Cherished horse, pregnant cow airlifted to safety from flooded Nicola River farms in British Columbia

November 22

Horse credited with saving owner’s life takes a helicopter ride after being cut off by rising water.

Winter the horse was saved using an Anderson Sling owned by a Fraser Valley veterinarian. The animal was airlifted by helicopter last Friday out of a flooded area near Spences Bridge in B.C.’s southern Interior. (Kelly Kennedy)

A small menagerie of marooned animals — including a horse and a pregnant cow — were rescued in recent days from flooded farms on the Nicola River west of Kamloops, B.C., using a helicopter, a specialized livestock harness and a whole lot of ingenuity.

Kim Cardinal says it was a desperate situation when her two horses and mule became trapped on a stretch of pavement near the community of Spences Bridge following torrential rains that ultimately swept her home into the raging Nicola River last Monday.

Cardinal says she can still hear the sounds of smashing boulders and glass as her house was destroyed by the power of the waters.

She and her partner Lorne Cardinal were airlifted to safety after a B.C. Hydro crew spotted smoke from a campfire they had lit after their house was destroyed. But their animals remained trapped by flooded roads.

Winter being harnessed into the Anderson Sling for transport after his owners’ home and much of their property was lost. (Kelly Kennedy)

“The horse — Winter — saved my life. I just couldn’t bear the thought of him there, dying after that,” said Cardinal.

She said the horse began acting spooked and almost “dancing” as the waters rose. It alerted her and Lorne to the danger and they got out just in time, she said.

But the rushing water made it impossible to get Winter, along with a mini-horse named Spicey and mule named Moxy, to safety.

The view of the area where 2 horses, a mule and a cow and other animals were rescued less than 10 kilometres south of Spence’s Bridge in B.C., west of Kamloops. A washed out portion of Highway 8 is visible in the centre of the photo. (Kelly Kennedy)

Kelly Kennedy says she got a call last Thursday from RCMP livestock officer Cpl. Cory Lepine about the dire situation.

“I was thinking about it and I was like, why can’t we just airlift them out?” said Kennedy, a director with the Horse Council of B.C. who also runs Sageview Rescue Centre in Kamloops.

Over the next three days she orchestrated the rescue.

She hired Summit Helicopters with funds from the B.C. Horse Council and had a special sling shipped from the Fraser Valley to Kamloops.

Aldergrove veterinarian Dr. David Paton owns the device, known as an Anderson Sling, that protects large animals when they are lifted off the ground — which is both difficult and dangerous.

The contraption allows this to be done — usually for urgent transport — with little risk to the animal. Paton recommended using the sling in this rescue, which he called a “perfect” example of its usefulness, given there was no other way to get the animals out of their spot.

Paton said despite the fact that horses do not generally fly, they handle being moved in a sling quite well.

“Horses are amazingly calm and quiet, they may need a mild sedation — kind of a little bit of an exciting ride for sure. Once they are airborne they’re not struggling or thrashing,” he said.

Paton says there is only one Anderson Sling in the province and this type of rescue was a first in B.C.

At the beginning of the operation, Kennedy met the pilot Aaron Toombs near Spences Bridge and they flew over the muddy, angry river to the rescue site. The harness took so long to fasten on Winter that the tranquilizer used to keep the horse calm wore off.

Spicey and Winter munch hay after their rescue. (Kelly Kennedy)

“That horse was wide awake. He stayed quiet through the air but when it came to landing it took the helicopter half an hour before we could drop him and try and get a long line on him to control him,” said Kennedy.

By then, Kennedy said “the whole town” of Spences Bridge had come to watch as the pilot tried to delicately land the big horse without breaking the large animal’s legs.

“It wasn’t pretty but we got it done.” Kennedy said.

Some of the other animals needing rescuing were too small for the sling, so Kennedy devised a backup plan. A massive grain tote made out of netting that can handle loads of up to 680 kilograms of feed was used to cradle the smaller animals in and fly them to safety.

Then they heard the neighbours nearby were also in need — with a pregnant Jersey cow named Tina and three goats, cut off by the floods.

But by Friday night they’d run out of daylight and money for the $3,000-per-hour helicopter so they had to refuse. However, the pilot knew a government official looking at the highways who had a helicopter booked but only half a day of work on Monday, so they used that aircraft for the goats and the pregnant cow.

Rescuers with Spicey a mini horse that had to be sedated and cradled in a feed tote for airlift. (Kelly Kennedy)

They laid the cargo net on the ground, “and the cow walked into the middle of it and we just scooped her up,” said Kennedy.

It took three days and used up the animal rescue contingency fund of the Horse Council of B.C., but in the end they rescued two horses, a mule, a pregnant cow, nine puppies, two large dogs, three goats and several cats.

Cardinal says she can’t stop sobbing thinking about the ordeal, and is so thankful that she survived and that her animals got out thanks to fast-thinking volunteers — especially Kennedy.

“She is my hero,” Cardinal said.

Tina the pregnant Jersey cow enjoys a drink after a harrowing rescue. (Kelly Kennedy)
Moxy the mule is loaded into a jury-rigged feed transport net to lift the animal via helicopter out of a flood zone. (Kelly Kennedy)

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