Leona Hopman was walking her four dogs along a surging creek in the Okanagan on Saturday morning when she noticed a young horse in a torrent of water and immediately knew something was wrong.
It took more than an hour-and-a-half for a dozen firefighters and volunteers to pull the six-month-old wild filly – named River by one of the rescuers – from the frigid water. After struggling with the water and her rescuers, the feral horse was finally dragged from the creek exhausted and suffering from hypothermia.
Ms. Hopman, a local real estate agent, said she spotted the struggling animal on the far side of the creek at about 7:45 a.m. on Saturday.
"The horse was trying to get up the embankment. When I spotted her, she looked at me, then the current dragged her under the water, so I started to run."
She had no cellphone, so she raced to her car several kilometres away to get help.
OATS Horse Rescue was notified of the emergency and responded to save the reluctant but tired horse.
The placid creek had started surging days earlier after substantial rains and warm weather in the valley. Large logs were rushing past the foal, putting it in danger of being injured. Ms. Hopman had seen a dead horse on the bank last year.
"I walk that creek every day. I guess it was River's lucky day that I was walking at that time and that I knew who to call to rescue her," she said.
Ms. Hopman drove to the home of a nearby horse advocate, Jennifer Ashton, who returned with her to try to help the horse. The two women tied a rope around its neck as they waited for firefighters.
Five members of the Summerland fire department got the call to respond at 8:18 a.m.
Rescuing a wild horse from rushing water is not a normal job for the composite department – a force of volunteers and professionals – but Fire Chief Glenn Noble was proud of the composure and effort he saw in a video of the rescue posted online.
"I don't know if we have any horse lovers, but the two guys who were in the water seemed to know what they were doing. It was a bit of a horse whisperer thing going on," he said.
The largely rural municipality of 12,000 in the southern Okanagan is dominated by vineyards and orchards. Herds of feral horses roam the area. Over the past five years, Theresa Nolet, operator of a local horse rescue, has helped save more than 30 of the animals.
Ms. Nolet assisted on Saturday, helping to dry and massage the horse. "One of the benefits of the fact that she was so hypothermic and exhausted was that she submitted to the handling. The weaker she got, the less fight she had in her," she said. "She's one lucky little filly."