Nike the horse was settling down in his normal spot for a nap at 10 a.m. on Dec. 11, after the snowstorm hit Placerville. Once asleep, the horse rolled over and slid down a snowy embankment, hitting trees. The horse had flipped upside down, headfirst, sliding into a group of six trees and getting his head caught. It would take a chainsaw and two hours to get the struggling horse free.
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Chase McMillan, 14, heard the commotion and told his mother, Celeste, that something happened, said Kathy Carpenter, Nike’s owner. The McMillans investigated and saw the horse in distress. Celeste immediately called Carpenter. Carpenter, in turn, called Slate Creek Animal Hospital and her son, Sam. She was 15 minutes away, as was Sam.
She arrived at the McMillans’ ranch, 10 acres overlooking the American River Canyon towards Swansboro, and assessed the situation. Nike had turned into a “toboggan” and slid down 63 feet, Kathy Carpenter said. His neck was caught in the “V” between two trees, and being upside down — something horses are not used to — was lowering his blood pressure, affecting his lungs and brain. With the trees pressing into his neck, the horse was effectively being strangled.
Dr. Michael Russell, an equine veterinarian, and his assistant Calla Tindell arrived. “If Nike continued to thrash, there was the possibility for him to break his neck and or legs,” Carpenter said of the vet’s evaluation. “There was no way to lift, wench or pivot a 1,600-pound horse up and out of the life-threatening position he was in.”
Sam Carpenter arrived with his chainsaw. The horse’s legs were tied together with rope, his head fitted with a halter and lifted to alleviate the pressure and moved safely to side, and the work began. “Six persons, ropes, halter, chainsaws, hand saws, horse sedatives, blood, sweat, tears and a lot of praying” went into the effort, Kathy Carpenter said.
“It seemed like forever but was about two hours or so, and the tree trunk was cut almost all the way through,” she said. Using “brute strength,” Russell and Sam “manhandled the tree trunk until the last piece holding broke through. Nike’s breathing was more labored, he had blood in his mouth and his head had swelled.”
They began smacking the horse and yelling at him to wake up. Nike’s breathing was still labored.
“To all our amazement he was able to force himself against the remaining stump and twist his body up and to his feet with a whinny,” Kathy said, and “the other two horses who had been looking on answered back.” She said it was “just like the movies” and “a Christmas miracle.”
The horse was then treated for shock, dehydration and inflammation of the spinal cord, but managed to walk away with only cuts to his legs.
“It was a freaky, freak thing,” Carpenter said. She thanked her son Sam, the McMillans, Russell and Tindell. “Nike would not be here today if it wasn’t for each and every one of you.”