Steamboat Springs There’s at least one Routt County resident thankful for the lack of snow this winter.
In fact, he owes his life to it.
Ser Vivor may be a small horse, but he somehow survived as many as four months in the North Routt backcountry, grazing on the sparse feed he found in tree wells exposed by the dry climate.
“He’s a cute little guy,” said Dr. Mike Gotchey, a veterinarian at the Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, where Ser Vivor was recovering Tuesday. “But he’s got a big heart, though, because he didn’t give up.”
Five Routt Powder Riders snowmobile club members were out for a Sunday ride when they first spotted the horse standing under a lone pine tree in an open field between Crane and Whiskey parks in North Routt County.
The clear, windless day gave way to a moonlit night as Gotchey, the snowmobilers and two U.S. Forest Service rangers walked Ser Vivor about eight miles out of the wilderness Sunday afternoon. The rescue took almost seven hours but saved the life of the old yet hardy animal.
The long road
Mary Sue Sorenson, president of Routt Powder Riders, was part of the group that included Vice President George Kostiuk; his wife, Lois; Ed Calhoun; and Stan Bragg.
When the riders first saw the horse, he was visibly malnourished and shied away from human touch. His saddle had slid down around his belly and was full of snow. He could barely walk with the weight of it.
The girth’s cinch had dug into his back, leaving a large and infected wound, and the riders could see where blood had dripped down his sides. Based on the horse’s tracks, Sorenson said they determined he had been circling a 30-yard area scrounging for food.
“It was so sad,” she said. “He tried to get away from us, but he just didn’t have much strength.”
The first thing they did was cut the saddle off of him before riding all the way back to Columbine to call the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service enlisted the help of Gotchey, who brought a trailer and his fiancee, Traci Clark.
They drove a trailer to the intersection of Forest Service Roads 500 and 550, where logging operations this winter fortuitously had packed the snow down for driving.
The group made its way to the horse on snowmobiles and met face to face with the now-calmer horse, who several members of the rescue party affectionately called “little man” and “little guy.”
U.S. Forest Service Ranger Mike Seawall and Reserve Law Enforcement Officer Steve McCone had brought hay and a blanket to the site.
“He didn’t look that bad, considering everything he had gone through,” Seawall said. “He looked pretty relieved. He had enough left in him to understand, ‘I’m getting out of here.’”
“You could tell, when (Gotchey) grabbed on to that lead rope, that we were there; we were getting that horse out,” he said. “I’m sure the little man’s relieved.”
The first 1 1/2 miles was post-holing through deep snow, but the snowmobiles stayed with the group and rode back and forth in front of the horse to create a track for him to walk on. The final stretch of more than six miles was along Forest Service Road 550, and Gotchey said the horse let out a sigh once he made it to the stable at about 10:30 p.m.
He said if the snowpack had been at last year’s levels, the horse’s survival and rescue would have been nearly impossible.
Seawall said the rescue was one made possible by more than the cooperating weather.
“At the end of the day, if (the snowmobilers) hadn’t have been out there and been willing to ride all the way in and make the call. That and Mike, for him to come out and take this horse and care for it, it’s wonderful.
“And the horse, he just put his head down and went to work,” he said. “Tough little horse.”
Seawall said the Forest Service is conducting an investigation into where the horse came from and the circumstances surrounding his separation from his owner.
A bright future
For the past two days, Ser Vivor has been munching on hay happily at the Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, where he now welcomes affection from humans and other horses.
“He’s been eating hay like there’s none left in the world,” Gotchey said, smiling.
Gotchey has given him antibiotics and is taking care of the wounds, which he said should heal to allow the 20-year-old horse to be ridden again someday.
In about a week, he will go to a local foster ranch to finish his recovery.
Gotchey thinks the horse might be a sheepherding horse, judging by the saddle and his size. He said if no one claims the horse, there are several people interested in taking him home for good.
“He’ll be a great horse for kids,” Gotchey said, patting the little man’s bony hip. “He’s a good boy.”
Gotchey said he was involved with another horse rescue on Mount Werner almost a decade ago.
“If you have an animal stuck up there and you can do something about it, it’s something you do,” he said. “And everybody felt the same way.”
Sorenson said the group never questioned stopping to help the animal.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said, while visiting Ser Vivor on Tuesday to see how he was doing. “You can’t turn your back away on that.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 907-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com