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Missing mare has been found

The story about River’s early life and recent mysterious disappearance was featured in the Feb. 7 “The Fence Post” issue. Her poignant saga recently reached its conclusion, but sadly without a happy ending.

Shari Bowen of Hudson, Colo., had owned River, a big, dark bay, 6-year-old registered Quarter Horse, since the mare was a one-hour old filly. The baby was orphaned at its birth, an event from which her dam suffered fatal complications.

Bowen related that she’d always rescued small animals in need of life-saving care. “How hard could this be?” she’d mused while considering the pros and cons of taking on an orphaned baby equine.



Although knowing virtually nothing about horses at the time, Bowen nevertheless generously accepted her neighbor’s motherless foal, ignored all the negative statistics thrown at her, and gladly became a surrogate mom to the downcast newborn.

Daryl Brown, with River with her winter coat in April 2021. Courtesy photo

Despite the original poor prognosis, little River not only survived but thrived with the passage of time; she became one lucky, happy horse while bonding to her human mother.



RIVER VANISHES

In June 2021, Bowen took River westward to be bred. Since the mare was a line bred (Hank Weiscamp’s) Skipper W horse, the genetics of crossing her with a Utah stallion carrying complimentary bloodlines seemed ideal.

The initial equine mating immediately resulted in pregnancy. River would produce a May 2022 foal. She spent the next seven months in a ruggedly beautiful 80-acre pasture filled with trees, bushes, rock formations, wildlife, a narrow river, and 15-20 other horses.

On the morning of Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, facility owner Steven Holman drove 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 to check on his animals, Bowen’s beloved mare was not among them. There were no clues to follow but lots of possibilities; none initially panned out.

Bowen advised that Holman and 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 trace of the mare, nor did the river’s ice appear broken through at any point. Holman even sent up drones to scan the area for animal remains; nothing scavenged was sighted except an elk and a deer, added Bowen.

Net Posse International was notified on Jan. 3, 2022. River’s case offered a $3,000 reward. Even without evidence, theft had become a viable possibility. So somebody might come forward with something.

“The Fence Post” story had garnered great interest and concern… but no leads.

River with Steven Holman, taken about a month before the mare’s disappearance. Courtesy photo

Similarly, Utah’s 9 PM Fox News ran a story with video footage on Jan. 25. Not a single clue came in.

Shari Bowen had adamantly declared, “I’ve been with River every day for six years since she was one-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.”

That troubling mystery is now sadly solved. And Bowen does have that small comfort of knowing what happened.

RIVER AND THE RIVER

There was no predation of River by mountain lion, wolf, or even a human thief; nor accidental escape from that scenic Utah acreage. As if her name eerily predestined her death, River simply broke through thinning ice and drowned.

Her remains were located on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 19, in the river that flows through the pasture, Bowen said. She was likely crossing the water to access pasture on the opposite side, something she’d done for months.

The lovely bay mare and her unborn foal suffered a tragic winter fate somewhat common in many parts of the U.S. When animals have adjusted to crossing or swimming in deep water during temperate weather, some assume its fine to traverse when frozen.

Despite the original poor prognosis, little River not only survived but thrived with the passage of time; she became one lucky, happy horse while bonding to her human mother. Courtesy photo

But ice can thin enough to kill when melting sets in. Family pets, hikers, children and even rescuers have been lost to such changing conditions.

Wyoming-based realtor Galen Chase said that countless thirsty livestock also succumb to it each year .

“Lots of cattle fall through ice to get a drink, and drown,” he said.

Domesticated horses pastured where they likewise can access/traverse potentially dangerous water sources sometimes fall prey to its icy fingers. As did River.

TO FENCE OR NOT TO FENCE —THAT IS THE QUESTION

Owners and other caretakers must become pro-active. As with children, animals need to be protected from winter dangers which in summer might be mere annoyances; or downright fun. But decisions must be made — it’s often practicality versus safety.

For example, fencing materials and their maintenance might prove cost-prohibitive, especially to border immensely long stretches of water. Or what if a river or deep pond/lake is the only available drinking source? Are alternatives such as water tanks/troughs and heaters even possible in far outlying areas? Every situation is different.

And then there are state laws to consider.

Just as an abandoned well or mine on a person’s land might be fenced off or boarded up, deep water can be legally fenced off, regardless of who owns the water rights. Realtor Chase noted that Wyoming, for example, is a “fence-out” state that owns all water, both above and below ground.

If they own the land but not its water rights, property owners are generally allowed to fence off water hazards (but not to use the water). Before so doing, however, it’s best to contact the proper Wyoming government agency for approval, Chase said.

Colorado’s regulations are similar to those of Wyoming. According to Agri-Enterprises owner Les Galvin, land owners attempting to keep animals safe from deep water/ice hazards should determine their property’s boundary line and also research rules which, again, vary from state to state.

Colorado owns all its water (except that federally owned in national parks), Galvin said, adding that county land surveyors can clear up any doubts or questions. He also mentioned a government program that will sometimes actually pay owners to fence off riparian areas.

MORE WINTER WOES

Most horse and other livestock owners are better familiar with common winter problems than with the dreadful specter of an animal breaking through, and perishing beneath, an impenetrable sheet of unstable ice.

One “should I or shouldn’t I?” dilemma is blanketing horses in cold weather. It’s normally unnecessary unless the animal is very old, compromised by illness or injury, or just arrived from a hot climate without its own grown-out winter coat.

Equines not continuously provided an ice-free water source (such as heated tanks) can suffer from colic issues. Always keep troughs clean, full and thawed. Set out salt and mineral blocks to encourage drinking.

Slips and falls can severely injure horses, especially those shod without borium on metal shoes or other ice-proofing methods; even barefoot ones ridden/driven on icy pavement; those stabled on bare concrete flooring. Balls of frozen snow collected underneath hooves should be immediately removed with a pick.

Horses can easily fall on ground-level ice, even just a thin coating. As did one 2-year-old that was unable to rise, equines can remain down and freeze to death/contract pneumonia, etc. Check on your animals multiple times daily, especially in icy conditions.

Several years ago, one unlucky Colorado gelding, while apparently boisterously kicking at a horse in an adjoining outdoor pen, somehow wedged a hoof in the uppermost boards of the tall gate. Simultaneously, both front feet slid out from beneath him. And there the poor creature hung by one hind leg, virtually upside down, struggling for more than 18-hours in near-zero temps when his tardy owner didn’t arrive on schedule. The hapless horse ultimately had to be euthanized due to irreversible nerve damage and other injuries from the cold and lack of blood circulation.

Frequent monitoring of facility grounds, proper nutrition that includes a safe, clean water source, and other basic winter maintenance efforts can usually get horses contentedly and safely through the cold weather. (Winter bonus: no flies!)

A REQUEST

Shari Bowen, River’s owner, dearly loved her and always sought to keep her safe. Everyone who has followed this story is asked to keep Shari in their kind thoughts and prayers.


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