MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - You might say that 11-year-old Kyleigh Jo Morton has good horse sense.
And if you did say it, you’d be right in more ways than one. A budding equestrian, the Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School student is also a quick thinker; her cool head and decisive action helped rescue friend and riding mentor Laura Barker after a riding accident in late November.
“Those two are my heroes,” says Barker, pointing to Morton and her horse, Lily, the two of whom are wandering the grounds of Lovingood Springs Farm on a brisk Sunday afternoon in December. “Jo and Lily quite literally saved my life.”
Barker and Morton were out for an early evening trot, just after dusk on Nov. 26, winding through the backwoods trails of the Louisville farm off Miser Station Road. The path they were following has been nicknamed “The Roller Coaster” by farm regulars, due to its tortuous terrain and unpredictable changes of direction.
“It’s twisty and turning, with lots of offshoots,” Barker says. “If you’re not familiar with it, you’re not guaranteed to get back to where you started.”
The pair came upon a large tree that had fallen across the trail. While trying to maneuver around it, Barker’s horse Miguel became entangled in a thick vine.
“I couldn’t free him,” says Barker, a diminutive blonde woman, still holding a soft pink pillow against her side as a result of the fall nearly three weeks past. “So he freed us, and lurched through the woods back to the trail. I was still trying to right myself from trying to free him, and I slid off and fell on a rock.”
The rock struck Barker’s side - personnel at University of Tennessee Medical Center would later determine that the impact fractured nine ribs and punctured a lung. But according to Barker, her riding companion wasn’t phased by the suddenness or severity of her fall.
“Jo jumped off Lily, and the first words out of her mouth were, ‘Where’s your cell phone?’” Barker recounts. “Well, it was back in my car. So she jumped back on her horse and galloped off to get help.”
Morton flew back down the trail, winding her way out of the woods back to the barn, where another farm regular called 911. But Morton’s job wasn’t done.
Once help arrived, Morton accompanied two sets of paramedics on ATVs, leading them back to the spot in the deep woods where Barker had fallen. Then she had to lead them back to a nearby field, where a Lifestar Helicopter landed to whisk away the injured rider for medical treatment.
Blount County Firefighter Aaron Woods later credited Morton for helping carry off a speedy rescue. “She acted quickly,” Woods said. “She was pretty cool.”
“Thanks to Jo, I was back there in the woods less than 90 minutes,” Morton says.
Morton, a sandy-haired sixth grader with rosy cheeks, admits that she was “a little scared” when the fall first happened. But she says Barker and farm owner Kathy Lovingood had taught her to act quickly in the event of a riding mishap.
“They’ve talked to me about what happens if someone is hurt,” she says. “If they’re hurt bad, if they can’t stand up, call 911.”
As to her ability to lead firefighters and EMTs over tricky terrain in the dark, Morton says frequent trips on the Lovingood trails left her in good stead to find her away alone. “My first day here, I didn’t know the way,” says Morton, who has been riding horses since her parents purchased riding lessons for her ninth birthday. “But I got to know it after four or five rides. Once you get used to it, it’s pretty easy.”And even after seeing Barker off to safety, Morton realized one more task was left undone. Unwilling to leave his master’s side, Miguel had remained behind when Morton left for help. So Morton returned to the woods yet again to guide the faithful steed back home.
But they call it “horse sense” for a reason; with his owner having been carted away, Miguel wended his way back to the bar of his own volition.
“Jo helped take care of Miguel while I was gone,” says Barker, who was hospitalized for five days after her fall. “I’m pretty grateful for that, too.”
Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.thedailytimes.com
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