The seven rodeo horses rescued from what would have been an icy grave near Hythe, Alta., were doing well April 21, almost one week after their harrowing escape.
On April 16, Easter Sunday, 10 horses fell through the ice on a dugout, sparking a rescue effort involving crews and members from six fire and rescue stations.
One horse was dead when crews arrived and another two later died of exposure or exhaustion but seven were saved.
County of Grande Prairie Fire Chief Trevor Grant said the call came in at about 4:15 p.m.
“Once we had confirmation on how many horses were in trouble, we knew that there was at least 10 that were through the ice, so we knew we were going to need a lot of help,” he said.
“We sent our crews out from a number of different stations. From the County of Grande Prairie we had LaGlace, Clairmont and Dunes stations and then we also have departments that work with us, Beaverlodge and Hythe, were all dispatched as well as Grande Prairie search and rescue.”
Personnel from the LaGlace station have taken training in large animal rescue so they took the lead. Some horses were rescued by cutting through the ice with chain saws so the animals could work their way to shore.
Others required the use of straps, slings and heavy plastic sheeting to lift and drag.
The rescue also required some firefighters to enter the water with the horses.
“I don’t know how long (the horses) had been in the water before (crews arrived) but they were pretty exhausted already.
“The risk was there but the crews did assess the risk and if they felt it was safe, they entered the water with the horse. It was about an hour and 45 minutes to rescue all seven,” said Grant.
He declined to identify the horses’ owner but said the animals are rodeo bucking stock and were in their usual winter pasture.
Animal rescue training paid off that day, said Grant, and it has also done so in the past.
“We have actually done other animal rescues. It seems like one of our firefighters has been on every rescue we’ve done for animals. It’s just his luck, I guess.
“We’ve rescued a dog out of ice previously. Last January, we pulled a baby deer out of the ice just down from our station here.”
The rescue ended well for seven of the horses involved but Grant said it should serve as a warning.
“This time of year the ice can be a very dynamic place from morning to evening. Not only should people be aware of themselves with ice conditions but they should be making sure they’re looking out for their animals and pets as well.”