Bouncing goats in pajamas, dolphins protecting humans from drowning, cats providing comfort to dying seniors. There’s a reason animal stories are particularly popular in social and traditional media these days; they offer a semblance of simplicity and tenderness in a world that feels ever-so topsy-turvy and complicated. Following are three uplifting true tales of survival about horses having emerged from calamity or misadventure thanks to their own strength of will, and the kindness of humans – stories that are certain to make your day a bit brighter and give you all the “feels.”
An Angel Emerges From Fire
In the summer of 2017, when British Columbia SPCA animal protection officers found Tony in a hot spot behind wildfire evacuation lines near Williams Lake, the chunky grey Percheron cross couldn’t move. It wasn’t fear of the fire that rendered him immobile. His hooves were the problem. They were badly overgrown and he suffered
Tony and his paddock mate Poppy, who wasn’t faring much better, had been let loose by their owner as the fire approached. It was essentially a death sentence, as they couldn’t have escaped the flames on their painful feet.
The SPCA rescued the pair, giving them proper veterinary and farriery care. After a few months, Poppy eventually went to a new home, but Tony had yet to be adopted. The SPCA posted a story about the big grey on social media. And that’s how Hillary Schneider first heard about him.
Hillary, 35, owns and operates Epona Rise Retreat Centre in Heffley Creek, just outside of Kamloops. There, she runs programs, mainly for women, using her herd of 24 rescue horses as partners for personal and professional development and growth.
“I kind of took one look and felt he was special,” she said.
Last November, Tony not only found his forever home, along with soundness and health, he was also bestowed a befitting new moniker. Each new horse is given what Hillary calls a “medicine name” to honour their rebirth of sorts at Epona. “[It’s] a new opportunity to be who they are and shed some of those battle wounds and be seen in a different way.”
Tony became Malachi, which means “my angel” or “my messenger” in Hebrew. “It just came to me,” said Hillary. “He does have this magical quality to him, and because of his story and the message behind it, I felt like it fit him.”
When he first arrived at Epona, Malachi was quite guarded with the other horses and especially humans. Slowly things are changing. “He’s still a horse that likes his independence, but I find he hangs out much closer with the herd now,” said Hillary. His favourite pal is Happy, a little Appaloosa that also came from the SPCA and is believed to have experienced severe trauma. “He’s the only horse I see him being affectionate with, grooming with. I think he recognizes that Happy has been down a similar road as he has.”
Hillary’s horses have the run of 40 of her property’s 80 acres. They choose if and how they want to interact with her retreat participants. People are drawn to Malachi, because he’s big, stunning, and also possesses what Hillary calls a “magical” presence and “beautiful energy.” For his part though, it’s taken awhile for sensitive Malachi to be comfortable with humans. “You can go up to him and pet him now, whereas before he wouldn’t let you get too close. He’s much more trusting than he was when he got here.” Although he does have limits. “I notice with him if you’ve got any type of agenda that’s not pure, he’s reluctant to engage.”
And just recently, said Hillary, Malachi actually leaned in to allow one of her clients to touch him. “Which is a big deal because he’s typically one that doesn’t invite that type of intimacy. It was special to see that.”
Hillary stresses that horses like Malachi still have purpose and value beyond just riding or performance, a message she tries to impart through her work. “They are a gift. Malachi has had a huge impact on people who have been here. He moves people. And so, to be able to provide a space for him and the other horses here, where they can contribute and are seen that way, I think is important.”
When 20-year-old Cody Scott of Rimbey, Alberta, set out on his snowmobile to help locate his neighbours’ escaped Percheron mare, Lucky, on January 9, 2017, he never expected to find her submerged in the icy waters of nearby Lloyd Creek. He also never imagined the attention he and the story would receive from around the world.
When he came across the five-year-old mare she only had her head above the ice. One of her owners, Ralph Jorgensen was there, so they attempted pull her out using ropes and her halter to no avail. Cody snowmobiled the kilometre home to call emergency services. Before returning to the scene he strapped a rugged action video camera to his chest.
In the meantime, more people had arrived to help the horse that had now been under water for at least an hour, legs trapped in the river bottom’s boggy muskeg. Worse yet, she was pregnant with her first baby. And it was frigid – about -30°C.
“The horse kept on sinking and eventually was getting deeper and deeper as the time went on,” said Cody, now 22 and living in British Columbia. “We knew that we had to do something quick because it was cold that day and we were scared she was going to die soon of the cold water and the temperature, or eventually sink and water come up past her head.”
