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What Really Happened on the Mountain?
Did a horse really fall off a cliff north of Frederick? Was the rider hurt? Why couldn't they get the horse out? Why did they have to put her down? Who's horse was it?
Here are the bare facts: July 10, Saturday, the TROT Pleasure Ride was in the Frederick Watershed, led by Angela Klinger. This ride is over some steep mountainous terrain, and the ride leader sends all interested in coming details regarding times, directions, and the type of trail to expect. Tara Santmire, with her husband Ben Turner, was attending this ride for the second year in a row. They had both enjoyed riding these trails last year on this same scheduled ride.
At 11:00-ish, the group began a steep ascent, after the leader stopped the ride, told everyone of the long climb ahead, and had everyone check the tightness of their girths.
Partway up, Tara horse, Maggie, seemed to stumble with her hind legs (see page 2, Tara's opinion of what happened). She fell, and Tara was able to get off without injury. Then Maggie couldn't get back up. The horse flounder, then slid off the narrow trail and down the slope.
In Tara's explanation on the following pages, the steep trail with its rocky footing did not cause this fall. This was an accident, pure and simple. And the response to try and rescue the horse was phenomenal. But, as you read the accounts reprinted here from the Frederick News-Post, the key piece of equipment, a helicopter, was never provided by the "powers that be."
As evening drew upon them, Maggie could still not use her own hind legs. The vets were losing the race to keep her stabilized, and she was beginning to go into shock. Tara made the humane decision to euthanize her, given the lack of a helicopter to do the actual lifting and the worsening condition of her horse.
TROT members have responded in great numbers to this tragedy, sending notes of sympathy to Tara, writing letters to the newspapers, and donating funds to the fire companies that tried so very hard to save the horse. The officers and board members of TROT authorized donations to be sent to the Lewistown Volunteer Fire Dept., the Independent Hose Co. No. 1, and the Advanced Technical Rescue Team.
The final veterinary bill: costs of medical supplies and 1 emergency farm call. For 3 vets in attendance for nearly 8 hours. Thank you Monocacy Equine Veterinary Associates.
These are the plain facts. No autopsy was performed, x-ray equipment couldn't be brought to the site to specifically determine what structural injuries Maggie had sustained. We can all continue to wonder and speculate, but I would urge you to do something far more constructive now. Take this incident as a harsh wake-up call.
Review for yourself how prepared you are for a disaster: fire, flood, tornado, hurricane. Review evacuation procedures for your farm or where your horse is boarded. Make a list of supplies (grain, hay, clean water) you need on hand. Get with your horse neighbors and discuss how you can cooperate, perhaps in transporting horses to safety (say in the event of a hazardous spill or gas line leak), or housing each other's horses if a stable is destroyed by fire or storm.
Think about your safety on the trail. Do you carry a cell phone? Is the battery regularly charged? What few items of first aid for your horse might you add to your everyday saddle bags? Consider carrying a copy of your horse's current negative Coggins and list of recent vaccinations sealed in a plastic bag. Include as well your name and address with phone numbers, so should you part company with your horse, some form of identity will be found in his tack.
And if a dreadful emergency did occur, with injury to human or equine, one more small list of emergency phone numbers, i.e. your veterinarian, could prove invaluable.
You can't prepare for every possible emergency, but making some plans will help enormously when the unthinkable happens. So, enough speculation, second guessing, wondering, and supposing. Look to your own preparedness in the event of an emergency. Suzanne
Why Did Maggie Fall?
Tara's response to my question follows:
"Maggie did not stumble per se; she actually lost the use of the right hind before she came off of the trail and that is what precipitated her going off of the trail. The only pre-existing condition she had in hind joints was very limited arthritis in both hocks, which was being treated aggressively with Adequan and Legend injections, and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in her feed. In Dr. Forfa's opinion this was not the cause of her problems. She has also never tied up, nor showed any signs of patellar lock up.
"My personal speculation, with some support from Dr. Forfa, is that she had a neurological problem. I personally strongly suspect EPM. At the last barn we were at there was a horse that contracted EPM and that had to be put down. Maggie was turned out in the same field as this horse during the time period that this other horse would have contracted EPM. So she could have contracted the disease at or near the same time and not shown signs until now because she was a younger healthier horse.
"She actually lost the use of both hind legs starting with the right hind. After she had been down for 8 hours Dr. Forfa told me that she had at best a 50/50 chance and that only if they could get her standing after getting her out. That chance would decline rapidly the longer that she stayed down and we were told at that point that there was no helicopter available and that it would be at least 3 hours before they could get heavy equipment in that might be able to get her out. These conditions led me to my decision that it was the humane thing to have her euthanized." Tara E. Santmire
I would like to express my thanks to many TROT members who helped out on Saturday July 10th when my horse, Maggie, fell off of a trail into a ravine in the Frederick watershed.
