Police officer recovering after horseback riding accident

Jasmine Hall

Livingston Police Department Patrol Officer Jessika Kynett cannot recall the horseback riding accident that resulted in her air transport to a Billings Hospital a month ago — but she knows her horse is not at fault.

Kynett has been in recovery from a traumatic brain injury after a South Fork Deep Creek Bench hiker found her in a confused state the evening of June 27 with a large bump over her right eye and still-saddled horse, Tank, grazing nearby.  

An avid horse enthusiast and mounted patrol officer with LPD, Kynett said she decided to visit the lightly-traveled trail to partake in one of her favorite pastimes — horseback riding.

 She said it was her first time venturing on horseback into the rugged terrain just south of Livingston. 

“It’s summer time, you know?” Kynett said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I wanted to try a different area, and it was a bit of an adventure … It’s what I do on my days off.” 

She said she, Tank and her two dogs were on their way back to the vehicle, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in the intensive care unit at Billing’s St. Vincent HealthCare — it was two days later and she had a large bump on her forehead, two black eyes, and some minor road rash and bruising. 


The accident

After her accident, Kynett began to piece together what happened after she fell from her horse. Questioning first responders and contacting the hiker who found her, Livingston resident Steve Jay, she said Tank must have tripped on the rocky terrain. 

Kynett said the dirt where the accident had taken place looked “disturbed” and “uprooted,” leading her and responders to believe that the police horse lost his footing.

“He’s a solid horse,” she said, adding Tank has been through police training. “He’s a good horse, he doesn’t just spook. That’s why I know in my heart that he just tripped … accidents happen. I mean, horses lose their footing just like people.”

Kynett said she was told that Tank and her dogs, Roxey and Archer, never left her. She added her dogs — determined through evidence of flattened grass around where she was found — laid next to her until help arrived about 45 minutes after she fell.

“The dogs bedded around me,” she said. “I mean, these dogs are awesome. My dogs are incredible — they (protected) me.”

Jay, 31, said he was going for a trail run around 7:30 p.m. with his dogs when he spotted Tank, still saddled and grazing near Kynett, who was lying on the boulder-like rocks. 

He said his initial reaction when he saw Kynett was that someone was napping against the large rocks. He approached intending to apologize for his dogs licking her and waking her up, until he spoke to her and realized something was wrong.

“I saw the big bump over her eye,” Jay recalled. “She wasn’t real coherent, she didn’t know where she was or what day it was.”

A former volunteer ski patroller, Jay’s medical training, along with her dilated pupils, alerted him she might have had a head injury.

“I tried to get eye contact with her,” he said. “… And I knew the way her eyes were she had a pretty serious head injury … I was glad I was in the right place at the right time.”

 Jay added they were lucky the accident occurred close to the trailhead for cellphone service to make a 911 call.

“I figured (she) was someone important when the dispatcher gasped when I was finally able to get her name,” Jay recalled.


Road to recovery

A month later, Kynett said she still has swelling from the bump above her right eye, which is causing double vision that from that keeps her from returning to work, horseback riding and driving a vehicle. However, she says she’s been checking in with her doctors and is doing well, with no expected long-lasting effects.

“I’m just waiting for that (swelling) to drain,” Kynett said. “… I feel fine. I want to get back to work, I want to get back on my horse.”

As she waits for the swelling to subside, Kynett said she is amazed at the severity of the accident given her history with horses.

“I’ve done a lot of silly, crazy stuff on horseback through the years,” she said. “And I’ve broken bones, I’ve gotten stitches … Something like this, a freak accident just walking down the trail, and then that happened.”

It can only be speculated how her injuries were sustained during her fall, but  the “grapefruit-sized” bump might have resulted from hitting her head on a rock, Kynett said. 

She said the bump was just below her helmet, which was mangled and its inner foam “caved in.”

“It got to the point where it’s just like the injury is what it is,” she said. “… (The helmet) saved my life. I mean, it’s nothing but a souvenir at this point … If I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, I wouldn’t have made it.”

She added the experience has been humbling as she continues to receive get-well wishes, both from those she’s met though her police work and those who know her in the community.

“The generosity, the kindness from everybody in the community has been overwhelming,” Kynett said. “… I’m getting cards from people I’ve only met once, or haven’t met at all.”