Thankfully, Lucky wasn’t struggling or panicked. Plunging their arms in the icy water, the rescuers tied a rope around her front end and neck and tried to winch her out using Cody’s snowmobile. Then the belt broke.
“After that, we just continued to try to get her out with all of us pulling,” Cody recalled. “Eventually, something happened where one of her legs got unstuck and then the second leg, and she was able to manage to get both her front legs on top of the ice. Her back end was still in there, but she couldn’t hop out.”
By that time the fire department had arrived. After another hour of slogging, the 10 or 12 individuals were eventually able to pull Lucky out. Lucky spent the night at a veterinary clinic after her nearly three-hour ordeal and the next day joined her herd at home. But, said Ralph wife Helen, the horses weren’t returned to the riverside paddock from which Lucky and three other horses had originally escaped.
“When the river froze up they decided to go touring and walked up the ice. They would never go into the water, it’s fairly deep and narrow. But when it was frozen and they discovered they could walk on it, off they went. They came across a place where it was muskeg and just a little hole where she stepped in.”
Cody posted the harrowing video with the happy ending to Facebook where it quickly generated attention. To date, it has 40,000 views. Media outlets from Canada and all over the world covered the story, including ABC News.
Lucky went on to have her baby the following spring but, unfortunately, lost it in an accident while giving birth, a situation that had nothing to do with her falling through the ice. The good news: she gave birth to a healthy colt named Jethro in the spring of last year.
The Gift of the Flood Filly
Southern New Brunswick usually experiences some degree of spring flooding as rain combines with snow melt from the northern part of the province to inundate the Saint John River and its tributaries. Consequently, most horse people living along these waterways have flood evacuation plans in place for themselves and their animals.
In spring 2018, however, the waters rose unprecedentedly quickly, ferociously and to such levels that even the best-prepared citizens scrambled to escape. Many sought refuge for their animals at downtown Fredericton’s exhibition grounds and racetrack, including one woman who arrived with a pretty black and white paint horse named Willow. The single mother of two was struggling, as the flood had wiped out her farm. She had bought the coming three-year-old a few months earlier not knowing the mare was pregnant.
Concerned for Willow, who was really still just a baby herself, local real estate agent and horsewoman Debbie Shorten put out a call on social media appealing not just for help with supplies and care for the young horse, but for a foster home where Willow could safely give birth.
Kristi St-Hilaire was the first to come to Willow’s aid. “I’m really not sure what it was that made this story catch my eye. I felt so bad for those who lost so much,” Kristi recalled.
Janice MacLauglin, who also had evacuated her horses and sheep to the downtown grounds, was amazed by Kristi’s selflessness. “When the plea went out, Kristi was the first person to answer it. She stepped up to the plate and took over so Willow’s owners had one less thing to worry about.”
Kristi enlisted the help of good friends Amanda Stewart and Shawn Davidson to help her assume Willow’s care. One of the first things they did was order a foal watch kit. Although Willow’s owner said a veterinarian had told her the due date was the end of June, the kit indicated the pending arrival was much earlier than expected – a few days away versus a month. So, Willow was placed in a foaling stall in racehorse owner Stefan Decoursey’s barn and “that’s when it began,” said Kristi.
“Amanda, myself and our three girls started to camp out at the barn in my SUV. We slept there for five nights testing and waiting for baby.” In the meantime, Willow had become a bit of a celebrity at the grounds, with lots of people doting on the mom-to-be, chipping in to keep her clean, watered, fully bedded and well fed.
Baby arrived May 29th at 7:00 a.m., healthy, strong and the spitting image of her beautiful mom. The filly was named Sadie River after Stefan’s niece, and the river, which had brought about the circumstances of her birth.
As a gesture of thanks, Willow’s owner gave Kristi an amazing gift – Sadie River herself.
Today, Willow is back at home after spending the summer with Sadie by her side at a stable where Kristi had boarded her other horses until recently. Meanwhile, Kristi and the filly are back at the Fredericton racetrack, where their story started. Here, Kristi rents a barn where she runs an equine assisted learning program.
Kristi describes Sadie as “very sassy” with “a lot of spunk.” She adds, “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a really exciting experience and it’s exciting to watch her grow every day,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift. I never expected it. She will grow up to have a job in my stable. She will eventually become a horse that helps people.”