What started out as a normal afternoon turned into a rescue mission after a small two-and-a-half year old horse fell through the ice on a farm just south of Cherry Grove.
It was determination that kept Spirit, an over 400-pound horse, from slipping under the ice after she had fallen through into a swamp on Feb. 14.
“It kept trying and trying to pull itself out. At one point it got really tired, so we were scared it might slip under, but it didn't,” Cold Lake Fire Chief Jeff Fallow described.
The swamp, which is about six feet in width and five to six feet deep, is located on the Harris' farm. It was by chance that Wendy Harris had been out walking her dogs when she noticed something wasn't right.
“I was taking my small dogs for a walk, and I looked out across the slough area, and I could see something black… and then I saw it move, and I started running back to the house,” she said.
The local fire department was called out at about 2:30 p.m., after the Harris family and their neighbours struggled to come up with a way of saving the horse from the icy waters, without putting themselves at risk of falling through the four-inch thick ice.
At approximately 3 p.m., Cold Lake Fire-Rescue crew members were on scene, strategizing the best method of action to save the young horse's life.
Fallow said they didn't want to put any of their own firefighters in jeopardy. After assessing that the risk was low, members made their way over to Spirit, rubbing her nose to calm her down as they waited for additional fire crew support.
Using wide tow straps, members wrapped them under the belly of the horse and began to pull.
“There was about seven of us that were able to pull the horse up and out of the ice, get a blanket on her, and send her on her way,” Fallow said. “We figure it had been in the water about an hour. When she first jumped out of the water, of course, her legs were cold so she collapsed initially and then stood right back up and walked off with the rest of the firefighters.”
By about 3:15 p.m., Spirit was free.
Audrey Harris, Wendy's mother and farm owner, said it was unlikely the horse would have lasted much longer in the freezing water.
“She wouldn't have lasted, because she was struggling so hard.”
The rescue was one Fallow has never seen in his 30 years with the Cold Lake Fire - Rescue team.
“It's not something we see very often,” he noted.
Audrey said it is unclear as to exactly what caused the ice to break initially.
“Maybe there was an air hole or something there that caused the ice to be a little bit softer,” she wondered. “It never occurred to me to think that the ice would be dangerous for the horses.”
Since the incident, they have moved the herd to a different pasture, where they can't access the slough area, and will keep them away from the area until the ice has thawed completely.
The horse belongs to Wendy's son, a thought that kept his grandmother Audrey busy as she watched the horse try to pull itself free from the swamp, and later as it trotted away, free and covered with blankets, towards the rest of the herd.
“We had to try and get her out. So I was so thankful when they came and got her out so quickly. It was just marvellous. We are just so thankful and so relieved.”