Have You Seen River?
Quarter horse vanished from a pasture in Leamington, Utah, between Dec. 27-30, 2021
River’s poignant saga began in tragedy, became a miracle, and is now a troublesome mystery.
Shari Bowen of Hudson, Colo., has owned the 6-year-old registered Quarter Horse mare since the filly was 1-hour old. The baby was orphaned at birth when her dam suffered fatal complications from the maternal event gone awry.
Bowen said that she knew virtually nothing about horses at the time. But her neighbor who bred horses had a dire and complex situation on her hands. Complicating her mare’s tragic death, the elderly woman was caring for her husband who’d recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Veterinarians were quickly consulted about the best course of treatment for the motherless filly that had not nursed from her departed dam. This meant she lacked immune-boosting colostrum in her system; that situation would leave her prey to potentially deadly infections. Bowen’s heart ached for the struggling baby.
The deceased mare’s owner and Colorado State University veterinarians advised there was virtually no chance of the foal’s survival without expensive treatments. Even with those, her chances were slim.
Bowen had always rescued small animals in need of life-saving care. “How hard could this be?” she wondered, ignored statistics, and accepted the downcast newborn.
Baby received a transfusion; Bowen went shopping for milk replacer at the feed store and goat’s milk from a neighbor with lots of nannys. Following CSU’s care instructions to the letter, she then started a months-long regimen of bottle feedings — a combined 6 gallons per day of the two nutritious fluids — administered over a 24-hours/day schedule. Becoming a surrogate horse mom was hard work, learned Bowen.
Despite the original poor prognosis, little “River” (the filly’s barn name) not only made it but thrived. Time passed while she and Bowen bonded as fully as if they were far more than just animal and owner. At age 2½ years, The young mare was trained under saddle. More time passed.
In June 2021, when Bowen took River westward to be bred, the now-very large mare began an odyssey which has morphed into a worry-filled mystery. Since River is a line bred (Hank Weiscamp’s) Skipper W horse, the genetics of crossing her with a Utah stallion carrying complimentary bloodlines seemed perfect. The terrain she’d be living in until the foal arrived would also provide the mare a more natural environment and lifestyle, Bowen said.
The equine mating resulted in pregnancy immediately. River would produce a May 2022 foal. She spent a leisurely seven months in an 80-acre “wild” pasture with trees, bushes, rock formations, a narrow river, and 10-15 other horses. All was going well for the mare at her temporary home, a breeding/training ranch in Leamington, Utah.
On the morning of Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, facility owner Steven Holman traveled the handful of miles from his house to River’s pasture with a large round hay bale for the horses. When he next returned a couple evenings later and checked the horses, Bowen’s beloved mare was missing. There were no clues to follow but lots of possibilities; none have panned out.
Holman and some friends checked the gates and wire fencing. All remained closed and intact. They walked and rode horseback throughout the entire 80-acres, including along the river. Not a sign of the mare, nor was the river’s ice broken through at any point. Holman even sent drones up to scan the area for animal remains; nothing scavenged was sighted except an elk and a deer.
It was possible that if she’d walked across the river diagonally, River could have entered a neighbor’s adjoining property, which Bowen said contains hundreds of acres of grazing land. The owner graciously rounded up all his animals to see if River (who loves cattle) was with them. She was not.
Net Posse was notified on Jan. 3. River’s case, #4935, offers a $3,000 reward. Anyone with information about the mare’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Net Posse website at that case number: https://netposse.com/tag.asp?id=4935.
River’s story even appeared on the area’s 9 PM Fox News on Jan. 25. To no avail thus far.
The Leamington area is sparsely populated with just a few hundred residents, mostly ranchers. Everybody there knows and trusts each other. Holman is adamant that none of the residents could be involved.
But Holman’s 80-acre pasture borders State Route 132, an infrequently traveled highway used mostly by ranchers and cowboys heading to and from livestock sales. Although no more than 100 vehicles daily use the road, most would be towing trailers. If anyone witnessed someone loading a horse through a pasture gate there, the scene wouldn’t look unusual, not worth a second glance.
Towards the end of January, Holman received a call from an acquaintance who runs sheep west of Leamington. He’d taken supplies to herders who oversee and maintain his large flocks. There is no cell service out there. All contact with the outside world must be in-person.
The herdsmen reported to their boss that they’d just recently begun seeing a big bay mare with a blaze attempting to escape one of the mustang bands she was running with. Every time she tried to approach the mens’ truck, a herd stallion charged in to drive her back into his group.
Bowen said that River would likely do that because she’s bonded to humans far more so than to other horses. The herders have since been given a few halters and lead ropes in case they can safely get to the mare, which might or might not be River.
But how would she have gotten that far from home? Trailered, by thieves.
A series of horse thefts has been detected within a 100-mile radius of Holman’s property over the past year or so. Bowen noted that the last known such incident occurred in October 2021; just two months before River’s disappearance.
The county sheriff reported that these similar crimes are always committed to obtain Quarter Horses, always mares, always in secluded areas, always friendly and easy to handle. Word has it that QH mares are popular to breed with donkey jacks to produce good quality mules.
Horse thieves in the area are known to frequently dump horses in the desert if they feel they’re suspect or if some animals don’t ‘work out.’
If River’s pregnancy began showing more over the month she’d been gone, she’d have been seen as worthless for beginning such a mule mother endeavor anytime soon. Perhaps thieves or someone they sold her to dumped her in a desert?
For example, not too far west of Leamington, are two such deserts: Sevier and Black Rock. Also, the huge Fishlake National Forest. All prime dumping spots for stolen domesticated equines who’d probably die quickly from starvation, dehydration, predation or injuries. Evidence gone. Better scenario, bands of feral mustangs roaming the areas could easily absorb solitary, abandoned mares.
Should the Bureau of Land Management conduct a roundup of a feral band that had accepted River, she’d be included in the gathering and be freeze branded to forevermore be marked as a bonafide BLM Mustang. All traces of her QH registration and pedigree would go unnoticed.
Stolen horses bound for auctions or slaughter easily end up anywhere in the U.S., Mexico or Canada in a mere couple days. Horses stolen in California, for example, have often turned up at low end auctions as far east as Pennsylvania and Maryland. U.S. brand inspectors and other related agencies have been notified to be on the lookout for River.
Shari Bowen adamantly wants her cherished mare back, emotionally declaring, “I’ve been with River every day for six years since she was 1-hour old! I don’t know what I’ll do if she’s not found safe. I want to at least know what happened to her.”
SIDEBAR— Have You Seen River?
“River” is a 6-year-old, 15.2 hand Quarter Horse mare, missing from Leamington, Utah since between Dec. 27-30, 2021. She is dark bay in color with an irregular blaze. No other markings. A $3,000 reward is being offered for her. Please go to Net Posse’s website for further information: https://netposse.com/tag.asp?id=4935.
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