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UPDATE: SCV vet helps hoist injured horse after ravine tumble

Canyon Country woman called in by county officials for dramatic rescue

Posted: March 19, 2014 3:22 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2014 6:03 p.m.

Rescue workers attend to a Tennessee walking horse that fell about 300 feet into a ravine off Pacific Crest Highway. A local veterinarian, Canyon Country resident Rachael Ostrom Sachar, rappelled down to the site to help with the rescue. Photo courtesy of Rachael Sachar

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The call came in to Santa Clarita Valley veterinarian Rachael Ostrom Sachar on Friday afternoon. Los Angeles County officials were looking for an equine vet to help rescue a Tennessee walking horse that had fallen down a 300-foot ravine near Bear Divide.

The 16-year-old brown-and-white gelding named Dakota had fallen from a rocky patch on the Pacific Crest Trail and was badly hurt at the bottom of a ravine.

“I got a call from the (Los Angeles) County rep who asked me if I had my (tranquilizing) dart gun,” Sachar told The Signal in an interview Wednesday.

“I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’ And then he asked me, ‘How would you like to go for a helicopter ride?’ and I said, ‘Hell, yeah.’”

Wasting no time, a pilot with the Los Angeles County Fire Department picked up the Canyon Country resident in Lakeview Terrace and brought her to the edge of a precipice near Bear Divide, located atop the mountain range between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys near Fire Station Camp 11.

“I was debriefed on the situation and told there was a horse that had plummeted down a cliff,” said Sachar, who runs her own mobile vet business called Twin Oaks Equine Veterinary Services.

A couple from Temecula had been traveling the Pacific Crest Trail on horseback. A man on a horse named Arrow traversed a precarious section of the trail, but when his wife ventured across the same section, Dakota slipped and fell over the side, Sachar said.

“(The wife) went down with the horse,” she said, but she fell a shorter distance and was unhurt. Dakota tumbled 300 feet to the bottom and landed in the ravine.

Initially, Sachar couldn’t see the horse by peering over the cliff side.

“They put me in a harness and I repelled down the side,” said the vet, adding she was experienced at repelling. When she got to the bottom, she saw a worrisome sight.

Dakota was on his back with his feet in the air, wedged inside a rocky mass at the ravine bottom.

“He was covered in blood with abrasions all over his body,” Sachar said.

Also at the bottom of the ravine was a team of at least eight rescuers removing rocks from around the horse in an effort to free it, along with Dakota’s owner, who was trying to comfort the animal.

“They were fantastic,” she said about the rescuers. “We worked as a team.”

The Los Angeles County Search & Rescue team managed to free the horse enough to allow it to stand.

“The owner kept telling him, ‘You’re doing really good, boy, really good’ and just trying to keep him calm,” the veterinarian said.

Sachar, who was asked to bring all the “meds” she could, gave the horse some tranquilizers to calm it while rescuers attached a hoist harness.

“We were able to get the horse in the harness. We had to hook him up before I gave him the final drug,” she said.

Once that was done, the helicopter lifted Dakota off the ground.

“He was dangling over our heads,” Sachar said. “Neurologically, he seemed to be intact. But he had multiple traumatic injuries and abrasions and most significantly, a fractured skull.”

Rescuers brought the injured animal to the Castaic Lake Animal Shelter, where Dakota’s regular vet took over.

The horse is expected to make a full recovery.

“He was doing very well,” Sachar said when she said goodbye to Dakota. “I’m sure he had one hell of a headache.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of such a stellar team in this rather technical and complicated rescue operation,” she said. “The entire operation went seamlessly and flawlessly, with a very, very happy ending.”


on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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