At a dead run the pony and Percheron mare ran down the hill and into the snow covered beaver pond. Momentum and vigor carried them through the snow and mud far from shore. The initial burst of energy spent, each gave a last couple of bucks and slowed to a stop. It took only a few hard lunges through the quagmire for them to realize the danger of the situation. Panic leant them strength to make a supreme effort to escape their entrapment.
The compact built, paint colored pony was the first to realize the danger. With heart and stamina bred for the brutal conditions on the Shetland islands, she made a vigorous and determined effort to reach safety. With each lunge she drove her body up and out of the clinging surface, only to sink back into the mire. Again and again she leapt, never stopping, never quitting. With a final burst of energy she reach the safety of the shore.
Deedee, the young, gray Percheron mare, also strove to free herself of the pond. At first she made good progress, but the mud’s suction proved too much for her. Choosing a slightly longer path, she managed to push her way to within 60 feet of the shoreline. Her energy spent, she fell back to her side, surrendering to the icy mixture of snow, mud and frigid water.
The day began as many winter days on the small farm in the New Hampshire forest. A thick covering of snow lay upon the land , rising four feet from the base of the hardwoods, it’s heavy weight folding the pine boughs back against the tree trunks. Never before had the storms come so early and often. Starting late in fall, long before the ground had frozen, an endless parade of six to twelve inch snowfalls left a heavy mantle upon the earth.
Early in the morning the gray clouds of the previous nights’ nor’easter swept away, the sun transforming the landscape into a picture of brilliance and beauty. In the small pasture behind the old white house and barn, four horses played an endless game of tag. Freshly grained and free of their stalls and the howling storm, they kicked up their heels, driving up clouds of powdery snow as they galloped.
The paddock was surrounded by a wire mesh fence. At four and a half feet tall with an electric wire on top, it normally presented an effective barrier for escape. The drifting snow had brought a striking change in it’s appearance; in some places, no more than two feet protruded from the snow.
When a snow plow rumbled up the drive, the herd of horse startled and began tearing across the paddock. Turning sharply at a dead run, the lead mare failed to see the fence until the last moment. In that instant, the fence was no longer a deterrent. It became a minor obstacle, easily cleared with little effort. One by one each of the horses followed the first across the fence. As they charged down the fence line, I ran to head them off by the barn, hoping to keep them contained in the yard and away from the road. With raised arms and shouts, I managed to turn the first two horses towards the house, however, the remaining two, Deedee and the pony, broke in the opposite direction, towards the old beaver pond. With a sick feeling, I saw them plunge into the pond.
When Deedee failed to free herself from the pond, I ran up to the house, yelling for my wife, “Quick, call 911, Deedee’s trapped in the beaver pond and can’t get out.”
Knowing that I had to get the other horses penned up before the fire trucks arrived, I grabbed a bucket of grain and yelled, “Here Horse - Here Horse”.
Hearing the familiar call caused them to break their stride and look toward the sound of my voice. The sight of the grain bucket shifted their attention and they trotted quickly for the barn. Pouring the grain into their grain bins, I danced out of the way as they came charging into the barn. Closing the stall gates, I watched as the first of the fire trucks, police cars and neighbors pulled into the yard. Within five minutes of the emergency call, there were 50 people ready to help. In the next ten minutes 100 more would show up.
Crashing down the treacherous, brush covered slope leading down to the pond, I explained the situation to the Fire Chief. As we reached the edge, my heart sickened as I heard him say, “How the heck are we ever going to get her out of there”.
As other Volunteer Firemen arrived, each was eager to offer his advice, “We have to get a rope on her”, said one.
“Yeah but not off her head. You’ll break her neck trying to pull off her halter”.
“We’ll have to get a rope around her hindquarters”.
“How are we going to get out to her?”
As the ropes arrived at the pond’s edge, each new arrival tried to jockey into position to see the mare, falling on the slippery slope, challenged to find a place to stand in the thick brush.
As the talk continued, I knew that Deedee’s time was ticking away. Her core body temperature must already be dropping. It wouldn’t be long before she would be in real trouble. Grabbing a rope, I jumped into the pond, the shock of the cold water barely felt through the adrenaline.
The snow had fallen on water not yet frozen. The thick mud clung to my boots, each step was a tremendous effort, the snow, mud and water all acting to hamper my movement. As I waded out through the morass, I could hear Deedee’s sister Joyce, screaming from the barn as she sensed the distress of the other mare.
Threading the end of the rope through her halter, I moved to pass the rope around her hindquarters. Hearing something behind me, I turned to see a police officer wading though the snow and mud. “Damn this is cold”, he said.
My teeth were chattering so loud I could barely utter a short reply, “damn right”.
Together, we got the rope around her hind end and back through the other side of her halter. Tying the rope, we slowly pushed our way back through the sucking mud and snow, reaching the edge.
Several men gathered in the rope and began to pull, but their efforts were in vain. On the slippery, brush covered slope the footing was treacherous and it was only possible for five or six men at a time to pull on the rope. Hearing again the piercing screams of the mare in the barn, I realized there was only one possible way of pulling Deedee from the pond. Only another draft horse would have the strength and footing to pull 1,600 pounds of dead weight from the pond. There was only one small problem, Joyce wasn’t broke to the harness. The previous summer, I had spent months trying to break Joyce. She fought me tooth and nail, never standing for the harness, never submitting to my will.
I ran to the barn and grabbed the collar and harness from the peg. As I moved to Joyce’s side she stood still as I slipped the collar over her head and on to her shoulders. Holding my breath, I moved to her side and lifted the harness on to her back. Sliding he britching over her hind quarters, I lifted the metal hames over the collar and fastened the hames strap and belly band. Not bothering with a bridle or driving lines, I snapped a lead rope to her halter, and ran her towards the pond. As we moved down slippery slope, Joyce flattened the brush. Reaching the edge, I spun her around and tossed the lead rope to a fireman. Threading the rope through the end of her trace chains, I tied a quick square knot, and moved back to her head.
No command was necessary to start her pulling. She knew the job before her and put her whole heart into it. Scrambling to find footing on the steep hillside, her hooves dug deep as she threw every bit of her strength against the collar. Her feet slammed against the ground as she began marching up the side of the hill. At the other end of the rope, Deedee’s huge body plowed through the snow and mud, finally reaching firm ground.
Deedee recovered with no ill effects from her time in the pond.
Joyce never again gave me a lick of trouble. Whatever I ask of her, she performs willingly. I know in her mind, she thinks I saved her sister. In truth, I know it was Joyce who came through when the chips were down - maybe we were a team.
This story is dedicated to a good cop named Steve Turner, who never thought twice about jumping in an icy pond. This story is also dedicated to a mare name Joyce - a credit to her breed.
Copyright, Bob Skelding - 2008