Injured horseback rider rescued from El Salto hiking area

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A 60-year-old woman who was horseback riding in the El Salto area was seriously injured when she was thrown from her horse early Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 30), prompting a concerted rescue effort by emergency teams in Taos and Bernalillo counties that likely saved the woman's life.

Taos County Emergency Services responded to a report from Taos Central Dispatch around 1:30 p.m., according to Taos Emergency Services Director Joaquin Gonzalez.

Initially, the dispatch reports provided only basic details received from an unknown source – that a woman had been thrown off her horse while riding about 3 miles from the main trailhead in El Salto. Later reports revealed that the woman had possibly broken a shoulder and was unable to move.

The El Salto hiking area is known for its variable terrain, which can quickly change from low-grade trails that run under Aspen trees to precipitous exposed cliffs with narrow shelves.

Many hikes in the area can be dangerous.

On May 6, Linda Reed Sanford, 61, was discovered dead after falling down a steep embankment in El Salto on May 5.

It took first responders 2 and 1/2 hours to reach the injured woman on Wednesday in another remote area of El Salto. When they discovered her, they found that her injuries were more extensive than previously reported. "The patient sustained multiple fractures and was starting to experience internal bleeding [due to] a femur fracture," Gonzalez said.

Emergency medical technicians stabilized the woman, but the combination of the rugged terrain and the injuries they encountered meant that a ground rescue would be too dangerous to attempt. The team called in support from the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, which dispatched a helicopter and a "specialty team," Gonzalez said.

The members of the sheriff's office flew to the woman's location in a "Huey" helicopter and arrived as night fell. The chopper hovered above the woman, Gonzalez said, and emergency personnel "hoisted down" to lift her to safety.

She was flown to a rescue command area located out of the canyon, where she was transferred to a helicopter provided by Careflight 16 and transported to St. Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe.

The patient is now in stable condition, Gonzalez said.

"This was a very complicated rescue mission that took approximately 6 hours to complete with great teamwork from all involved," Gonzalez said.

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