By CBS 5 Arizona
December 17, 2016
FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ (KPHO/KTVK) -
"I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me."
Some wild, trapped horses found those holiday lyrics held true after rescuers came to their aid Sunday.
The horses had been trapped in a Fountain Hills neighborhood for weeks. Some recently repaired fences in the area have prevented the pair of horses from getting back to their home near the Verde River.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group looked into the pair's plight. Volunteers from the agency gathered Sunday and brought those horses home for the holidays.
Many Fountain Hills residents have been noticing the pair of wild horses in their backyards and neighborhood streets for the past several weeks. The horses were welcomed by some and chased by others and have even caused some disputes between neighbors.
The fencing that has been keeping the horses trapped had, ironically, been repaired with the intent of preventing horses and cows from coming into the neighborhood, but inadvertently trapped the mare, stallion and their foal on the wrong side of the repaired fencing. Tragically, the foal was hit on the road last month and had to be euthanized.
With the cooperation and coordination of the Fort McDowell Reservation, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and the Town of Fountain Hills, the Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) has formed a plan to bring the mare and stallion pair home to the Verde River on the Fort McDowell reservation.
The group used its volunteer force and horse riders to patiently and slowly guide and walk the horses, first through the fencing that was cut, and then back to the Verde River. The volunteers formed a human half circle barrier behind them. They didn't rope or otherwise rush or force the wild horses.
"Going at the horses' pace will lower the risk of injury or things going wrong," states Simone Netherlands, president of the group that last year sued the Forest Service to stop the roundup of the Salt River wild horses. "While this is a complicated mission and there are no guarantees with wild horses, we are confident that we can guide them safely back to where they came from and will have them home for Christmas."
The horses, who were cut off from their water source, had been kept alive by some kind neighbors who provided water.
The horses became quite habituated to the neighborhood, which experts say is not a good situation for the horses or the neighborhood.
"When wild horses get used to people and get used to visiting neighborhoods, they might like it and come back," says Simone Netherlands with the management group. "It's been approximately six, seven weeks since that fencing was fixed so it's been a while and thanks to the kind neighbors that were watering the horses, they're still alive."
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) is an Arizona non-profit organization dedicated to protect, monitor and study the Salt River wild horses. The SRWHMG has been spearheading the effort to secure lasting protections for this iconic and beloved wild horse herd in the Tonto National Forest.