While others were enjoying Fourth of July barbecues and firework displays, New Paltz Fire Department volunteers spent more than five-and-a-half hours in the grueling heat attempting to rescue a fallen horse. A call came in at approximately 1:30 p.m. from a distraught horse-owner on Saddle Bred Lane in New Paltz that her beloved Clydesdale had fallen, cut its side open and could not get up from the concrete floor of the stable.
While firefighters are called in for many emergency situations besides fires, this one was unique and required them to utilize their equipment in ways that they had never imagined. “When we got a call to help rescue a horse, I imagined it was stuck in the mud, or the water,” said veteran driver Ralph Scandariato, “but I never imagined this.” The firefighters responded with a utility truck and firetruck.
According to the captain in charge at the scene, Dylan Babcock, what the firefighters found was a 25-year-old horse that had slipped sometime during the night on its way into the stable and sliced its side open on two spigots along the stable wall. “She was lying down on the concrete on her side, obviously exhausted, with no energy and a bleeding wound,” said veteran New Paltz firefighter Tony Yenzer.
They knew, from whatever cumulative horse experience they had among them, that it was very dangerous for horses to lie down for any extended length of time because their legs go numb, leaving them unable to get up. So, using their harnesses and utility truck, they attempted to get the 1,600-pound draft horse up, with no success. “The best we could do was to roll her over a bit, so that our EMT on the scene could at least clean the wound and stop the bleeding,” said Yenzer.
After multiple tries and different approaches with the harnesses, manpower and vehicular power, they did get the horse, named Katie, up on its legs. But no sooner did they succeed than the animal came crashing down onto the stable fence. “That was it for me,” said Scandariato. “I’m a tough guy, but animals get to me. I felt so bad for that horse and the suffering it was going through, and then the owner just broke down. I had to go outside.” The owner, according to the fire department, was on an emotional rollercoaster ride herself: obviously grief-stricken for her horse, but also having to tend to her parents, who had come to see her horses and were trying to assist. They were also giving way to tears as various attempts to get Katie up failed.
“The most challenging thing about this situation was both emotional and tactical,” explained Babcock. “We all wanted what was best for the horse, but some of us felt that we should continue to try and get her up on her legs, while others felt that it would just cause more suffering, and in the end we wouldn’t be able to save her. The veterinarian who came on the scene agreed.”
The firefighters and the owner were not ready to give up on Katie. “We all had emotions, just looking at this horse lying in pain and not being able to just pick her up,” said Yenzer. “We didn’t want to just walk away, but we also didn’t want her to suffer any more.”
The firefighters brainstormed, and decided to give Doug Leake from Erichsen’s Auto Service a call to see if he would be willing to come out with a tow truck. “He came right out, free of charge, and we all continued working,” said Babcock. “We were a complete team, and we were in tight, hot, uncomfortable quarters, but there was not one complaint, nothing. We were so focused on rescuing this horse that we didn’t know how much time had passed, what day it was — forget it being the Fourth of July! Our full attention was on getting that horse up.”
After more failed attempts, it was coming down to the wire. The horse was tired, hurting, so exhausted that it wasn’t kicking or fighting, just lying there with belabored breaths. When the tow truck failed, they just kept coming up with more ideas and approaches with the harnesses and their newly dubbed “horse whisperer” firefighter Joe Jurain, who was talking to the horse, trying both to encourage her and to irritate her enough that she would rally whatever energy she had left to try to stand.
“The vet had the syringe drawn and was about to put the horse down. It was an older horse, and the longer this went on, it seemed to be inevitable that the horse wasn’t going to make it,” explained Yenzer. “But the owner asked us to give it one more try.”
“I give these guys all the credit in the world,” said Scandariato. “They hung in there to the bitter end and never gave up. You even had Louie [Ostrowski], who is allergic to horses, but he was there driving the truck!”
On the final try, they got the horse up. She was wobbling and the men surrounded her to stabilize her. Once they had her stabilized, they began to give her some water and food. After a few minutes, “She started taking a few steps,” said Yenzer, “then a few more, and finally she emerged out of the stable and into the field and started chewing on some grass. It was such an intense moment — such an amazing feeling! It was a life-and-death situation — in this case it was the life of a horse, but it was still life-and-death, and it could have gone either way. We’re all so relieved it went the way it did.”
“It’s a combination of several things,” added Babcock. “Teamwork was the number-one factor, but the fact that we are so professionally trained and have the equipment that we need and the common sense to utilize that equipment for any given situation.”
The men reported that the owner was ecstatic, hugging and thanking every one of them — with the exception of Louie, who would have had an allergic reaction to the horsehair on her coat!
“The interesting thing was how the other three horses kept poking their heads in to see what was happening,” noted Scandariato. “They were curious or concerned or something, because they would graze for a bit and then poke their heads in every few minutes. They might have been as relieved as we were!”
“I can’t give these men enough credit,” said chief Kevin McGuire. “Here it was, July Fourth, and they’re out there spending hours trying to rescue a horse. It’s just another example of how selfless these men are, how much they care about their community and how well-trained and skilled they are to be able to approach such a unique situation and save this horse.”