Saturday, January 8, 2011

Belle and Sundance~A Rescue

Belle - photo by Matt Elliott
Note Belle's skin worn away by frostbite from lying on the snow

Sundance photo - Monika Brown
Sundance's mane was hung with icicles

"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In the winter of 2008, it was discovered, to everyone's consternation, that two horses, Belle and Sundance, had been abandoned by their owner up in the alpine, high atop Mt. Renshaw. This mountain sits  in northern B.C., one of  the Canadian Rockies,  where winter temperatures regularly plummet to forty below and snowdrifts reach from six to ten feet  high routinely.

The horses' owner had taken  them up-country in the fall, and through inexperience had taken a wrong turning, forcing the pack horses through an overgrown bog. The route was avoided by knowledgeable bush and horse people, as being far too dangerous.  They somehow made it through the bog to the high alpine. But then, apparently, the man couldnt figure out how to get the horses back out, and left them there, thinking they would find their own way down the mountain. (Or simply not caring.) However, remembering the difficulty and danger of the bog they had traversed, the horses were averse to repeating the journey. They stayed where they had been left, waiting, as horses, especially domesticated horses, do.

Sundance ~ Matt Elliot

At first, they were all right. Grass was plentiful and fresh water near at hand. During the fall, hikers and quad enthusiasts were startled to find two horses on their own up there and reports trickled back to the RCMP. RCMP found out who the owner of the horses was, and contacted him. The man told them he would return to pick up the horses. RCMP thought the matter had been dealt with.

Then winter came. Belle and Sundance were now trapped in the mountains,  with no source of water, only snow to eat for moisture, no warmth, no shelter, no food. For a while, they stood head to tail, as horses will, to give each other warmth. They ate each other's tails in an attempt to evade starvation. Finally, they started to give up and just stood waiting  for the inevitable.

photo by Birgit Stuntz

In the nearby town of McBride, population just over seven hundred, winter snowmobilers and snowshoers came upon the stranded horses, who were now in acute distress, and came down to tell the locals there were two horses in bad shape up Mt. Renshaw who needed to be put down. A few locals went up in their snowmobiles to check the story out. They took hay with them, and a rifle. When they got there, the horses were standing, heads down and listless, head to tail, trapped in an area where snow had risen so high around them, they only had the space where they were standing to move around in.

The locals assessed the pair. Knowledgeable horsepeople, they looked for the spark of life in the horses' eyes, to see whether they still had the will to live. The spark was there.

 photo by Matt Elliot

Carefully, they fed the horses a scant leaf of hay each, so as not to  induce colic. They cleared a more sheltered space for the horses and moved them to it, deciding , somehow or other, they were going to rescue these animals.

photo by Matt Elliott

Next trip up, horse blankets were brought, and more hay. The SPCA arrived to assess the animals, determining they could be saved.


photo by Carla Trask

photo by Monika Brown

Snow was melted to provide water for the horses.

There was talk of helicoptering the horses down the mountain, but it was determined that would be too stressful - and too cold with the wind-chill -  for the already suffering animals. The only possibility seemed to be the digging - by hand - of a one kilometre trench, through ten feet of snow, along which the horses could be led  down to the nearest  logging road. From there, they could be walked to safety. 

photo by Carla Trask

photo by Tim Brown

Digging the trench took several days. Only a handful of locals showed up - first they had to travel 45 minutes by snowmobile, up the mountain in the freezing cold,  feed the horses, melt the snow for water, and then start digging. By midafternoon, they had to feed the horses again, then head back down the mounatin before darkness fell. People at the bottom of the mountain started digging the tunnel upwards, as those in the high alpine dug their way down - they hoped to meet somewhere in the middle.

Finally, the trench was dug. By now, CBC Radio had alerted the province - and the rest of Canada -  to what was going on in the Rockies. We were all holding our breath for the frozen, starving horses, and loving the young folk who spent the week before Christmas that year digging a trench through the alpine to save two animals  whose owner had criminally and cruelly abandoned them to a horrible fate.

photo by Marc Levigne

Finally, the trench was finished and the horses were led down to the logging road.
They readily followed their rescuers and made it safely out.
photo by Marc Levigne

From there, it was a much easier walk along the logging road - though it was a 30-kilometre walk - down to warmth and safety, where the horses were adopted, fed back to their normal weight, and since then have been happy, friendly and doing well.

The former owner of the horses, an Edmonton LAWYER (!!!! without even ignorance for a defense!) was charged with causing an animal to be in distress and was fined a mere thousand dollars and prohibited from having animals for two years (but only in BC - he lives in Alberta and has  several other horses.) . He also had to pay restitution of five thousand six hundred dollars to the SPCA for costs incurred during the rescue.

Not nearly enough.

This story is told in a small book, The Rescue of Belle and Sundance, by Birgit Stutz (0ne of the rescuers) with Lawrence Scanlan.



  1. What a post, Sherry. I have such a soft spot for animals.. I am so glad the horses were adopted, are happy now.

  2. What a tearful post, so happy it had a wonderful ending! People can perform miracles, when we bond together~

    Thanks for sharing!xXx

  3. What a story, Sherry. That guy should be in jail. How unbelievably cruel. I'm so glad the horses are doing well now, and have found the care of someone who will love them.

  4. Unbelievable story. Such kind love and dedication on the part of the rescuers. That's love.

  5. I can hardly see through the tears. Such a sad story, of indifference. To "use" without regard. But a happy ending.

  6. T am so happy that the horses were saved.
    Not all animals are that lucky.
    I think someone to strand that guy up in the mountains with no clothes. In sub-zero weather.

  7. I like Flaubert's suggestion of a fitting punishment for the horses' owner. :) Thanks for this inspiring story of people sacrificing their time and labor to save these animals.

  8. Wow - what an amazing rescue. Inspirational - and yet so sad that the owners just abandoned them there in the snow.

  9. That was disgusting of the owner to abandon them, but well done SPCA and other concerned helpers who rescued these horses. A good story Sherry. Thanks. - Dave
    P.S. Your story was recommended by Jinksy.

  10. wow. what a post...thank goodness for people that cared enough to do something about it...

  11. I help take care of a few and it is hard work.Many don't realize the resposibility of any kind of pet before the get them.

  12. So glad that story had a good ending for the horses.
    As for the owner; well, let's hope he gets what he deserves.

  13. Incredible story. Thank you for sharing this and congratulations for being mentioned on POTW over at The Smitten Image.


  14. I am reading this book for a class project. It is bringing tears to my eyes. I would like to say a big thank-you! I live in Jasper, I would have gladly came an helped but I was unable to drive myself there.

  15. My daughter gave me the book for this Christmas. She said everyone in the area kept abreast of what was happening. A charming story with a beautiful outcome.


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Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!