With help of a bird’s-eye view, searchers were able to locate a horse missing for two days.
Courtnie Smith, 18, Trommald, was out riding with a friend Thursday along a snowmobile trail about a mile from her home. She was exercising her cousin’s new horse. The 5-year-old gelding arrived from Park Rapids less than a week earlier. The plan was to have him join his owner in Montana, but an incident along the snowmobile trail put that plan in jeopardy.
After bucking and dislodging Smith, the bay thoroughbred named Jagger spooked and took off. The 16-hand gelding seemed to vanish. Searchers on the ground used every available means of transportation, on foot, on horseback, in trucks and on snowmobiles. But no one found Jagger.
After a snowstorm and subzero temperatures at night, Smith was beginning to worry if the horse would be found alive.
When their plight went out on Facebook, other horse owners and enthusiasts passed the word and offered ideas to find Jagger.
One idea hit home and came with plenty of assistance. Smith said the idea was to rent a plane to get a better view and hopefully spot the young thoroughbred. The idea came with phone numbers to reach private pilots. Smith said after an initial call to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, they were told no pilots were available, but then one was found.
They went up in the air about noon Saturday with about an hour available to them for the air search. When they were down to about the last five minutes and about to give up for the day, they spotted him.
They marked the spot using GPS with Smith’s iPhone. But it was harder to explain to those searching on the ground where the horse was in the woods.
“We got into our cars as quick as we could and got out there,” Smith said.
They used Smith’s smartphone to set the direction. Then the battery died. Smith thought she’d have to return home to get it charged but then she could see the same frozen pond and wetland visible from the air. After taking turns blazing a trail through the snow, drifted as high as their shoulders, they were able to clear a path. It took about 45 minutes of pushing through the deep snow before they were able to reach Jagger, who was some 300 feet into thick woods.
They found him, saddle still in place, on the edge of a frozen pond with the reins wrapped around a small tree.
“He was starving,” Smith said. “He ate most of the tree he was tied to.”
He was shaking as they approached him, but appeared uninjured.
“He was happy to see us,” Smith said.
He was able to trot back to the Smith’s home led behind a snowmobile. At home, his first stop was a hay bale.
“We never would have found him without that plane,” Smith said, noting they previously passed the woods where he was without ever seeing him.
From the air when they saw a dark shape laying in the snow, they were sure they’d find Jagger dead in the snow.
Instead they found a hungry, cold and somewhat thirsty horse. Smith said perhaps that was a good enough punishment for bucking but she thinks she may have lost her horse baby-sitting job with her cousin.
They found Jagger just in time as temperatures are forecast to plunge this week producing wind chills of 20 below to 30 below and overnight air temperatures of 20 below zero.
After hours of looking in the cold, the 5-foot-2-inch Smith said she also has another wish. “I never want to see snow that high again.”