The Rescue of Belle and Sundance

Two horses were trapped on an icy mountain. Would help arrive in time?

By Birgit Stutz, Dunster, British Columbia

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The Robson Valley, where I live in the Canadian Rockies, is a magnificent landscape of snow-clad peaks, forested mountains, ranches and farms. The area is a magnet for hikers, snowmobilers and horseback riders.

But this can also be a difficult place to live, and not only because of the winters, when temperatures plummet below freezing and more than 30 feet of snow falls on the highest peaks.

The valley is isolated—we’re six hours by car from Edmonton, nine hours from Vancouver—and many of us like it that way. Lots of rugged individualists up here, from old hippies to mountain men. We come together for community festivals, and neighbors drop everything to help neighbors in trouble.

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But after living here 11 years, running an 80-acre horse ranch, I’m still amazed how many people I’ve never met. It’s a delicate balance between sticking together and respecting each other’s space.

That all changed dramatically one recent winter when I got a call from my best friend, Monika Brown, a horse owner like me.

“Two horses are trapped on Mount Renshaw,” Monika told me, sounding agitated. “Reg Marek said some snowmobilers spotted the horses high on the peak. They’re snowbound and starving.”

Reg Marek was a brand inspector from the town of McBride, a rancher who kept track of cattle sales. He was a solid, trustworthy man.

“How on earth did two horses get up there this time of year?” I asked. It was December 9. Snow had been falling on Mount Renshaw, a 7,000-foot peak towering over the Robson Valley, for a couple of months. The slopes were impassible.

“I don’t know,” said Monika. “But someone needs to get those horses down. They’ll die up there.” She hung up saying she’d try to find out more. I spent the rest of the evening fretting.

I’ve loved horses since I was  a girl. The thought of two horses doomed to freeze to death on a mountain was too much to bear.

What I didn’t know was that three months earlier a lawyer from Edmonton had taken two draft crosses, which are large, muscular horses sometimes used as pack animals, on a backcountry trip up Mount Renshaw.

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The lawyer fancied himself a cowboy, but in fact this was his first time using packhorses on the rugged west side of the Rocky Mountains. He got lost and led Belle and Sundance, a three-year-old bay mare and a 14-year-old sorrel gelding, into a bog.

He freed the horses but Belle and Sundance had lost trust in him and refused to follow. The lawyer abandoned them and rode out on his saddle horse. For the rest of that fall Belle and Sundance roamed the slopes, nibbling grass.

Then winter arrived.

I didn’t have a snowmobile or even know how to drive one. Monika and her husband, Tim, tried to find the horses on a rented snowmobile but they were turned back by heavy drifts. The next day a blizzard moved in. I grieved, figuring that was the end.

Then, on December 15, search and rescue crewmembers looking for abandoned snowmobiles came across two horses trapped in six feet of snow. The horses were so emaciated they looked like skeletons. But they were alive.

I was writing Christmas cards when Monika called. “They’re alive!” she cried. “Leif and Logan with search and rescue found them. They know where they are.”

I jumped up. “We’ve got to get up there. They need someone who knows horses to look at them and feed them. I’ll get in touch with my friends Sara and Matt. Matt’s an amazing snowmobiler. If anyone can get up there he can.”

Matt agreed right away to go up the mountain with Leif and Logan to see to the horses. But my hopes of going up myself were dashed—the blizzard made the snow too treacherous for inexperienced riders.

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I told Matt to take a bale of hay and gave him detailed instructions for how to feed the horses—not too much or their digestive systems might seize up—and how to determine whether the horses still had a chance to live.

“And if they don’t?” Matt asked.

I paused. “Someone will have to put them down.”

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Your Comments (6)

Love, love, love this story!

your a wonderful animal lover. I would have done the same thing. Those horses will never forget her. And that man who left them there deserves Jail. I wonder how he would feel if he was the one up there, instead of them. I am glad they are in a great home, and loved. I love my animals too, and they mean the world to me too.

A beautiful story of a caring community coming together and doing the right and compassionate thing for these animals.

Toni, I have lifted you up to Jesus, our Savior, asking that He will send someone to hold you through this difficult time. I am sending a hug through cyberspace to you. I wish I could hug you and sit with you through this time. Please contact your nearest evangelical church; I'm sure they will embrace you with Jesus' arms. How did the biopsy go?

Toni,

Prayers going up for you. God will provide and take care of you, maybe not the way we want, but in His time and ways.

I love to read and share and there is always an adventure in what happens in my life. Feeling a little anxiety this morning about a biopsy that is pending for me and a prescription not yet filled and bills to pay before the biopsy I turned again like I did when the kids dad was killed tragically on August 16th,2010 to these stories.
God does move in strange and wonderful ways and I spent time in Colorado in Estes park so I know the mountains and the people who go there. As I read about the horses I wished someone would gather and treat me with care and be aware but then reading on I figured God still has a plan. You see tomorrow is suppose to be my biopsy.I also grew up in Canada and in the freezing temps, and snow that was over my head when I would walk down to meet the school bus. I made coffee and with just hours to go I believe as that help is coming. It won't help to feel sorry for myself but I am doing the best I can do. I love this story and if the horses in their own way could wait on God so can I. I made it through Fred's death and the aftermath and I will make it through this storm. A lady at Wal Mart where I had employment until I came home to be around family, spoke to me about her husbands cancer, she said if you are meant to be healed you will know. She is going to give me some books.My employment did not continue here the reason was that there was no transfers accepted that was in October when I arrived yet everyday I am seeing God in action. Thank you for sharing this I have always loved the idea of owning horses a few and I own 20 acres now. I may have to sell them but I have had a dream and want to help others who feel cornered by lifes circumstances. Have a wonderful Christmas. Toni in Michigan