STONEY NAKODA — The quick thinking of a passerby saved a horse stuck in the Bow River near the Morley townsite on Wednesday (March 24).
Dwight Rider was one of the first people to notice the horse struggling in the river that evening. He was parked on the south side of the river at the Centex gas station.
“I noticed about five or six horses on the bank there walking along the ice, and thought ‘that’s not good,’ ” Rider said. “I think they were just trying to get a drink of water.”
A black horse ventured toward the open ice on the river and Rider could see that he was slipping on the surface. Before he knew it, the horse had fallen in the water.
Rider rushed over to see what he could do to help the horse, with the knowledge that he was going to be dealing with an extremely frightened and trapped thousand-pound animal.
“I’ve never seen a horse in a panic that way,” Rider said. “But we had to do what we could.”
Rider, Lena Wesley, Renita Dressyman and Lenny Wesley all played key roles in the rescue.
When they arrived at the scene, they carefully scoped out the ice to see if it could support the weight of a person walking on the surface. Rider decided it was safe to venture out given the shelf had been supporting the other horses earlier.
Wesley First Nation Councillor Krista Hunter ran up to the group with a couple of ropes that they were able to use as tools to save the horse, Rider said.
He made a lasso they could use to loop the horse and the other rope was tied to Rider. The rope was thrown around the horse and together the crowd was able to collectively pull the animal to safety.
“I didn’t want to watch him die. I had to do what I could,” Rider said.
Upon being rescued the horse appeared stunned and tired, he said, adding the animal kept trying to lie down.
“We got him to stand up and he got his wits about him and started finding his footing. His balance kicked in and we kind of shooed him to the field where his other buddies were.”
The horse seemed unscathed from the experience, aside from a bloody nose Rider believes it received from struggling to free itself from the water.
“I’m glad he’s safe, I’m glad we’re safe,” Rider said.
As he was trying to save the horse, all he could think was if the animals had affected others the way his equine companions have had an effect on him.
Rider has been working with horses for the past eight years and has a herd on his ranch in Stoney Nakoda First Nation in Kananaskis.
“It’s a little piece of heaven,” Rider said with a laugh. “I love horses. I’m not a cowboy, but I can ride just as good as one.”
Horses have helped him through challenging times and he values the important place they can have in a person’s life.
This experience made him all the more grateful they were able to rescue the horse.
Rider’s father-in-law Lenny Wesley was at his side during the daring rescue.
The spring breakup of the river and its fast-flowing water is always a concern, Wesley said, explaining animals can fall victim to the dangerous crevasses that form in the ice.
When they first spotted the trapped horse, their immediate concern was the safety of the animal given the fast, glacier-fed water it had become trapped in.
“You had only so much limited time before the hypothermia sank into the horse,” Wesley said.
News of the trapped horse spread fast in the community, he said, and he was impressed with how many people quickly arrived at the scene and rallied together to save the horse.
“We had to put ourselves in danger to rescue that horse – you could see the fast-flowing water in the crevasse the horse had broken,” Wesley said.
“Those people, they weren’t selfish one bit … there was such unity to jump in. They were so brave and courageous – these wonderful people put their lives on the line.”
Together they were able to use their combined strength to pull the horse out once Rider had lassoed it.
Wesley said he felt that the horse could feel the energy being put into saving it and this inspired the animal to fight to stay safe.
It was an incredible experience, he said, describing the moment the horse was pulled out of the ice as divine intervention.
Once freed, the only thought was keeping the horse conscious while it warmed up and recovered.
“The horse was ready to pass out with hypothermia,” Wesley said. “Our main concern was for him to stand up and catch his breath.”
The horse took some time to recover from its harrowing experience, as it warmed up with a blanket.
Eventually recovered before going to join its friends.
“He gave out a neigh as if to say thank you,” Wesley said. “Then he started galloping to join his herd.”
While it was inspiring to save the horse, more importantly, the experience highlighted the need for people to unite and work together, Wesley said.
“It was the unity that came first."