Six horses stranded in a snowy mountain meadow without access to food and water were rescued last week near Groundhog Reservoir, about 25 miles northeast of Dolores as the crow flies, according to the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office.
The multiday rescue effort began Jan. 2 when Sheriff Don Wilson activated Dolores County Search and Rescue to respond to a call from a concerned resident, according to a news release.
A drone was launched over the remote pasture, and although the pictures did not show obvious distress, it was determined they needed to be taken to a safe place.
The mountainous area at 9,500 feet in elevation had been hit by recent snowstorms that dropped 3 to 4 feet of snow. Hay was placed to lure the horses to an area where they could be rescued.
On Jan. 5, rescue volunteers Clay Tillia, Ron Higman, RJ Higman and Hayden Riffee arrived by snowmobile to the location of the stranded herd near the Groundhog Vista subdivision.
They coaxed the horses to move toward nearby corrals, but they became inaccessible in a grove of aspen trees.
“In a heroic snowshoe action, Clay and company were able to push the horses out of the tight aspens and into the subdivision,” said Capt. Keith Keesling, with Dolores County Search and Rescue, in a Facebook post.
They were herded to the Groundhog Store “for some much needed food and water,” he said.
After spending the night in corrals, the horses were herded to Disappointment Valley on Saturday, where they were met by Wilson, loaded into trailers and taken to a temporary home offered by a resident.
The horses received veterinarian care, food, water and shelter, Wilson said.
“The horses were rescued with medical and minor issues,” Wilson said in the news release. “A state veterinarian will be requested for a medical assessment of all six horses.”
Dolores County Sheriff Sgt. Coty Kelshaw has made contact with the owner of the horses, and the incident is under investigation.
The rescue “adventure” had some twists and turns, along with some stubborn equine attitude, Keesling said.
On Thursday, the plan was to bring the horses down the rim trail to Groundhog Creek, “but the horses were not interested” and could not be persuaded.
“People are easier to rescue than horses,” Keesling said.
Trucks, trailers and volunteers who staged at Fish Creek for their arrival had to be reassigned, and a new plan devised to gather the horses at Disappointment Valley. Plows with Dolores County Road and Bridge cleared the way.
The rescue was a true community effort, Wilson and Keesling said, with many residents, county staff and businesses stepping up to help. Bonnie Candelaria with Groundhog Store provided housing and support for rescuers, Denkai Animal Rescue assisted as did Four Corners Backcountry Horsemen, Dolores County Road and Bridge, and others.
“A huge thanks. The rescue would not have happened without your efforts,” Keesling said.
During the rescue, Dolores County Search and Rescue was active for 104 hours, drove vehicles for 623 miles, and had 118 snowmobile hours. The horses were herded for 16 miles.