A beloved draft horse named Big Fred was among a group of six horses that broke free and ran the streets of South Anchorage Monday before the herd was captured near Builders Millwork & Supply on East Dimond Boulevard.
One small horse ran for a while on the Seward Highway between O'Malley Road and Dimond as the others thundered along Brayton Drive, the eastern frontage road, police said. Drivers slowed down and stopped. Some took pictures or shot videos with their phones of the unusual and spectacular scene. A few tried to corral the horses until some stable owners arrived.
No one wrecked in all the commotion and none of the horses appeared to have been hurt, their owner said.
Sometime after breakfast, the horses sauntered away from Horse Trekkin Alaska, a trail and sleigh ride business owned by Joshua Hale and based in a couple of leased South Anchorage locations. He wouldn't say from where specifically they escaped. A gate appears to have been left open, perhaps by the man who fed them breakfast, Hale said. "I am going to make sure that doesn't happen again," he said.
At 11:56 a.m., Anchorage police dispatchers got a call about an estimated seven horses running loose on O'Malley westbound, near Lake Otis Parkway, said Dani Myren, a police spokeswoman.
It was a dynamic situation.
"There was a time when some went this way, and some went that way," Myren said.
Traffic officer Noel Senoran said he heard a call on the radio about "some sort of road hazard, referencing horses." He and other officers went to help corral the horses to prevent wrecks or injuries to people or animals, he said.
He spotted a horse on the Seward Highway and trailed it, using his police car, an unmarked blue Ford sedan, to keep it on the right, northbound shoulder.
"Then I also saw the rest of the horses, like five or six of them, just galloping along on Brayton northbound," Senoran said. He called for other police units "to head them off, and not let them get onto Dimond."
His lights were flashing but he only put his siren on intermittently, so he wouldn't spook the horses.
He got the horse he was trailing to head south, toward O'Malley. They were still in the northbound lane, but over to the far right, and drivers were all going slow, he said.
At the O'Malley on-ramp, a fire engine stopped to help. Firefighters with a rope got the horse under control, Senoran said. So he went to help with the main herd, still on the frontage road.
The lead horse -- as the owner later said, that would be Big Fred, a well-muscled Percheron draft horse -- "was just intent on going," Senoran said.
"I don't have any experiences with horses," Senoran said. "I can block it with my car, but I'm not going to jump on this thing. It's huge!"
Officers were able to box the horses in, first by Builders Millwork, then after the horses took off again, a bit further east on Abbott.
Hale, who lives on Lazy Mountain outside Palmer, had been getting calls about loose horses and confirmed his were missing. His trail guide and the former owner of the business rushed to round them up. By the time Horse Trekkin Alaska got to Abbott with a trailer, some other stables were already there. They used rope, bungee cords, and even police restraints to contain the horses, Senoran said.
While the roads were slick early in the morning, causing a few rollover crashes, by noon the conditions were better, Senoran said. And the horses all had shoes with cleats, Hale said.
"These guys are used to traffic, trucks and people and everything," Hale said. "They looked a little sweaty. They looked like they had a good time."
He joked that they just wanted to get out: "We're going for a walk. We're going out on the town, man. They were probably headed for Costco!"
Myren, who usually deals with tragedy, appreciated the horse escapade's happy ending.
"Isn't that the coolest thing on April Fool's Day?" she said.
Senoran, an officer for 14 years, said he's never had a day like that before.
Hale said he will change procedures so a gate never is left open again. He thanked the firefighters, other stable hands, police and passersby who helped.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER