Dane, our subject yesterday, ended up sunk to his belly in mud at about noon. At the request of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, we set out from the equipment van’s base in Enumclaw for Snohomish’s Lord Hill County Park, a popular equine destination. When we arrived, we were met by Snohomish County Search & Rescue Coordinator, Deputy Danny Wickstrom and volunteers from the Snohomish County search and rescue community. We knew we were looking at a 1.5 mile hike in to the horse’s location, so we were happy to see the search and rescue team’s ATV to help carry much of our heavy rescue gear. Included in this were pieces from the aluminum A-frame, our Becker sling, a purpose built sling used to help raise large animals to their feet, and our rescue glide which is a heavy-duty flexible backboard for large animals.
Once we were on site, we found the 26-year old Dane surrounded by law enforcement officers from the Sheriff’s Department (horse people themselves), more search and rescue volunteers, the owners, the other people and horses who had been riding with Dane’s owners, and veterinarian Dr. Liana Wiegel and veterinary technician Kerry Pfaltzgraff, who both just happened to be riding in the area.
The WASART team got right to work. First they tried the easiest solution, in hopes that Dane, an experienced endurance horse, just needed a bit of help to get unstuck. The procedure, called a forward assist, involves sliding a very wide strap around Dane’s chest and between his front legs. The strap has loops at the end for attachment to a pulley system where mechanical advantage meant a few people could really give the horse a boost.
The forward assist did not work because the angle was too low, so the team set up the A-frame. The frame is set into place with spikes hammered into the ground through the feet, and stabilized with anchor points. In this case, the A-frame, which pivots, was leaned over Dane, so he could be pulled up at much as possible.
While part of the team was setting up the A-frame, another part was outfitting the horse with the Becker sling around his chest and just in front of his hind legs. The Becker sling has a couple of straps with thick padding to protect the horse as possible during lifting. We also made plans to protect the legs. The concern was that suction from the mud could damage the joints and ligaments on legs that are meant to bear weight from above rather than remain attached from below.
Dr. Wiegel who works for Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, called for IV fluids and administered them as she and vet tech Kerry Pfaltzgraff monitored Dane, who by then had been in the mud about five hours and was likely both cold and exhausted from trying to fight his way out.
Dane was pulled out of the mud very carefully and very slowly. However, it appeared that his left hind leg was stuck. We’d seen the other hind leg move, as well as the forelegs, shaking, as he tried to lift himself out. The rescue glide was set in front of him with a rope attached so that we could pull it out of the way if he tried to stand.
As he ascended, everyone near him tried to encourage him with claps and shouts. He finally fought himself alert although it was obvious he was not yet ready to stand on his own and the mud on which he was mired was too soft to bear his whole weight. With that in mind, we carefully laid him on the glide and began to strap him in for both safety and in preparation for transport, should we need it. The Becker sling was left on, though we removed the heavy spreader bar. The A-frame was left in place as well. There was a bit of a race against time as he started to slide backwards, very slowly, into the muck again.
Bundling him into the glide meant padding, hobbles, and rachet straps. Dr. Wiegel continued to monitor him and give him fluids while we tucked a couple of emergency space blankets around him to help combat hypothermia. Once tucked into the glide, we moved him forward onto ground both firmer and more level. We consulted with Dr. Wiegel and she felt it best to try to get him on his feet as soon as possible, even if the A-frame needed to assist his ability to stand.
We unstrapped Dane and moved to reattach the spreader bar. But Dane had ideas of his own. He burst into effort, slipping on the muddy glide. He tried again and we quickly removed the glide as he gained his feet. The relief among the now 30+ rescuers was palpable. Dane seemed very glad to be able to stand, even if it just meant now he could urinate all he’d been holding in for the past five and a half hours.
Dr. Wiegel encouraged him to take a step and he cautiously flexed his back legs. Step by step, he seemed to warm and loosen. The vet tech and a WASART member walked next to him with the IV bag. It was time to head him back to the horse trailer and the trail would be just enough length and incline to keep warming him up..He was aware enough to realize he was leaving his 4-legged buddies behind and hollered for them, so the riders standing by quickly followed to help soothe him.
Dane, his owners and Dr. Wiegel all left immediately for Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital. We received word later that he’s doing very well and expected to make a full recovery.
And if helping to pull a 1300 lb horse out of a swamp wasn’t enough work for one day, the search and rescue volunteers got a call and were needed elsewhere for yet another emergency (heroes!), and departed. As our part of the emergency was over, we packed up and began to haul equipment out, again with the help of the ATV unit.
At the trailhead, we ran into a rather problematic situation: a couple of people had locked their keys in their truck along with their little dog, so Deputy Danny Wickstrom and WASART members helped unlatch the door and get that cute dog out of there. Bonus!As always, we are incredibly grateful for the teamwork that allows us to save these lives. The Snohomish Sheriff’s Department is incredibly kind and generous with their time and volunteers. Deputy Wickstrom and his team is always great to work with. We very much appreciate their willingness to call in additional search and rescue volunteers. Dane was also very fortunate for Dr. Wiegel and her vet tech Kerry Pfaltzgraff, who happened to be riding by and stopped to help.