Yippie-ki-yay. Four horses that went missing 37 days ago were found safe and happy on the Rim Thursday.
The only problem, the horses didn’t seem too thrilled to be found.
With free granola from hikers, wild grass, spring water and miles to roam freely, for two bays and two pintos, life was good.
When caretakers finally harnessed the group, they refused to leave, dragging their hooves for hours. Finally, the group coaxed the herd’s ringleader, Chico, a large black stallion into a trailer and the horses were driven back to their, albeit smaller, pasture in Washington Park.
While the horses may be huffing and puffing, they’ll probably never realize the strange way they were found.
It all started on Sept. 21, when a branch fell across a barbed wire fence at the Mountain Ridge Cabins. It was the perfect opportunity for Chico and a band of six other horses — joined by two bulls — to make an escape.
Rescuers speculate Chico led Applesauce, Sydney, Applejack and three other horses up and away from Washington Park, which sits at the base of the Mogollon Rim.
Three of the horses and the bulls returned to the pasture, but Chico and his herd headed up the Rim, possibly taking the steep Arizona Trail.
From there, it seems the group rambled through the forest for more than five weeks.
All the while, the horses’ owners searched the valley below, never thinking twice that they could have landed on the Rim.
Then on Monday, a group of seven hikers, who informally call themselves the Pine Strollers, decided to take a hike near Miller Canyon to see the foliage.
As the group started down the trail, a thick fog hung over them.
“We started down the pathway and looked over and saw heads of horses,” said hiker Susie Holmquist. “They were so friendly and came right over to us. I shared an apple with them.”
The hikers realized while the horses looked healthy, there was no one around to look after them.
“We thought they were either lost or abandoned,” Holmquist said.
Holmquist and fellow hikers Kate Harrison, Chris Tetzloff and several other women decided they needed to find the horse’s owner so they each decided to call friends, local feed shops and the humane society.
“They were so beautiful and so friendly and we were all so worried about them,” Harrison said.
When Tetzloff called Payson Feed and Pet Supply, a clerk said a woman had come in looking for four horses.
The clerk gave Tetzloff the woman’s number, who turned out to be Carol Garey, a neighbor of Mountain Ridge Cabins and one of the many caretakers of the horses.
The four horses were originally rescued by Gene Gross and his wife and brought to Mountain Ridge Cabins, where several people took to looking after them. Harold Gardner is the caretaker at Mountain Ridge Cabins.
After Tetzloff spoke with Garey on the phone, Garey got in touch with Gardner.
Gardner and Harrison then spoke on the phone and agreed to meet Thursday morning on the Rim where the group had last seen the horses.
However, just as Harrison and Holmquist were about to leave and meet Gardner they got a call that the horses had been found by a road construction crew.
Apparently, Garey had been up on the Rim days earlier and ran into the road crew, giving them her number if they should come across the herd.
When the crew spotted the horses near the General Springs Cabin sign and Battle of Big Dry Wash Monument, they called Garey.
Garey then called Gardner and they headed up to get the horses, said Mike Mulhall, who lives with Garey and was part of the roundup Thursday.
Harrison and Holmquist decided to drive up on the Rim anyway and watch the horses get loaded.
Garey, Mulhall and Gardner drove several miles down Forest Road 300 and found the horses near the monument. The horses were harnessed and tied to a tree.
All the while, Gross and his wife were driving up to the Rim with their trailer to help load the horses.
Harrison and Holmquist happened to spot the Gross’s trailer and followed them to the monument.
Mulhall said when he first saw the horses he realized, “they were fatter than when they left.”
“Horses tend to have a hard time feeding themselves, but these did not,” he said.
It took more than three hours of coaxing, but all four horses were loaded. The horses are not used to riding in trailers, Mulhall said. After all that, the horses were brought back to the pasture at Mountain Ridge Cabins.
“These are big draft horses and they were having the time of their life,” Harrison said. “Life was good.”