This is the recovery area of these three horses.

Photo: Eric Thompson

My heart is heavy as I type this tonight – one of my friends that is the coordinator for Code3 and Equine Emergency Rescue Unit in Kansas City (Eric Thompson) contacted me yesterday about three yearling horses that went out onto the ice of a pond this week on Tuesday evening.

The horses were not saved. Too far from the shore to be able to touch – they swam until they drowned – especially since they had blankets on which pulls them down from the weight even faster. Someone who came to check on the horses and feed noticed they were missing – then sighted part of a horse blanket sticking out of a hole in the ice.

Since their accident was not witnessed, it is not known if they drowned first or if hypothermia took over and caused them to slip quietly into the water. Even in large animals, hypothermia takes only minutes to start to cool the organism in the cold tempteratures of the air and water that are present in winter conditions. 

Today Eric and his team from EERU went to the facility to remove the bodies of the animals that could be found, in full safety gear for surface ice rescue and with all of their TLAER equipment.  It was a sad recovery of the animals – the picture included here shows the original hole that they fell into, and the search holes where they used poles to try to find the body under the ice.  They only found two bodies, the third will be found in the spring at thaw. 

Eric and his team are some of the few people in the USA that are fully equipped, qualified and trained to perform TLAER rescues out on the surface of the ice – in fact, Eric teaches this course several times each winter to professional rescuers from all over the country.  It takes some specialty ice rescue equipment, specialty rigging, and a team of people to perform safely.  Bless them for the services they provide to allow closure to the owners, and prevent the carcass from destroying the water quality.  Every year they end up having to perform this service for people who lose stock this way.

Part of me wants to scream at the owners, “How could you be so careless?” But the other part of me knows that they must be completely heartbroken and horrified at so dreadful and tragic ending for their beloved animals. From reports, they immediately moved the rest of their stock off this pasture to another one with a heated water source, so they must have realized what a dangerous situation just too late.

How could this type of horrific tragedy be prevented in the first place?  Simple: separation. Build a fence to keep the horses out, and provide heated water for them to drink elsewhere on the property. Keep the animals out of the water when it drops in temperature, and keep them out of it when there is a chance of them getting into a muddy bottom too. (In droughts and other times of year we have to deal with mud rescues of stuck horses in ponds.)

Yes, fences and water fountains are more expensive.  Yes, heated water fountains are a maintenance issue.

But I am betting that the owners of these horses (even though I have never met them) would tell you that any price was not too much, if they had only known that this could happen.

My prayers go out to them, and I hope that you will share your experiences (good and bad) with surface ice and horses.  And tell your friends to please fence off their ponds!