Alberta woman rescued by dog in Arizona desert

A woman riding alone, thrown from the saddle and dragged through the dust, is rescued from the perils of the Arizona desert by her trusty dog.

Tracy Matkea was minutes away from death after falling from her horse

A woman riding alone, thrown from the saddle and dragged through the dust, is rescued from the perils of the Arizona desert by her trusty dog.

This isn't a scene from an old western movie, but the real life tale of Tracy Matkea and her heroic pet collie, Becky-Jo.

"I'm very grateful to be alive," said Matkea, a retired teacher who has been active on the Canadian rodeo circuit for decades and continues to train horses for barrel racing.

"I've ridden horses my whole life, but never had a near death experience."

From Calahoo, northwest of Edmonton, Matkea, spends her winters at her second home in Wickenburg, Ariz., where she and her husband Butch tend to a small stable of horses.

On the morning of Jan. 10, Matkea saddled up a filly, and began navigating a dry river bed about 500 yards from her home. As always, Beck-Jo sprinted alongside her.

"We ride colts all day long and Becky-Jo is there every time," said Matkea.

"She's an Australian shepherd/border collie. They're pretty high maintenance in the exercise department. So riding three horses six miles a day helps keep keep her energy under control."

Although the trail was a familiar one, Matkea believes that at some point during the trip, her horse was startled and reared-up without warning, knocking her unconscious and clouding her memory of the entire accident.

"We're assuming she spooked at something. It also appears from my injuries and from the marks down in the desert that I was probably dragged for about a quarter mile, and then the stirrup ended up coming apart and that's how I broke free."

Barking and circling frantically

Soon after, the riderless horse wandered back to the stables, sounding off alarm bells for her husband. Becky-Jo arrived minutes later, barking and frantically circling the property.

"My dog arrived home and she was acting very odd, so my husband and my neighbour jumped on the four-wheelers and she literally led them to where I was in the desert,"  said Matkea, who was found lying on the rocks, covered in cuts and bruises.

"I was incoherent, but conscious, and bleeding."

Matkea was airlifted to a hospital in Phoenix where she was treated for severe facial and scalp lacerations, a severed head artery, a broken facial bone, and a major concussion.

"The doctors told me, 10 more minutes of bleeding. I would have lost too much blood," Matkea said. "We are very, very grateful for her. She saved my life."

Some might say Becky-Jo was returning the favour. Matkea rescued the dog and its sister Miss Kaye as puppies, adopting them on a whim after she spotted them in a "give-away" bin outside a feed store in Arizona.

Although still in a lot pain, Matkea is now recovering at home, where her four-legged hero can't wait for her owner to get back in the saddle.

"She doesn't know she's a hero. She's just waiting, wondering when the next horse is going out riding."

"I think she's been wondering why things are so quiet around here lately."