It took four hours of tremendous effort, but 29 horses are alive and safe thanks to Henry Chillihitzia and some Good Samaritans who managed to wrangle the animals out of dangerous floodwaters using motorboats and tractors.
Torrential rains slammed British Columbia on Monday, November 15, 2021 causing widespread flooding throughout the Canadian province. The town of Merritt was one area that was hard-hit with farmland turning into freezing, fast-moving floodwaters.
Merritt residents Jerry McCauley and Connie Joe have 29 horses in the town and desperately needed help rescuing their horses. The hayfield where the horses had been grazing on Sunday became flooded overnight, surrounding the horses with river-like water. The horses panicked and were not moving to higher ground.
After receiving a text for help, Chillihitzia, a machine loader-operator and former bull rider, sprung into action to help save the animals. The experienced cowboy is used to corralling animals on horseback. But using a motorboat? That was a first for the horse lover.
He and some other Good Samaritans first attempted to wrangle the trapped horses on horseback. But he told CBC Radio that the waters were too deep (2 meters) and moving too fast (up to 60 kilometres and hour).
That’s when they realized the only option for the rescue was to use boats. The difficulty came in convincing the horses to swim. But after several hours of effort, one mare took the lead, jumped into the deep waters and swam across to higher ground. The rest of the herd followed.
Henry and the rescuers couldn’t help but cheer in relief, as video of the dramatic rescue shows.
Earlier in the day, Chillihitzia shared videos showing the horses panicking. The videos reveal the difficulty of getting close enough to the herd to get them to safety.
He wrote on Facebook, “Still trying to get the horses to move out they won’t. I’ll give it one more shot new boat motor is on its way.”
But after the horses were on higher ground, he and his fellow rescuers all let out a huge sigh of relief. He wrote on Facebook, “I am in tears of joy we got the horses out of the water onto dry land, all horses accounted for thank you God. What a rush.”
He later told As It Happens host Carol Off it was an emotional experience. “I had a lump in my throat the whole time, so my emotions were pretty high. And I own horses myself, so they’re kind of like my kids, right?”
“That’s my first time doing that in a boat,” he added. “I knew if we didn’t do anything then, yeah, my heart probably would have shattered in two billion pieces.”
McCauley’s daughter updated everyone on Facebook following the rescue that all her father’s horses are doing well.
“They are all OK, no more shivering, and bellies full of hay!” she wrote. “Huge thank you to everyone who was out there all day in the cold and rain and wind doing everything possible to save them!”
You can listen to Chillihitizia’s interview with CBC Radio here.