The sound of a horse somersaulting through the branches down a ridge in Zigzag Canyon broke the late summer quiet last Saturday.
A path strewn with downed trees sent the Kiger mustang mare named Oriana careening off the Pacific Crest Trail, falling at least 200 feet over the edge.
The crashing stopped almost as soon as it started, and an ominous silence returned.
“I just assumed the worst,” said the mare’s owner, Jessica Mandt.
Mandt, her husband, Dirk, and friend Laura Salo quickly turned to protecting their four other horses on the muddy, washed-out section of the trail.
They hiked two miles, then set up a hasty campsite at the first available flat spot and spent the night praying for Oriana, expecting to return to the scene of the accident in the morning to recover only their gear.
What they found stunned them. Oriana was alive — and wedged between the side of the mountain and a log.
The ordeal began along the popular trail about four miles from Timberline Lodge when the group and their five horses, including Oriana’s 1-year-old colt, Fuego, encountered huge fallen trees across the trail to Bridge of the Gods.
The group successfully navigated one obstacle but a second one proved more hazardous. They decided to turn around, but that meant crossing the first set of fallen trees again.
As Mandt walked in front of Oriana on the steep, crumbling trail, she led the horse by a rope and encouraged the horse to weave between the fallen trees.
That’s when a stirrup on the horse’s saddle caught a log. Oriana lost her balance, then struggled to get her feet under her, tipping over.
“I was in a tug of war, holding as hard as I could,” said Mandt, who tried to direct the horse’s head to prevent her from flipping.
Oriana somersaulted anyway, causing Mandt to lose her grip.
“It was awful to have the rope snap out of my hands,” she said. “You could tell she was very afraid.”
As the horse slid down the mountain, the sound of her body crashing against branches and trees filled the canyon. So did the cries of her colt, Fuego. “He was feeling very desperate for his mother,” Mandt said.
Then it was silent below. “It would appear she was gone,” she said.
The Mandts and Salo then had to get four more skittish horses across the logs, removing gear so no other horse would catch their equipment on a stray branch.
After they set up camp, they prayed. Mandt tried to imagine Oriana was safe and protected. “I just need to keep knowing that it is possible,” she told herself.
Mandt, 29, and Salo, 25, met in 2011 at a Colorado church camp with horses. Salo lives in Minnesota, and the Mandts live in Beavercreek. Both women are Christian Scientists. They didn’t sleep that well that night, Mandt said.
“We spent all night and the next morning feeling that a disaster happened, and we weren’t going to come back from it,” Mandt said.
Dirk Mandt and Salo set out early the next morning to collect their gear and to look for Oriana, scrambling over the logs where she fell and then traversing a switchback to a section of the trail 75 to 100 feet below where the horse fell.
From there, they used ropes to drop an additional 133 feet down the canyon.
“I can see her,” Dirk Mandt told Salo when he first spotted Oriana.
“I can see she’s standing,” he said, when he got closer.
“She seems fine,” he called back to her at last.
“Well, thank goodness,” Salo replied.
The rescue wasn’t over, though. Dirk Mandt found Oriana wedged between the face of the mountain and a log. Her saddle had twisted around her barrel. She seemed scratched up, but otherwise uninjured. Yet she had no clear path out of the forest.
The two used the ropes to climb up and down the cliff, ferrying water and grain to the horse.
Salo grabbed Oriana’s saddle, used the ropes to climb back up the mountainside and then ran two miles up the trail in cowboy boots to the campsite and shouted, “Jessica, good news.”
They still needed to free Oriana, though.
Brian Henrichs, division chief of operations for the Hoodland Fire District, got a call at 9:15 a.m. Sunday.
“This doesn’t sound good at all,” he thought to himself.
The site of the accident was also outside his district, which extends north of Mount Hood along U.S. 26. It includes Timberline Lodge but not the trails.
But having grown up around horses, he decided to drive to the lodge, where he met U.S. Forest Service firefighters. They were later joined by volunteers with the Oregon Humane Society Technical Animal Rescue team.
He and others hiked in, and the crew spread out, evaluating how to rescue the horse without causing her to fall farther.
By hand and later with tools they started cutting a 700-yard path to allow Oriana to walk back to the main trail.
“She was in way better spirits than I expected,” said Henrichs. “I was really shocked she wasn’t more injured.”
Jennifer Posey, a veterinarian in Beavercreek, got an emergency page around 1 p.m. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” said Posey.
But by the time she drove to Mount Hood and hiked into Zigzag Canyon, Oriana was on the main trail.
Henrichs said that was around 4:15 p.m. Oriana was sore and had abrasions, but she was calm and eating and drinking heartily.
“She looked amazing for having fallen that far,” said Posey, who administered painkillers.
The Mandts and Salo cut their four-day pack trip short and headed back to Beavercreek.
“To us, this seems like an unfolding of God’s protection,” said Salo.
For her part, Jessica Mandt said she’s not likely to forget the horror of watching her horse fall. But she’s focused on the outcome — a “healing miracle,” she called it.
“I’m trying hard to feel the happiness,” she said. “If you believe in spirituality at all it seems like an amazing testament to what’s possible.”
ARTICLE BY: Beth Slovic, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-221-8551
The Oregon Horse Council is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that works to strengthen, connect, and represent Oregon’s equine industry.