THERE ARE risks to living rurally, but if you were to draw up a list you might not include driving to and from town as one of them.
We more often think of accidents involving farm machinery or loss of buildings to fire because of lack of fire protection as typical risks of country life.
Yes, winding, narrow-shouldered country roads can be hazardous. But those aren’t the only dangers of remote roads.
I came upon a tragic scene just a short distance from home last week as I was driving back from town. Two police cars and an ambulance were parked with their lights flashing.
I assumed it was a collision or a rollover but as I approached and was being waved through by an RCMP member I saw what had happened — the body of a horse lay on the edge of the road.
My news instinct kicked in and I pulled over a short distance away, took out my phone and walked back to the scene. A man — the driver of the car that had hit the horse — sat, shaken, on the steps of the ambulance, probably with some scratches and bruises but otherwise OK.
He was fortunate — the front and hood of the car were crushed. I snapped a photo of the car with my cellphone; then I turned my attention to the horse.
A man, obviously the owner, stood beside the body, in tears. Two women stood with him, talking to him and trying to comfort him.
At that moment, the journalist in me switched off. These people were neighbours. I pocketed my phone and crossed the road.
It was heartbreaking. That poor, broken animal lay just off the road as the owner wept. My heart went out to him because I know the bond that rural people have with their horses. I feel the same way about my own.
In this case, this man and this horse had been together for many years — he had just lost a beloved family member. I wept with him as I expressed how sorry I was for his loss.
I don’t know all the details of what happened except that the horse somehow got loose and apparently ran onto the road just as the car came along. It is a straight stretch of roadway.
There’s no benefit in pointing the finger of blame. No matter how careful people are, horses sometimes get loose. Maybe the driver should have slowed down, or maybe he did. Or maybe he didn’t see the horse until it was too late.
I do know that an extra degree of caution is essential on country roads. This time of year, deer are slaughtered by the hundreds by drivers who aren’t careful enough, especially in the late evening or early morning when the deer cross to get to their water source. If you don't watch very closely and slow down, a deer will sometimes run right into your car.
Livestock are ever-present. A cow can barge through a few strands of slack barbed wire with ease, and cattle are a common sight wandering along roadways. Horses get loose and get excited, and often panic on unfamiliar ground.
While cattle don’t seem to have enough sense to move out of the way of oncoming traffic, a horse will easily spook and jump or sidestep onto the road. City drivers don’t seem to know this, and too often don’t bother moving over or slowing down.
Those horses often have riders. Where there are no wide-open spaces, horsey people will use roadways to go riding. They do so very carefully, but they need help from drivers to stay safe.
When a vehicle hits a horse with a rider, the consequences can be fatal to both, and sometimes to the driver as well.
Please, recognize that country roads aren’t the same as highways or city roads. They require an extra degree of caution.
Mel Rothenburger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.