Search for missing pony ends on happy note

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Basking in the hot summer sun Wednesday afternoon, Kimberly Bates rode Angel, a small Shetland Paint pony, between the treeline and cornfield off Manning Road. The line of participants from the Mulholland Ranch Summer Horseback Riding Kid Camp had been trotting for about two and a half hours, and now they were on their way back to the Mulholland Ranch on North Liberty Springs Road.

As the four-foot-tall horse carried her across the grass, Kimberly’s shoe became entangled in some weeds. As the Nansemond Parkway Elementary School student pulled it free, Angel suddenly got excited, breaking free of the line.


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&uot;She started to run, and I was trying to stop her, but she wouldn’t stop,&uot; Kimberly said. She managed to hang on for about 30 feet, but fell off, and Angel still didn’t halt.

Just ahead of Kimberly in line, fellow rider Katie Lamb jumped off her own horse to help the youngster. &uot;I told the girl in front of me to hold my horse, and then I went over to see if Kimberly was all right,&uot; Lamb said. Fortunately, she was, just scratched up a bit.

Camp instructor Connie Mulholland took Kimberly back to the ranch, then went to look for Angel. &uot;Horses like Angel tend to be herd-bound, so I thought she’d either come back to the herd, stop somewhere to eat, or come home,&uot; Mulholland said. The other riders came back, and said that they hadn’t seen Angel.

The 20 campers spent the rest of the day riding around the 100 acres of six-foot corn, searching until 10 p.m. A neighbor came by and drove his ATV around to look for the horse. Connie’s husband Mike drove around the nearby roads, making sure Angel hadn’t wandered onto the streets. Connie went out to the barns at 2:30 Thursday morning to see if Angel had returned, and put some food and left the back gate open so the scared pony could find an easy way in.

Early Thursday morning, the search continued, and the first clue was found, as Kimberly’s stirrup was discovered near a ditch. Some slight whinnies were heard, but it was unclear if they came from Angel or from other nearby equines.

As the afternoon rolled past, she was still lost in the maze of corn, which in and of itself posed a problem, explained Connie, who has never lost a horse in 15 years at her ranch. &uot;If you change a horse’s diet more than half a pound at a time, it could get colic,&uot; she said. &uot;A horse can become constipated, or gas could build up inside their guts, which could cause dead tissue. If they eat too much, the blood flow to their feet could increase, and cause their feet to become ingrown, and they won’t be able to walk. If we didn’t find her, she was possibly going to die.

&uot;One of our goals at Kid Camp is to pull together as a team,&uot; Connie said. &uot;After Angel ran away, I told (the kids) that they were a team, and they had to pull together. Every one of them went out to search.&uot;

The kids came back to the ranch in the early afternoon, ate a quick lunch and cooled off in the Mulholland pool. Some jumped back on their horses, others went on foot, still others rode with adults in cars as the search restarted.

Just before 5 p.m., WAVY 10 sent a helicopter by to take a look from above. At about the same time, a neighbor walking up the side of the cornfield, a short distance from where Angel had last been seen. Suddenly, in the midst of all the thin, green and yellow stalks, she saw something short, round, brown and white. Taking a few cautious steps forward, she realized that it was the back side of Angel. Her saddle was gone, but her halter (face piece) was still attached.

The neighbor held out an apple, and Angel started to chew it. Tasting its rottenness, however, she spit it out, and started to turn away. Then the woman held up a fresh apple, and the horse took a fresh bite.

Reaching for her cell phone to call in her find, the woman saw that her batteries were dead. Then she heard the chopper nearby, picked up a few stalks of corn, and started waving them.

The copter started to circle and hover above her, and groups of searchers nearby started to catch on. Charging over, they saw that their quest was over, and that their four-hoofed friend was coming home. Car horns blared, and screams of relief echoed over the fields.

&uot;We all got off our horses and hugged her,&uot; said Rebecca Williams, 12. &uot;When we got back to the barn, everyone was all over her, grooming her.&uot; Angel was given a brushing and bath, and a veterinarian showed up to check her over. Aside from a few scratches and a chip on one of her feet, the horse seemed fine, although it’s going to take a few days of diet observation to make sure that her system is fine, Connie said.

&uot;She may have some gas colic,&uot; she said. &uot;That could take between three and five days.

&uot;All I could do was thank God that the horse was still alive. But even more than getting her back was the heart of these kids that they poured into this.

&uot;They were committed and dedicated to the end, they were willing to stick through it, and that meant as much to me as finding the horse, even at the expense of their own fun. It didn’t matter that it was hard, didn’t matter that it was hot, didn’t matter that it wasn’t fun. What mattered was that this was a situation that needed to be taken care of.&uot;