After Popeye was pulled from the mud Monday night, Amanda Brice helped cover him in blankets to warm the animal.
By Alexis Stevens
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Horses Popeye and Paisley were always together on the five acres around the Brice family's Forsyth County home. So when Phil Brice saw Paisley standing alone Monday afternoon, he knew something was wrong.
"Where's Popeye?" Karen Brice said her husband asked himself. He had seen Paisley standing alone three hours earlier, too.
But when he got on his four-wheeler, Phil Brice found the 9-year-old Popeye. The horse was up to his neck in mud. Only his back, neck and face were out.
"It was like a quicksand, a muddy bog in a creek drain," Karen Brice said.
Phil Brice called his wife, who was still at work. Around 5:30 p.m., Karen Brice started making phone calls to find someone to help Popeye, who belonged to 16-year-old Amanda Brice, the captain of the equestrian team at North Forsyth High School.
Almost instantly, help arrived in the form of the Milton fire department's large animal rescue team, local veterinarian Lanier Orr and a trailer from the sheriff's office, Karen Brice said. Everyone was a stranger to the Brice family, but that didn't halt the rescue efforts.
The firefighters immediately went to work to free Popeye, using straps and a crane to pull him out of the mud. It was almost 9 p.m. when Popeye was standing on solid ground. The family used blankets to warm the horse.
"He was completely frozen, he was so cold," Karen Brice said.
But eventually, Popeye seemed more like his old self.
"He was eating and he seemed like he was fine," Karen Brice said.
The owner of a towing company, Smokie Ingram, offered to bring Popeye to his barn, about three-fourths a mile away, for the night. Ingram's fiancee wanted to help, too.
"We had never met these people before," Karen Brice said.
The couple took the horse home and checked on it throughout the night. At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Popeye seemed fine.
But when Amanda Brice arrived shortly after 10 a.m., she found the lifeless horse on the ground.
“She was going to see him," Karen Brice said. "She took her bucket and she was actually going to groom her horse.”
The family isn't sure what killed Popeye, but suspects the stress of being trapped for so long in cold conditions was too much for him to overcome.
Bill Bourn, the director of the large animal group for Milton, said the rescue was different than the typical calls for the group, which was organized in August 2008. The firefighters usually are called to duty when older animals fall and cannot get up, Bourn said.
As the only fire department large animal rescue team in the state, the Milton team will respond to any emergencies in bordering counties, Bourn said.
“We had to set limitations," Bourn said. “We don’t have the resources or the manpower to trek hours across the state.”
The rescue team is funded solely by donations, Bourn said.
“Not every person has horses. And not everybody feels their tax dollars should go to horses," he said.
Despite the loss of the beloved animal, the Brice family says it is grateful that so many strangers came to help during Popeye's time of need.
“It was amazing that all of these people were brought to us during our time of need," Karen Brice said. "And nobody would take a penny. We're so appreciative to everyone."