What was going to be a relaxing trail ride, the first for Bonnie Malone’s puppy, turned terrifying Saturday when the Sisters woman’s two horses became bogged down in cold mud in the woods southwest of town.
Malone, 67, a local chiropractor and secretary for the Sisters Rodeo, said she spent about a half-hour trying to free the two horses — Rage, a white 29-year-old Arabian, and Stella, a red 18-year-old thoroughbred.
“It was just treacherous, like a quick sand,” she said.
Stuck herself in a cellphone dead zone, Malone hiked about a quarter mile to her truck and then drove back to Sisters to find help. She found it, with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Deschutes County Search and Rescue, Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District, a veterinarian and U.S. Forest Service teaming up to save her horses.
“I’m still looking at my horses, not believing they are home,” she said Monday.
The horse rescue serves as a reminder for hikers, horseback riders and other trail users to be ready for variable trail conditions around Central Oregon in spring, said Lt. Scott Shelton of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
“Trail conditions can change, just around the bend,” he said.
Weather often triggers the changes in trail conditions. Shelton said people heading out onto trails should bring clothes suited to shifts in weather, such as warm layers and rain gear.
“As we are going out to explore and adventure we need to make sure we are prepared,” he said.
Late Saturday morning Malone was on one of her favorite portions of the Windigo Horse Trail, which she has been riding for about 30 years. Along with her and her horses was Weezer, her 6-month-old standard poodle. Given the sunny, warm day she figured it was a good time for the dog’s first trail ride.
She said she picked the trail “because it was safe.” But she ran into conditions she’d never seen there before, possibly caused by changes to the drainage brought by wildfire in recent years. While the ground held stable under Weezer as she walked along with the horses, it couldn’t hold the big animals.
It soon became a mucky mess under the weight of the horses. Stella alone weighs about 1,200 pounds. The horses sank into the slop and became stuck. Created by runoff from mountain streams, the mud was chilly despite the warm day.
It took about a dozen people — using ropes, plywood and ingenuity — about five hours to free the horses.
Such situations and rescues occur in other, wetter parts of the state, said Kim McCarrel, co-chairwoman of the Central Oregon chapter for Oregon Equestrian Trails, a nonprofit advocating for horse trails. But “it doesn’t happen too often in Central Oregon.”
McCarrel’s own horse became stuck in the mud at Hyatt Reservoir in Southern Oregon in September. The saturated soil was able to support a person, but not a horse. She said the 1,000-pound animal was able to free itself quickly.
Having endured a five-hour ordeal due to mud, Malone said her horses will need time to heal. Neither has major injuries but both were traumatized by the experience. While not physically harmed, Malone herself is recovering mentally and said she’s thankful for all the people who came to her horses’ rescue.
“I feel like I should be polishing all their boots,” Malone said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812, email@example.com