I glanced down to check my footing on a small gravel island that we had ridden to, looking for a spot where I could place my foot and keep it dry. The pebbles transitioned to mud that was stamped with the feet of wild turkeys, so I figured I could stand there too. But within a moment, my foot was gone, stuck in powerful quick sand that anchored me up to my shin.
“Just hold on a minute folks,” I told the dudes, who clearly weren’t expecting this kind of entertainment on their ride. I was awkwardly holding the reins of my gray horse in one hand, and their expensive non-waterproof camera in the other. I gave my foot a tug, and another. But it didn’t want to come up, and I was concerned that pulling too hard would result in a bare foot.
“I’ve gotten into quick sand,” I told the onlookers. “You’re OK, just hold on for a minute and I’ll get my foot out. It’s rare when we have this around here, but it does happen, so you guys stay over there on the firm ground.”
My mare, though, was growing impatient from being apart from the other horses, and in her angst she trotted a little circle around where I was stuck. Down she went, into a great area of loose mud that quickly hid her legs and sucked her into the muck. The shock of the situation set us both to thrashing around in the river goo, and my concerns about protecting my boot and the camera gave way to greater concerns of being buried alive under a horse.
I’m not sure what words were shouted in the frenzy, but I soon extracted my foot, still clad in a boot, and got out of the horse’s way. I quickly took stock of the situation and tiptoed near the horse to unsnap her reins so that her head could be free to provide all the physical gumption she could muster. She thrashed and lunged and breathed really hard, her eyes wild with fear. Then she gave up. She stopped moving, except for madly heaving in and out.
Covered with sandy mud but with the camera still in hand, I realized the dangerous straits the horse was in, knowing that some animals can break legs, tear ligaments and even die if they can’t get out of quick sand. This was no place to bring in rescue apparatus, so if she was going to get out, she would have to do it on her own. I snapped a quick picture of her, then gave the camera back to the guests and returned to the mare.
Still heaving but otherwise motionless, I gave her a shout of encouragement. “Come on Misty, you can get out of there.” No response. I clapped my hands and jumped up and down. But she remained unmoving. So I clipped a rein back onto her bit, and with a combination of yelling, jumping and tugging she lunged again, then again, and finally extracted her body from the black hole. First two front feet, as if being birthed from the muck, and finally the hinds, and she was out, shaking and relieved.
“Well it’s not every day you get to see that,” I said, embarrassed, to my Italian guests. “I come riding down here every day, and every day the river and the shore have changed a little. I didn’t expect the quick sand, but then again, I’m not surprised.”
I told them the story of how that had happened to me and a horse 30 years ago in Courthouse Wash, and then a couple of years ago on the Hassayampa River in Arizona. Each incident was shocking and scary.
Desert waterways. Ever constant, ever changing. Benign looking, but oh so unpredictable.
I got back on my horse, telling the guests that no, I didn’t need to go back to the ranch and change clothes, my horse and I could ride along covered in sandy clay, thankful to be out of the river and out on the trail.
A few days later I rode that same horse to the river’s edge. When the dry sand gave way to mud on the shore, she balked and wouldn’t go farther.