First and foremost go my thanks to Angela Klinger for staying through to the bitter end, for her calm state of mind, and for asking her horse to carry veterinarians and much needed medical supplies to Maggie.
Also, many thanks to Jim Brainard for all of his efforts (including much needed cell phone contact with the outside world) and also to his friend Donna who was willing to spend several boring hours with Jim's horse and my husband's horse.
Thanks also to the additional rider who helped guide the initial fire and rescue units to the accident site. I apologize for not getting your name. Thanks also to Linda for continuing to lead the trail ride and the kind words and offers of assistance from many of the other riders. Thanks to Pat for helping ferry all of Maggie's tack down to my trailer.
Given the number of people there helping out I am sure that I have missed some names and some efforts. I apologize that not everyone is recognized here, but I do appreciate everyone's efforts.
I also want to express my appreciation to all of the TROT members who have called or sent cards since the accident. Your support has helped keep me sane through all of this and is greatly appreciated.
Although Maggie was not saved, the equestrian community should be aware that this not because of lack of effort. The Lewistown Volunteer Fire Department, Independent Hose Company No. 1, and the Advanced Technical Rescue Team all did their absolute best to rescue Maggie. (Thank you TROT for your donations to these groups.)
Unfortunately because she had lost the use of her hind end and because of the terrain, we needed a helicopter to get Maggie out and the bureaucrats in charge of a number of different agencies, including the National Guard, refused to ok the use of their equipment. Many people were surprised to discover that day that the state of Maryland does not have any plans for equine rescue in its repertoire of emergency plans. Angela Klinger, Gale Monahan, and Anne Bennof among others from TROT are in the process of working with Chief Chuck Handley from Independent Hose Company No. 1 and representatives from FEMA and state agencies to correct that gap.
It is my profound hope that they will be successful and that no other horses will die because no one could authorize the use of available resources. Tara
What follows are excerpts of the published reports and letters to the Editor, taken from the Frederick News-Post.
Trail Ride Ends in Tragedy
mountaindale—For 7 hours Saturday, volunteer firefighters, veterinarians and citizens tried in vain to rescue a horse that toppled from a trail near here.
Calls went to the White House, the Pentagon, Maryland National Guard, and a power company as rescuers tried to get a helicopter to hoist the mare off the side of an embankment. After promise after promise failed, and the horse grew weaker, her owner decided to allow Dr. Lee Miller, one of 4 vets on the scene, to give it a lethal injection.
The horse slipped off a narrow trail about a quarter mile above Mountaindale Road, about 11:30 a.m. The rider [Tara Santmire] jumped off just as the mare started to go over the rocky incline . . . Other riders in the group of 30 that were on the trail used cell phones to call for help. It took nearly a half hour to get someone to the area to assist, said Dr. Miller.
The county's advanced technical rescue team rigged ropes and harnesses in an attempt to stop the horse from slipping further, said Chuck Handley, chief of the Independent Hose Co.
Chief Handley said he has never been involved in a more discouraging call. "We couldn't get anyone to help," he said. "We tried everything. It was a helpless feeling." The chief said he was told that the county didn't have a resource manual available to locate people who could help with the rescue.
"I'm just discouraged and disgusted over the whole deal," he said. "We've got to be prepared for these things. If we can't handle a horse, what about a disaster?" A Lewistown firefighter, Bud Stull, echoed the frustrations. "We got a lot of promises. Then they canceled," he said. "It was a damn sorry situation."
Delegate David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said when he got the call that a military helicopter crew was willing and ready to go once they got the OK. He first called the White House.
"They transferred me to the Pentagon," he said, adding that the person there immediately had him contact a duty officer, a lieutenant colonel at home. He's not sure if the colonel ever contacted someone at the scene.
Meanwhile, Dr. Miller said his office attempted to call Gov. Parris Glendening to get things rolling. "A very similar thing happened during as ride in Virginia. The governor there sent a National Guard helicopter to hoist the horse out of the area. They set it down in a nearby parking lot where it was checked out, and later sent home," he said.
He said he received a recorded message from Mr. Glendening's office that the office was closed. A call to the health department referred him to the Maryland State Police.
Dr. Miller said, even though they said they wouldn't, the state police eventually relayed a special hoist [sling] from a horse center in Leesburg, VA., to the scene.
"He dumped it off, and he was gone," Dr. Miller said. "While all this was happening, we were told a helicopter was on its way." Dr. Miller said the fire companies and a riders organization, Trail Riders of Today, agreed to pay the $600 or $800 per hour for the helicopter.
