Jennifer Bloor and her riding partner were almost at the end of a trail ride near Lake Kachess on Sept. 22, not more than a mile from the bottom the trail, when her 7-year-old Appaloosa, Huckleberry, was knocked off the trail and down a ravine.
The two had been on a ride and were nearing the trailhead at about 10 a.m. when Bloor said her riding partner’s saddle slid up on their horse. As her riding partner was dismounted to fix it, her horse panicked, running into Huckleberry and sending him falling to the bottom of a 300-foot ravine. The fall left Huckleberry with severe injuries and Bloor scrambling to find a way to rescue her horse.
“It just was a really awful place — it was pretty dangerous to rappel down the side of the mountain, or if you did decide to walk up the creek, it was more than a mile in,” she said.
Nevertheless, her boyfriend struck out on foot and found Huckleberry. At the same time Bloor was calling local rescue organizations, like Kitsap Search and Rescue, who told her they couldn’t search once it became dark. On top of that, they said there were no horse slings which could be used to airlift the animal to safety. Bloor said she was told the nearest slings available were in California.
The specific types of slings needed are large animal lifts designed by UC Davis. Bloor said word went out on social media and they found one of the slings at Washington State University in Pullman. Some of her friends drove to Pullman and brought it back, but by then it was too late to attempt a rescue.
“At this point it was too dark and you can’t do rescues like this at dark,” Bloor said.
While they waited for morning to come, she and a group of rescuers hiked in to spend the night with her horse. Dr. Howard Friedman with the Cougar Mountain Veterinary Hospital hiked in with a large backpack filled with fluid, antibiotics and tranquilizers to stabilize Huckleberry and wait out the darkness.
“We were able to get my horse stable throughout the night and everything happened the next morning,” Bloor said.
The next morning, a helicopter piloted by a crew from the Oregon-based Hillsboro Aviation company came and, using the sling, airlifted Huckleberry from the ravine. Bloor drove him to Washington State University, where he was examined by university surgeons. What they thought was originally a torn tendon, and repairable, the surgeons told her was a missing Fetlock joint, an injury which has a less than 1 percent chance of recovery, Bloor said. Even if Huckleberry recovered, it would leave him in pain for the rest of his life, so Bloor made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him.
“My horse’s injuries ended up being too substantial,” she said.
While quicker access to a horse sling may not have helped her horse, Bloor said she has been in contact with an Oregon woman, Mariann Deering, who needed a sling to airlift her horse out of the Pacific Crest Trail, according to her GoFundMe campaign. When one wasn’t found they attempted to remove the horse with a helicopter and a basket-like device that ultimately failed, and the horse had to be put down on the spot.
In response, Deering started a GoFundMe page called The Sling Project in July, hoping to raise enough money for four slings to be placed in Oregon and accessible in Washington and Idaho. Bloor said they cost around $6,500 each and the campaign has raised more than $13,000 so far.