Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Trapped horse rescued following mishap

Ketchum Backcountry Rescue Team pulls horse out of tight spot

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Ketchum Fire Department?s Backcountry Rescue Team work to rescue a horse trapped last week in a fall along the Big Wood River north of town.

A potentially sad situation ended happily last week when a community effort saved a horse trapped under a fallen tree.

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, Jean Smith set off on her 21-year-old Tennessee walking horse, Country, upstream along the Big Wood River from the Fox Creek trailhead toward Chocolate Gulch. She was a few minutes ahead of two other riders, all part of the High Country Riders group. She stayed solo, however, when the other riders split at a trail junction to take a high route along the river while Smith stayed on a low route.

Smith dismounted where a narrow split-log bridge crossed a gully. She had planned on leading her horse down the gully and up the other side, but saw that a fallen tree had blocked the way. While still undecided as to what to do, she looked up to see that Country had already started across the bridge on his own.

He didn?t make it.

Smith watched in horror as Country slipped off the bridge and under the fallen tree, where he became pinned.

Fortunately, a woman hiking on the trail appeared a few moments later. At Smith?s request, she ran up the trail to the nearest house at Chocolate Gulch, where she called 911.

Five members of the Ketchum Fire Department?s Backcountry Rescue Team?Miles Canfield, Tory Canfield, Lara Babalis, Keith Potter and Ed Binnie?responded to the call.

In an interview, Tory Canfield said they thought from the information they had received in the 911 call that the horse had a broken leg. They hiked up the trail from Fox Creek, carrying ropes, other rescue gear and chain saws.

Country, Babalis, said, ?had the good sense to lie still until we got there.?

Canfield said they used the ropes and a Come Along winch to pull the bridge back.

Babalis, a rider herself, kept the horse calm until veterinarian George Martin arrived to inject it with a sedative.

?Thank God she was part of the crew,? Smith?s riding partner, Sandra Flattery, said of Babalis, ?because she knew what to do to keep the horse calm.?

Up at Chocolate Gulch, a group of Webb Landscape and Garden Centers employees heard about the incident from the woman who placed the emergency call. They headed down the trail to see what they could do. Using their handsaws, Gustavo Gomez, Manuel Enriquez and Gonzalo Valdez cut branches and brush away from the horse.

?They were just terrific,? Babalis said.

During a two-hour-long operation, the rescue crew attached webbing and ropes to the horse?s halter and to its tail.

?We were able to slide the horse down the gully so he could free himself,? Canfield said.

At that point, Country scrambled up the bank, in much better shape than anyone had expected.

?As of yesterday, he was walking around his pasture and he was okay,? Flattery said on Friday.

Canfield said that as far as she knows, last week?s incident was the first time the Backcountry Search and Rescue Team had rescued a horse. However, she said, its members had rescued dogs on numerous occasions, including two that had become stranded on cliffs near Ketchum and one that had fallen down a well.

?Our priority is to rescue people,? she said, ?but we?re prepared to rescue animals too. We realize that means a lot to people.?

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the Forest Service plans to replace the bridge, along with two others in the Fox Creek drainage, with four-foot-wide bridges next spring.

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