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Sanger Flood

“The Pine Flat Dam above Sanger is cracking. We have set off emergency sirens, and are evacuating farmers and homeowners from flood-prone areas. The Harris Ranch called us asking for evacuation assistance. They have a bunch of broodmares trapped in the rising waters.”

“You mean the dam has already broken?”

“No, but they’re releasing massive amounts of water upstream, hoping it doesn’t. The rising waters are stranding horses in the flood plain on islands in the middle of the turbulence. They’re using boats but it would be better luck if they sent riders on horseback. That way they can lead the mares back through the water to safe land.”

"How much time do we have Laurie?" Katie asked.

"Eight, maybe ten hours; it's already untenable. We cannot wait longer," she said. "Every hour there is less and less space for them as the water rises, especially if the lower dam fails. Right now the place is cut off by swirling water too shallow for big boats but too scary for the horses; they won't attempt to cross it without persuasion. At least nineteen horses have died of drowning and exhaustion. The first rescue attempt with boats failed because they grounded in the sand. So far we've only been able to save twenty horses; luckily those included the smallest foals."

“Now the situation is so desperate horses are slipping off the edge and drowning. They don’t know what to do; it’s so crowded,” Dr. Bowers added.

“And you have figured out a plan?” Katie asked.

Laurie nodded. “Firefighters are in those boats marking a safe escape route.” She pointed to three men in a flat-bottomed craft making its way across the way to the island. “See the men with poles on each side?”

Katie nodded.

“They’ll poke around for hazards and mark a safe way so we can steer the horses without getting tangled in barb wire and bushes or stabbed with metal fence posts. All we have to do is walk them out. Hopefully, they will follow us.”

“Dr. Reynolds, could you come over here please?” It was Jen calling her.

“Do you see the channels they’ve marked? They’re going upstream. That will make it easy for us to get to them but it will be hard to come back. The current is too fast for those poor horses. They are weakened and tired, and I don’t want to lose any of them because they have to fight the current. We should have the firemen scout a path that goes downriver instead of up. What do you think?”

“You’re right Jen. That's splendid thinking. Let me talk to Dr. Bowers.”

The riders moved their trailers and vehicles further downstream while the men in boats changed the path. The foggy mist turned into a light drizzle.

"Is the rain going to be a problem?" Katie asked.

"Not for a day or so. The water will build in the mountains before coming here."

This picture is from a You Tube Video: Netherland Horse Rescue.

Soon seven ladies on their horses, wearing an odd colored assortment of rain gear and hats left the southern bank of the overflowing King River, ready to cross a mile-wide stretch of water to show the trapped horses a way out.

It took almost thirty minutes of slogging through the churning brown waters to reach the island. Their approach rattled the entire herd. They were crowded so close together there was no room to run, so they pushed and jostled each other.

As they neared the island, the riders fanned out right and left to surround the piece of land and drive the bunch into a funnel. Katie took a right and Jen went left while Laurie continued walking her horse towards the center. Hers would be the lead horse. The other two waited.

Laurie moved in closer stepping her horse slowly onto the shore stopping every few minutes to let the islanders know she was not a threat. Some of the braver horses pushed up to the water’s edge interested in the newcomer. Laurie, now completely out of the water, noticed the interest and reined her horse to turn it. She repeated the exit maneuver three times waiting for the others to follow.

Finally, a brave, curious filly came close. She pawed the water, hesitated, and followed Laurie’s horse into the brown water. A filly next to her was brave enough to come along too. Soon a waiting line congregated on the river's edge, and they began the exodus.

This picture is from a You Tube Video: Netherland Horse Rescue.

When Laurie realized she had an enthusiastic following she lad the procession, returning the way she came keeping between the guideposts set up earlier. Others fell in behind the fillies, first two, four more and other groups of two, three, and four walked shoulder to shoulder. Eventually, the line of horses stretched almost a quarter mile long.

Now it was a simple matter of marching the group through the mile of brown, churning water. The horse is a herding animal, and every one of them fell into line behind the leaders. Laurie kept the lead as the other riders stayed on the side waving their arms, moving toward any animal that started heading the wrong way.

It was mesmerizing watching the line of marching horses. Katie noticed the last ones to leave were the pregnant mares, and the mama’s who likely had the foals that were rescued yesterday. These were the maternally oriented thinkers who made sure the house was empty before leaving it for good.

The line of two hundred horses now stretched over a half-mile taking up half the distance between the new sanctuary and their disappearing kingdom. The firefighters had precisely marked a safe way. No legs tangled in fencing, and none of the horses were caught in gates or torn up on tee posts.

There were three low areas where animals lost all footing and were forced to swim. The horses adjusted to this calmly and naturally. The last trough was a deep one, a fitting end to the triumphant march. As each mare prepared to jump into the footless abyss a final time she dipped in a symbolic bow and swam to the secure footing on the other side.

Once on the ground, Laurie kept the line moving up over another hill to a collection area far from the floodwaters. The riders were smiling in supreme accomplishment. A feeling a celebration fell across the handful of spectators. They had been watching this disaster unfold, and now it was over.

Katie and Jen brought up the rear. Jen whistled Katie over. She noticed a tired horse that was stumbling. Jen whistled louder two more times and waved a group of bystanders over. She jumped off her horse and handed the reins to Katie.

“She needs help getting out; I’ll take this. These guys will help me.”

“Sure thing.” Katie stayed behind ponying Jen’s horse. The horse helpers pushed and dragged the tired mare forward up to a grassy area where she finally collapsed.

“Get some hay and start drying her off.” Jen stayed in charge until Laurie came over with Dr. Bowers.

When she looked up, Katie was holding her reins and smiling. “That was good work, Jen. I’m impressed.”

“Thank you-you too. We make a good team.”

Katie watched the line of horses disappear over the hilltop on their way to safety. She heard Jen whistle again and turned. “Look cute! TV crew on the hill!”

Katie laughed and waved thank you for the warning. Waiting for Jen, she couldn't decide whether to be interviewed. She would rather find dry clothes and solve this tiger problem.

“Tuck your hair in, push your boobs out Katie. We’re going on TV.” Jen clicked at Candybar and pushed ahead of Katie taking the lead in her usual style.






Audiobook coming soon


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