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Deputies rescue horses stuck in the mud at Whitetail Woods

Rescuers had to build a plywood platform for a horse that got stuck on its side in the mud at Whitetail Woods Wednesday afternoon.1 / 2
Once the horses were standing, a plywood walkway allowed them to get from the swampy area where they were stuck to solid ground. 2 / 2

Dakota County Sheriff’s deputies, park rangers, DNR staff and others conducted a three-hour rescue operation Wednesday afternoon to free three horses from the mud at Whitetail Woods Regional Park in Empire Township.

The horses got stuck around 3:30 p.m. as they tried to cross a boardwalk over a swampy area on the west side of Empire Lake. According to Capt. Dan Bianconi, one horse broke through one of the boards, causing all of the horses to get spooked and take off running down a wooden walkway about the width of a dock. Three of the horses fell off and got stuck.

“When we got there, we had two horses that were standing but clearly stuck in the mud,” Bianconi said. “We had another horse that was lying down and also stuck in the mud.”

Neither the horses nor any of the riders — one adult and five juveniles — was injured. But freeing them from the mud presented some challenges. The trail is in a remote area, and it was impossible to get a truck closer than about 50 yards, Bianconi said.

For the two standing horses, deputies were able to build a plywood walkway and coax the horses out of the mud.

“They just got a little more energy,” Bianconi said. “We used a little persuasion, basically pushing and pulling the horse.”

For the horse that was stuck on its side, deputies used ATVs equipped with winches and tow straps to free the horse from the mud, then rolled it onto a plywood platform.

“Once we did that, she sprang up,” Bianconi said.

A veterinarian was on hand to supervise the horses’ condition during the rescue effort. About 15 people in all were part of the operation.

The trail the riders were on is not a designated horse trail, but Bianconi said they did not issue any citations.

“It was quite an ordeal for them,” Bianconi said. “They were scared because their horses were clearly in distress.

“It was clearly not a horse trail, but we thought that sometimes the difficult circumstances people find themselves in are lesson enough.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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