Mozart didn’t show up for breakfast as usual on Easter Friday, so Kim Howe went out looking for him on the acreage her family rents on 102nd Avenue in east Maple Ridge.
The two-year-old horse, an appaloosa-palamino mix, could only manage his usual greeting and not a whinny of distress to tell her of the predicament he was in.
Sometime during the night, Mozart, two years old, had fallen down a brick well and became stuck in metres of frigid water, which was slowly draining away his strength.
“I found him first thing in the morning. He wasn’t coming for his breakfast,” said Howe.
She called out and he answered, but never showed up, so Howe went looking for him.
“He was exhausted already.”
“We don’t know how long he was down there. So he’d been down there for a while, for sure.”
The horse had struggled to get out of the well and suffered deep gashes and scrapes and “cuts down to the bone.”
But friends and neighbours could only stand and watch.
Only the Maple Ridge fire department had the expertise and equipment needed to haul a heavy animal out of a small space, and members were already on a similar call on 128th Avenue. That horse had fallen into a creek and been stuck there for two hours and had to be dragged out of the mud to safety.
“We had to wait, everything was just waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Howe.
She’d found Mozart at about 8:15 a.m. and it took an hour for firefighters to arrive.
At one point, 22 firefighters were on scene, as full-timers backed up paid-on-call volunteers. The rescue required firefighters to bring in a backhoe to knock down part of the well. Then they had to use ropes and slings to haul the animal out vertically, followed by another system to drag the animal along the ground, out of harm’s way.
Mozart – his real name is Maximus Mozart, and he’s a bit mischievous – is now trying to recover at a Langley vet, alongside Howe’s other horse, to keep him company.
“He’s a brat. He’s just turned two. So he’s just a baby, a big baby.”
But he’s strong, she added.
Mozart is still struggling with fever and Howe is waiting on blood test results. Despite the exhausting time in the water, Mozart still kicked up a stink when they were trying to get him into the trailer to go to the vet.
“We had a lot of good neighbours come out, so we’re so blessed, really, to see everybody come out and help the way they did, just so thankful,” Howe said.
“It was a heart-wrenching, awful experience, and it also made us realize how lucky we are to be surrounded by such great people and neighbors. There are no words to describe how grateful we are.”
Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner said firefighters regularly practise such rescues. The fire department has a life-size model of a horse it uses for training.
“A horse being trapped, almost becomes a community event. We have so many horses around. It’s something we’ve always done,” Exner said.
He added that many fire departments rescue animals, such as Surrey and Langley and Abbotsford, while in the U.S. they use helicopters to pluck stuck animals out of tricky situations.
Howe has been thinking of moving for a while and is looking for another acreage.