Outtatheblue, I understand everything you're explaining, and I know it must be hard. I've never had to go through anything like this, but I was wondering if the other rider had any idea of how Reily's eye had ended up. Your explanations of how you've answered her and what you're thinking are all very balanced and mature. I think if this other rider is a friend that you want to keep, you should probably figure out when and how you can talk to her and get past this. Maybe it's doing something non-horsey so you don't have to talk so much about Reily. Maybe it's sitting down over a Coke to talk about the accident, getting the emotional part out of the way but making sure she understands that you're not mad, just feeling sad for Reily and his beautiful eye. If she thinks you're mad and you don't address that, she may just fade out of your life because it's too awkward.
A few years ago I was riding with my best horsey friend and held a branch back, just like your friend did, and tried to let it go slowly so that it didn't slap my friend. She was close enough that she took it in her face, and there wasn't anything either of us could do. I held on to it too long to try to 'control' it, and that didn't work. Fortunately it wasn't a thorny branch and she wasn't hurt. But hindsight is always 20/20, and sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. A well-maintained trail is very important, but it's a lot of work and usually volunteers.
I really admire how you're dealing with all this. When you're ready, I'm sure you'll deal with your friend as well, so that you can fix the awkwardness between you. And, it sounds like Reily is already headed on his way to being a winner for his lessor!
She is at the barn, so I still see her almost daily. I think going somewhere else to talk is a good idea.. whenever I see her at the barn I'm dealing with Reily's eye which probably doesn't help that I have to see the bloody weepy eye when I talk to her.
And to be honest.... (I feel terrible for this) for a little bit of time after Reily had to officially loose his eye I DID blame her in my mind for what happened even though I knew that was wrong. I just needed something to blame, something to be angry at... But I quit blaming her as soon as we got back to the barn because I knew that I couldn't ever get over Reily's accident if I was just looking to blame something or someone for it all. I know if I had been riding in front of her that day the roles MIGHT have been reversed.. although a few days after Reily went to the hospital, before Reily got his eye removed, I borrowed a horse and went on a trail with her, she did what you described except without looking back and wham! branch to my face (and after Reily's accident I was staying a good distance behind other riders) I don't think she realized it then either... I know she is one of the nicest and sweetest people at the barn and I've known her since I bought Reily (in fact so many years ago she took lessons on Reily so I know she really likes him too) I KNOW she wouldn't do ANYTHING to hurt me or Reily and I know she feels terrible about it, which I don't like because she shouldn't feel terrible. It doesn't do anybody or even Reily any good.
Once I get back from my 'vacation' away from Reily's eye for the first time in a month of seeing him every single day, I think I'll be more clear headed and be able to talk to her at the barn then. I want to mention the branch thing to her so hopefully another horse doesn't get hurt (I just really don't think she knows she's doing it) BUT I think that conversation should be saved until after we're back to normal. I hate how awkward it is at the barn when we pass each other :(
To make things even MORE complicated with her though........ I was playing fetch with my dog and the barn dog and her dog was at the barn. Her dog decided to play fetch too (and is a little more on the edge than my dog or even the barn dog... she's gone after the barn dog a few times but she is a SWEET dog and I love her) and ran up to the ball with my dog. My dog takes fetch seriously, and sort of rumbled at her when she got the ball (she rumbles when she plays) and her dog fed off that and went after her, to which my dog responded and went back (I work at a dog kennel so I've learned to read dog language pretty well and find instigators of fights, though to the uneducated eye it would be hard to tell which dog 'started' it) I got them broke up pretty quickly (first time my dogs done anything like that which was disappointing to me, normally she just walks away when a dog goes after her but I think since her ball was there she didn't want to, but that's another thing hah) Afterwords she was sitting with her dog, and her dog wasn't chasing the ball anymore (normal dog behavior she went after my dogs ball my dog said no way, she listened and respected that) and I think she was blaming my dog or something. Either way, after that it got more awkward. I DID get my dog un-possessive about the ball by telling her to 'leave it' when another dog was going for the ball too, or by telling her to stay while other dogs played or even having her bring the ball to other dogs and drop it. and she did awesome. It was just an awkward timing I think and caught us all by surprise.
Ah the crazyness.
To the stories of horses with one eyes, I love hearing that :) I have high hopes for my horse still one eyed or not!