Bystanders, police and a cowboy wrangle escaped rodeo horses on Interstate 70 near Eagle
A little luck and some heroics mean no animals or people were injured
EAGLE — Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best encountered one of the most unique situations he’s seen in 15 years of duty Friday, July 23, in a horse pursuit on Interstate 70 near Eagle.
The horses escaped from the nearby Eagle County Fairgrounds, where the annual fair and rodeo was wrapping up its third night of the four-day event.
Best said a makeshift corral had been constructed in a camping area just west of the fairgrounds, and after one horse in the corral knocked down a board helping to contain the animals, another horse became anxious from an electrical fence, prompting a total of four horses to escape.
Once in the roundabouts at the Fairgrounds Road terminus, the horses exited the roundabout at the I-70 east on-ramp and made the descent onto the freeway.
“That’s a worst-case scenario for us,” Best said. “Having livestock on the interstate.”
Fortunately, the incident concluded some 20 to 30 minutes later with the horses being escorted into a waiting trailer. Best said while responders might have encountered some bad luck in the horses’ choice of roundabout exits, they encountered a few strokes of good luck along the way, as well, with a four-horse trailer happening to be on-scene at the moment.
The biggest bit of luck was that the interstate was closed just 13 miles west in Glenwood Canyon due to mudslides.
But Best also said there was an additional bit of luck in the makeup of the motorists who were on I-70.
“A lot of people were aware of what was going on and patient with us in closing the road and getting these horses rounded up before something bad happened,” he said.
DeDe Dickinson left the rodeo a little later than she had planned Friday. She calls herself a “horse lady” and attends for the animals more than the music, but she stayed to enjoy a few songs from the Buck Ford Pure Country Band.
When she left and headed eastbound on Fairgrounds Road, her eyes deceived her, she said. She thought she saw horses with riders in front of her.
“I know there’s no place to ride around here,” she thought. “But there’s this guy with his flashers on behind them. Maybe he’s escorting them somewhere.”
The vehicle ended up pushing the animals into the roundabout, Dickinson said. As she drove into the roundabout, she saw a frightening image:
“They’re standing in the roundabout. … There’s no halters. There’s no bridals. There’s no people riding them,” Dickinson said.
She called 911. As she was on the phone, the horses headed toward the on-ramp to the interstate.
One of the people who had also called 911 was Dickinson’s friend, Reini Winter. Winter was a few cars behind Dickinson and had also caught a glimpse of the horses escaping the rodeo.
During her second call to 911, Winter mentioned that she was hauling an empty horse trailer.
“I said, ‘I actually have an empty horse trailer. Do you need help?’ And she put me on hold and then came back and said, ‘Sure, if you can get it on the road.'”
Winter got on I-70 without a problem. Then, Dickinson, Winter and Best encountered a sight they all described as bewildering: A rider, in full gallop, was chasing the horses, intending to rope the lead horse and save the day.
“By my surprise, as I’m going down the right shoulder, there’s a cowboy on horse, going down the interstate trying to rope them,” Best said. “So that was one of the biggest shocks to come across.”
Dwight Sells, of Arizona, was excited about competing in the Eagle rodeo this year. His team roping team had a good shot at winning the event, which carries more prestige than a typical county fair as the Eagle County rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
By the end of Friday’s performance, his team was leading the contest (and eventually won). Satisfied after a job well done, he was walking the horse back to the trailers — saddle still on the animal — when chaos broke out in the carnival area.
“Somehow, they ended up going through the carnival,” Sells said about the escaped horses.
Instinctively, Sells jumped on his horse and began chasing the escapees.
“I was just trying to get ahead of them before they got to the road,” he said.
As his horse sprinted after the other animals, people began pointing the way.
“I just kept running … and then this guy pointed, saying, ‘They went down the interstate,'” Sells said. “So I just kept following.”
Heroic efforts and saving graces
Further down the interstate, Dickinson and a few other horse riders were ready with ropes, and the animals were quickly corralled and loaded into Winter’s trailer.
Best said the horses ran for 3 miles on the interstate before being captured.
By the time Sells got there, the rescue had concluded. All the animals were dripping wet from sweat, he said, but they looked OK other than that.
Another horse trailer came and picked up Sells, delaying the reopening of the interstate. But it was necessary at that point as Sells’ horse was too tired to ride back — even if they could find a safe way to do so.
Sells said he was simply trying to turn the animals around. But after getting on the interstate, he began to have other thoughts.
“There was one horse, a gray horse, that was kind of the leader of the pack, and I was going to try to rope that one, because that was the one that was making all the other ones crazy,” he said.
Best said there were other first responders nearby, including the Eagle Police Department and the Gypsum Fire Protection District, so they were able to shut the interstate down quickly. But the other interstate closure — 13 miles to the west — made all the difference in Friday night’s events.
“I think our saving grace was that we didn’t have a lot of traffic because of that canyon closure,” Best said. “No commercial motor vehicles.”
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