Horses wet, but in stable condition
Percheron pulled to safety after two bolt, take surprise dip in canal
When the second horse finally came out of Highline Canal Friday evening, more than two dozen people gathered on both sides applauded. The relief was palpable.
Near the end of a wine tour early Friday evening, in the gravel parking lot of Talon Winery and St. Kathryn Cellars in Palisade, customers of JR’s Carriage Service were getting back into the open carriage to return to Wine Country Inn when the two horses pulling it began moving and veered toward Highline Canal where it flows under Elberta Avenue.
“We were parked in the parking lot like you would park a car, and the horses started moving,” said Jennifer Dere, a customer on the tour.
“I don’t know if they were spooked, maybe one of them started moving and the other followed,” added Stacy Basinger, also a tour customer.
Dere said JR’s owner and driver Joe Burtard grabbed the reins for the large black Percherons in an attempt to stop them, but they kept heading for the canal. Michele Wells was one of the three people in the carriage, and she said she told the other two to get down onto the carriage bed.
Burtard, who customers praised for being excellent with the horses and a wonderful driver and guide, was caught underneath and between the horses, Wells said, hanging on to the reins. The horses went into Highline Canal on either side of a pipe spanning it. Customer Brian Dere said he thinks that is what stopped the carriage from going in and the horses from drowning.
The horses were submerged, Wells said, so Burtard and Brian Dere cut the reins. Both horses swam several hundred yards down the canal and one came out immediately. The other remained in, visibly scared and submerged to the top of its neck. Burtard knelt beside it and gently stroked its muzzle, and it overcame its fear enough to nibble some weeds on the canal bank. Brian Dere and two other men stayed with it in the water.
The Palisade police and fire departments responded to the scene, as well as two backhoes, which dug a ramp into the dirt canal bank for the horse to ascend. After a false start, with the horse balking halfway up, multiple people pulled on two different ropes attached to the ring on top of pads that had been strapped around its chest. The horse resisted but finally came out, and Burtard immediately walked the two horses down the dirt canal road.
Multiple tour customers praised the horses’ gentility on the ride and their good demeanors, and said Burtard had given them an excellent experience on the tour.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to go again,” Basinger said, “or to tell anybody to do it.”