When I went out to feed Thursday evening, I was one horse short. The other three horses in that pasture were up at the barn and ready for dinner, but Haplo, my Friesian/Percheron cross didn't come when I called. I walked as much of the property as I could as the sun was going down and realized I was going to have to go creekside and needed reinforcements.
My friend Cat, who has started working part time at the ranch came over and we drove down to the pasture beside the creek. At this point, we needed flashlights and were busting through hip-high weeds and brush. We called to Haplo over and over. No response.
Cat saw him first, and it's a minor miracle because he made no noise. Just a black horse butt in the darkness below. The rain washed out a section of the creek bank and the fence was suspended over NOTHING. Haplo must have been grazing along the edge of the pasture and slipped into the gap. He had a large wire twisted around his leg.
His amazing disposition probably saved his life. If he'd thrashed around when he got stuck, he probably would have died before we found him. He didn't panic (outwardly), so the fence hadn't cut off all his circulation to the leg. He stood still and allowed me to lean out over the gap and cut the fence away.
He was still 8-10 feet below us on a ledge above the creek. He wouldn't be able to climb the sheer edge, and there appeared to be a fallen tree in the water so getting him down into the creek and across to safety didn't look like a good option either. Cat and I looked at the ledge below, and she was the braver of us. She let me lower her to the ledge to unwrap the last of the wire from his leg in case it was cutting off circulation. She also haltered him and got a black eye and lost her contact lens in the process when he knocked his head into hers.
We ended up calling the Bandera Fire Department to rescue him and Cat. My mom drove from San Antonio to help look for Haplo, and she guided the rescuers to the right spot. They flooded the creekside with spotlights, and one of the men waded into the water to assess the situation.
They moved the downed tree in the water away from the bank so that the horse wouldn't get tangled in it. They brought a 20-foot lead rope that we clipped to his halter. After quite a bit of persuading, as Haplo hadn't been in the water many times and certainly not in the dark, he threw himself into the creek like a hippopotamus. They led him through the water and to the safety of the other side, where he could be tied and assessed. During all of this, even with the fear and floodlights and lots of strange people, he was not hard to handle. I was so proud of him.
All the lights went away with Haplo, and we hollered at them that we still needed to get Cat up the rise or down through the water. One of them came back and helped her into the water. He held her hand to keep her from falling, as the algae are really slippery. The light shone on them in the middle of the creek, and it looked like they were about to bow to each other and waltz. Then Cat slipped. Or the fireman, I'm not sure. There was a lot of shouting and laughing. And several falls.
The Bandera Fire Department is a volunteer crew, but they were outstanding. They had a woman on the crew that was a horsewoman. She was able to direct them based on her knowledge and their training. They were helpful and friendly. I hope I never need to call them for a rescue again, but they helped avert tragedy.
Haplo had some cuts and swelling, but nothing that required veterinary attention. I took my truck around to the other side of the creek, and we began the process of getting him home - a hilly 1.5-mile trek in the dark. He limped slightly at the beginning, but walked it off and was ready to trot to his buddies by the time we neared home.
He's home. He's safe. It's seriously a miracle. The horses are penned away from that pasture until I can fix the fence this weekend.
Things that were essential to our success - Haplo's calm demeanor and that he accepted handling by multiple people and strangers. He was easy to lead and willing to trust. Heavy duty wire cutters, a knife, flashlights, cell phones (though the signal sucked down by the water), a halter and lead (and in the future, I will have a 20-foot rope). Also, contact lens solution and a case. Cat ended up carrying the lens in her mouth for the better part of the evening. I told her I'd happily replace her contacts.
Today he's doing fine, eating well and showing no signs of distress from the event. Thank goodness.