It was a real-life holiday drama, a heart-warming animal story that featured dozens of small-town neighbors who pitched in to save a beloved horse. Many heroes emerged, too many to count, said Donna Maupin, owner of Cheyenne, the horse found missing by the Maupin’s son, Ethan, at feeding time on a frigid November morning. Ethan and neighbor Charlie Black searched the Maupin’s fields and could find no trace of the 16-year-old paint mare.
As it turned out, one of the heroes was an animal. Poncho, a mini-donkey and best friend to Cheyenne, trotted along with Mary and Clay Ramsay, joining the search over every inch of the property behind Western Albemarle High School. At one point, the three-year-old Poncho lived up to widespread beliefs about donkeys and stubbornly refused to budge from a spot in the lower field.
The searchers could see nothing unusual but checked in with Poncho, who was hee-hawing and clearly agitated. The little donkey could see and perhaps smell what the humans could not: Cheyenne had crashed through a sinkhole formed when recent rains changed the course of a creek, and was eight feet below the grassy surface. The 1200-pound mare, shivering and exhausted, was closely confined in the hole, and had no way to climb out or even move forward or backward.
The searchers made some emergency calls and, while waiting, Ethan and Charlie grabbed shovels and started to dig a ditch to release some of the icy water around Cheyenne’s legs.
The Maupins hurried back from Maryland, where Donna had just come out of eye surgery. Donna said she returned to a spectacle that truly amazed her. Above the field, rescue vehicles and neighbors’ cars were everywhere, and a neighbor had taken charge of parking. Close friends gathered to support the family. Down near the sinkhole, emergency crews from Crozet and nearby had piled blankets, laid plywood around the rim of the hole, and were keeping Cheyenne calm. Bobby Vess had brought in his excavator from a nearby job. Inside the Maupin kitchen, more people were heating IV bottles to nourish and warm the frightened mare. Cheyenne’s vet, Donovan Dagne of Blue Ridge Equine, was standing by to advise the crews. “We don’t do anything without the permission of the animal’s vet,” said Doug Monaco, chief of the Little Fork Volunteer Technical Equine Rescue Team, who had traveled from Rixeyville to manage the operation.
Monaco said when his all-volunteer force arrived at the scene, local crews had prepared everything just as it should have been. “That makes it so much easier for us.” Once the Little Fork crew reached the farm, they tried a couple of their rescue techniques, and concluded they would have to use the backhoe to lift the terrified animal out of the hole.
“I don’t know if Cheyenne could have made it even for another hour,” Donna Maupin said. In fact, at times, she was unsure if her mare was still alive. When Cheyenne emerged from the hole, Donna searched the vet’s face for signs. “Everyone looked worried, even a little grim,” she said. “I was holding my breath.” Cheyenne laid on one side, looking very weak. The rescuers warmed her, waited, repositioned her and then pulled her gently forward. When Donna saw Cheyenne sit up and then stand, she knew there was hope.
Over the next couple of days, Cheyenne remained at the vet’s for observation, but was home the day before Thanksgiving, sore in the middle and a little swollen. She was reunited with Poncho, who has started sharing her stall. Donna said she gave thanks for the work of the local crews as well as for the specialists who made the long trip from Culpeper County.
“We depend on these volunteers,” she said. “I grew up here and always knew that, but this really brought it home to me. Crozet is growing so fast, it’s hard to understand why they don’t get more support.” Donna said there were more people involved in the rescue than she even realized at the time. “I was so focused on Cheyenne that I missed taking note of everyone who helped,” she said. “I hope I will eventually be able to personally thank and acknowledge everyone.”