The vets were monitoring the 1,200-pound horse and giving it fluids in an effort to keep it from going into shock. Rescue personnel were aiding in keeping it moving or rolling since if couldn't stand on its own.
"All these people kept calling about the horse's condition," Dr. Miller said. "I think they were waiting for us to say it died so it would solve their problem."
Mr. Brinkley said he plans to investigate the response, or the lack of it, to the situation.
Dr. Miller said with the number of horses in the state, he's surprised there is no emergency rescue plan.
Ending for Injured Horse
I was on the trail ride when the horse, Maggie, had her accident. One correction I want to make was that Dr. Richard Forfa and Dr. Manuel Jimenez of the Monocacy Equine Clinic in Dickerson, were the attending vets for Maggie.
Dr. Lee Miller was making the important phone calls, trying to get through the red tape when he was trying to get a helicopter for Maggie.
About 25-30 rescue workers were assisting Maggie and the vets. It was a breathtaking sight to see. The hardworking men and women from the Lewistown Volunteer Fire Department, the Independent Hose Co. No. 1, the Advanced Technical Rescue Team, and Dr. Forfa and Dr. Jimenez all working hard and fast.
Many climbed trees and stood on each other's shoulders to rig up ropes and pulleys for the harness that Maggie already had on. IV bags were hung. Many other volunteers were manning the radios and phones at the rescue trucks.
There was definitely blood, sweat, and tears shed this day. With their adrenaline pumping, the rescuers would yell "Come on, Maggie" as they tried to get her to her feet, only to watch this gallant little mare struggle to get up and then fall back down.
Several precious hours filled with promises of a helicopter went by. Maggie started to deteriorate. A fireman took his heavy canvas firemen's jacket and placed it under Maggie's head so she wouldn't bang her head anymore.
Dr. Forfa and Maggie's owner knew what had to be done, because the help they were desperately waiting for was not coming. Maggie's owner fell to her knees and wept as Dr. Forfa praised all the rescuers who stood by Maggie and all their efforts to save her and let them know of the decision that had been made. I don't think there was a dry eye. It wasn't fair, they'd worked so hard. She was put to sleep after almost eight hours of struggling.
On this particular trail ride, all the trail riders were from TROT (Trail Riders of Today), an organization of 900 members that help preserve trails throughout Maryland. They have a specialized group called TROT Search & Rescue. They train once to twice a month, all year long in all kinds of weather. They receive first aid training, search and rescue training along with their horses, and both have to pass testing to become certified through the state of Maryland. They are on call 24 hours a day, 265 days a year.
When people get lost, agencies often call TROT Search & Rescue, and they immediately respond. Unfortunately, when Maggie needed specialized help, certain government agencies didn't come through for her.
Horses have helped make America. In our history, horses have been sacrificed for mankind. They were our sole means of transportation, they were in our wars, they logged out our timber so we could build, they plowed our fields so we could grow crops. They've been used, abused, and misused throughout history. Now they are our animals companions who we love. Maggie did not deserve this.
We would like to take this opportunity to express how proud we were to have been part of the outstanding team that tried to rescue the horse Maggie at the Frederick Watershed on July 10.
The spirit of cooperation, professionalism, and enthusiasm for the formidable task we were faced with was both amazing and inspiring.
Those who participated are too numerous to mention in a short letter, but special recognition should go to Independent Hose Co. No. 1, led by Chief C. Handley, the Advanced Technical Rescue Team (Scott Morgan), Lewistown Volunteer Fire Dept. Co. 22 (Bud Stull), the unnamed Maryland State Trooper and his Virginia State Police counterpart who met on the Point of Rocks bridge to exchange the sling loaned to us by the Marion du Pont Scott Equine Medical Center, all of the members of Trail Riders of Today, the members of the fire department auxiliary and the many others who were there lending a hand or much needed moral support.
Contrary to what was originally printed in The Frederick News-Post, we were the ones who had to help Maggie's owner make the agonizing decision to humanely euthanize the horse when it became apparent that the U.S. Army helicopter we needed to complete the rescue was not going to be made available to use.
At the time the decision was made, Maggie's physical condition had deteriorated to a point where hopes of a successful recovery were greatly diminished. Despite the IV fluid therapy and the anti-inflammatory drugs we gave her, we could not counteract her increasing shock. Without the ability to move her to a more stable environment, no other choice was left.
Her loss, although deeply discouraging, should not dampen the pride all the volunteers should feel at a job well done. We should all be comforted by the fact that 100 individuals came together, supported each other, and worked towards a great good.