faded to nothing. I pondered the other side of death and felt sorrow for my wife I was leaving behind. It was a strange, yet peaceful slide to another world."
At least that's what he thought. According to paramedics his body was thrashing about so radically, they had to tranquilize him to keep him from further injury.
His body was not ready to die, and in recollection, Ben thought he heard himself say. "Not yet. I'm not ready yet."
I could tell his story was still fresh. Every detail his conscious mind could recall and all the pieces his family and medical team filled in, were all still pulling at heartstrings. His gratitude seemed limitless.
"The doctors cut me open and pulled out all the coagulated blood," Ben continued. "They stuffed me full of packing and chemicals, pinned my bones together with screws right through the skin. Then attached those to clamps on the outside. It wasn't till the next day, that they cleaned up that mess and put an actual plate on my pelvis and stitched me up. After that I spent a couple days in intensive care, but everything was looking like I would be heading in the right direction."
I sat stunned, listening to his story. Memories flooded my own mind of times we'd spent galloping up mountain roads as kids. Then later in life, learning the ropes of true horsemanship together, real estate, money management, and other business opportunities. I thought about how I nearly lost an irreplaceable life-long friend. And I felt my own gratitude swelling as well.
He nearly died several times that day. We're grateful he didn't. He's a gift to this world. A bright light with a hearty laugh. I would not like to see that light fade and perish.
He's a great horseman, a true cowboy, a real leader, and a knowing friend.
Thank God he stayed on. Thank God his horse cooled off and brought him back without exploding again. Thank God for the doctors who know how to pin bones together. Thank God for ambulances and helicopters that could transport him to professional hands. Thank God for a loving wife and family that could stand beside him day by day through a tough recovery.
I'm glad your still here, my friend!
Naturally, since I've been hurt multiple times with horses, I start asking questions. It's part of what makes me more aware, as a professional. Why did his horse buck? Why did it come without cause and so suddenly? Was there anything he could have picked up on, to avoid the buck. Why did she stay calm afterwards? Did she sense something?
Maybe, probably yes, however... the truth is, a horse is a horse.
Even when you know as much as Ben and I, you can't see everything. And the same kind of injury could have happened on a four-wheeler or motorcycle.
I'm constantly reminded of how short life is. My friend was just one ride away from never riding again..
Stay safe, my readers. Stay safe!
PS. If you want to learn more about leadership and safety. Take a close look at this beginner course!
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