Revisiting the Renshaw Rescue Horses
Belle and Sundance as they looked when being rescued from Mount Renshaw , Belle is the one with the black mane in the foreground, photos submitted
It has been seven years since a group of dedicated folks braved bone chilling temperatures to rescue two horses, Belle and Sundance, stranded in deep snow near McBride. Birgit Stutz has written the following update on the fate of the two horses for the Valley Sentinel newspaper which has graciously granted permission for the article to be reprinted here on 250News.
By Birgit Stutz
Seven years ago, in December 2008, McBride, B.C., was in the news around the world after a group of locals rescued two pack horses that had been abandoned high up in the Rocky Mountains just outside of this small town in north-eastern British Columbia. ( at right, Belle on the left, Sundance on the right, as they were in Dec. 2008 -photo submitted)
The horses’ owner, a lawyer from Edmonton, Alta., had gotten into some difficulties on a pack trip in the fall of that year and decided to leave the two pack horses behind, hoping they would eventually find their way down the mountain to a nearby logging road and from there to the main valley.
However, that did not happen, and deep snow eventually trapped the two horses, a young mare named Belle and an older gelding called Sundance, in a gully high up in the alpine. When they were finally spotted by two local snowmobilers on a rescue mission, just weeks before Christmas, they were in desperate shape, frostbitten and close to starvation.
Word quickly spread in the region about these trapped animals, and snowmobilers from the Robson Valley as well as visiting snowmobilers made the daily trek up the mountain and spent a week digging, by hand, and in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, a kilometre-long trench, three feet wide and six feet deep. Upon completion of the trench, Belle and Sundance were led through the ‘tunnel to freedom’, as it came to be known, and then along a twenty-eight kilometre trail to the staging ground where, finally, the horses were trailered to a foster farm, where they recovered and were later adopted by loving new owners.
Sadly, one of the two horses, Sundance, (affectionately called ‘Sunny’ by his new owner) passed away due to age-related health issues.
“He was such a gentle giant, a wonderful ‘big brother’ to so many horses, my own and the fosters I have cared for over the years,” said Catie Ward, who adopted Sundance shortly after his rescue.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t look down to the barn, hoping I could see him waiting at the gate for me.”
Ward has worked with the SPCA Cruelty Investigation Department (CID) as a volunteer, foster care provider and fundraiser for over twenty years.
“I have helped with seizures, rehabilitation and provided love and support to many horses, dogs and cats over the years,” she said.
“I became aware of Sundance and Belle through my friendship with several SPCA CID officers very early in their story. I was following the story of the rescue as it was unfolding, and my friends at the SPCA CID were keeping me updated. I immediately asked if I could adopt Sundance. Something about him drew me right away. His will to survive, to not give up, to stay with Belle, speaks loudly about his leader and protector side. I wanted to give him a chance at a life where he would be loved and respected. He captured my heart before I even met him.”
Ward sent funds to help with his rehabilitation while at the Prince George Equine and Animal Rescue, and the moment Sundance was strong enough, he was on his way to her ranch in Monte Lake, B.C., a small community near Kamloops.
“Sunny arrived one dark winter night,” Ward recalls.
“He and I walked into my ranch in Monte Lake along my long laneway. As we arrived, my tiny little rescue mare, Mocha, who was about 200 hundred years old, barely a tooth left in her head, came barrelling over, immediately got right in Sunny’s face and just screamed at him. She was the queen of the castle and was quite put out at this intrusion. Sundance stood there, took her abuse for about two minutes, then calmly walked into his stall. Everyone else crowded around (Ward had about five other rescues at the time) to check out the new arrival. Sundance remained very calm, allowed everyone to snuffle him, then calmly turned around to enjoy his supper, a warm mash and hay.”
Over the next few days, Ward kept Sunny in his own paddock, letting everyone get settled in with the new addition to her little herd.
“He remained very patient, calm, simply taking it all in,” she said.
“When the day came to open his gate, he quietly walked out, let everyone crowd around him, then bellowed in a very manly way and took off into the trees. He then played keep away with the gang for a few hours. Next morning, it was clear that the dynamic of the group had changed. Sundance was clearly in charge.”
Ward said over the years, Sundance proved to be an amazing ‘big brother’ to dozens of fosters and new members of the family.
“He did not suffer fools well, disciplined when necessary, but always remained the unchallenged leader. He remained calm and cool, yet would stand guard over his herd and would sound the alert if there was any trouble, such as a coyote or bear on our ranch.”
Ward and Sunny enjoyed many, many trail rides together exploring the Monte Lake area. “He was always willing to go, and seemed to enjoy the adventures we shared,” she said.
Sunny crossed the rainbow bridge May 4, 2015. He is resting at Ward’s “Freedom Ranch” beside his ‘brother’ Reg, a Clydesdale Ward had rescued as well, and Ward’s beloved cat Diamond aka Pickle Face, a rescued kitty who made it to her 20th birthday.
“I loved him dearly and will never forget this special boy, who touched the hearts of the world with his story. He is and will always remain my dear friend. I miss his huge presence on our ranch. When I am ready, I will adopt another rescue horse; my heart is just not there yet. I am sure one day I will meet the one, but my boy, Sunny, will remain the guardian of my heart. It was one of my greatest honours to share the last years of his life. Bless the hearts of all of you who worked so hard to give them this chance to retire to a home that loved and adored them.”
Rest in peace Sundance. You will be missed by many.
Update on Belle
Belle, the mare that was rescued alongside Sundance, and who is quite a bit younger than Sunny, is doing very well, according to her new owner, Kim Gilbeau of Red Rock, a small community south of Prince George, B.C.
“Belle is doing awesome,” said Gilbeau, who received Belle as a Valentine’s present from her husband Tom, and added with a chuckle, “She’s a mischievous girl, and an escape artist.”
Gilbeau and Belle mostly trail ride together, but Gilbeau said she also uses Belle to round up the family’s cattle.
“She’s my go-to girl.”
Gilbeau and her partner have a total of eleven horses, several of them rescues or foster horses, including four senior horses.
“Belle gets along with everybody, but she lets them know that she’s the head girl,” said Gilbeau.
“I am so glad I have her.”
Birgit Stutz, a horse trainer and riding coach from Dunster, B.C., was part of the rescue team. In her book “The Rescue of Belle and Sundance, A Miracle on Mount Renshaw” she recounts the true story of Belle and Sundance’s rescue.