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Alaska Life

Earthquake rodeo: Neighbors track down galloping runaways in Eagle River Valley

  • Author: Matt Tunseth
  • Updated: December 7
  • Published December 5

Seamus, left, and Charlie at their home in Eagle River. The horses ran away after Friday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake. (Photos courtesy of Carrie Drury)

Seamus and Charlie knew just what to do when the big quake hit.

Run.

When the shaking started in their Eagle River Valley neighborhood, the shaggy-haired 12-year-old and his teenage buddy bolted in the direction of Walmart and didn’t look back.

Things could have ended badly for the runaways that day — if it weren’t for the actions of a sharp-eyed cop, a determined mom and a kindly neighbor with a “Lion King” sleeping bag.

“I was fearful I would never see them again,” said Carrie Drury, the grateful Eagle River woman whose wayward horses were corralled Friday near Homestead Elementary School after they broke through an electric fence and ran nearly five miles down Eagle River Road.

Seamus is a black Friesian-Morgan cross, and Charlie is a brown Appendix Quarter Horse. They’re fast. They’ve been living in their new home for only about a month, and when the shaker hit, the electric fence around their pasture was no match for their terror.

“They have too many survival instincts not to bolt,” Drury said.

Drury was inside the house with her daughter when the earthquake struck at 8:29 a.m. Friday. She immediately went to check on the horses, who she knew would be in a panic. All she could find were tracks in the snow.

“It was hard to keep it together,” she said.

But she did keep it together, gathering up her daughter and a couple of neighbor kids and heading in the direction of the tracks.

“We said some prayers along the way,” she said.

They tracked the horses for a half-hour before turning back toward home. Drury said her 9-year-old daughter, Teagan, helped keep her calm as she worried about the horses running into traffic or turning toward the icy Eagle River — either of which could spell doom.

“I was worried a human would get hurt or they would cause an accident,” she said.

When she got home, Drury posted to an equestrian group on Facebook about the lost horses. “Then, of course, my phone died,” she said.

The power was out, so Drury started her car and plugged her phone in there. When it came back on, there were five messages.

Heather Wainamo was picking up her kids and others at school Friday after the quake. After collecting the last of five youngsters at Gruening Middle School, Wainamo spotted the two runaways.

“At first, I thought they were moose,” she said.

Then she saw the cop. A police car (police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said she doesn’t know who the officer was) followed the horses with its lights on in an attempt to keep anyone from hitting them. Wainamo pulled in front of the horses, grabbing Seamus by his long, black hair. The horse seemed to be calming down when a siren sounded nearby.

“He started dragging me down the road,” Wainamo said.

She had to let go, but she continued giving chase, asking curious neighbors along the way if anyone had a rope. It being Eagle River, someone happened to have one handy, and soon Wainamo managed to get a rope around Charlie. The horse seemed relieved.

“I think he was just glad to have someone,” she said.

With Charlie under control, Seamus turned back.

That’s when Richard Beck came along. He’d walked down the street to check on his neighbor and, when he returned to the house he’s lived in for 30 years, found an impromptu rodeo.

“They were right in front of my house,” he said.

Beck went inside to get some tow straps, and soon both Seamus and Charlie were tied to the back of his pickup.

But they weren’t out of the woods yet. The horses were covered in sweat from their trek and rapidly getting cold.

“They were a sweaty mess,” Drury said. “You have to blanket a horse at that point.”

Fortunately, Wainamo and Beck knew that, so Beck went inside to get something to keep the horses warm. Not being a horse owner himself, Beck didn’t have any horse blankets. But he did have a Lion King sleeping bag and a fleece blanket with a raven on it.

It took Drury about an hour to get her horse trailer over to Beck’s house. During that time, Wainamo and Beck patted the animals and kept them calm.

“I was just glad they weren’t jerks,” Wainamo recalled.

Wainamo doesn’t own horses, either, but would like to someday.

“I love horses,” she said.

When Drury arrived at Beck’s home, she couldn’t help but get choked up at the sight of the retiree next to her horses draped in children’s blankets.

“It was so sweet — Richard is standing out in his driveway with these two horses,” she said.

Seamus and Charlie are doing fine now.

“We’ve just been trying to love on them a lot,” Drury said.

By Monday, they’d started galloping and frolicking about like normal. The only difference is they seem to have forged a closer bond due to their shared adventure.

“This has helped to develop their bond more because they had that buddy system,” she said.

A bond has also developed between the Eagle River Valley residents who shared in the horse drama Friday morning.

“We owe a lot of people baked goods and beer,” Drury said.

That her neighbors sprang into action so quickly came as no surprise to her.

“We all look out for each other.”

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