Location: Auburn, California
Date: May 17, 1992
On a beautiful Sunday morning in Auburn, California, May 17, 1992, three people set off on horseback. Sherrie Giangrossi, Jack Snider, and Steve Chacon had decided to take their horses for an early morning ride along the American River. It was a sunny, clear day, and the three friends set off with no specific destination in mind. They set out at 6am down a trail along the river.
Although the three friends had ridden trails in the area often, they had never tried this particular one. They decided to follow the trail down to the bank of the river, where they could water the horses and make more definite plans for the day. As they made their way down the trail, they noticed that it began to get steeper and steeper, and that the side of the trail closest to the river dropped away sharply. One of the horses started to get a bit skittish, and in the resulting confusion, Sherrie's horse, Sinbad, began to slide down the treacherous embankment! Sherrie screamed and managed to get herself out of her stirrups and away from the quickly moving animal. She watched in horror as her beloved horse tumbled down the hill toward the river far below. When Sinbad finally came to the stop on a cleared, flat area near the river, he lay silent, without moving.
Jack and Steve watched with concern as Sherrie scrambled down the rest of the hill herself, on a desperate mission to help her horse. When she arrived at the clearing, Sinbad was lying on his side. As Sherrie tried to comfort her horse by stroking his face and crooning his name, Jack and Steve made their way down to slope to join her. Both men thought the horse must surely have died from his injuries. The three friends did a quick and gentle examination of the stunned horse. One of his legs was bloody, but no bones appeared to be broken, and they were confident that he could stand up. They coaxed him into standing, but Sinbad was shaking and clearly scared.
Jack made his way back up to the trail, where he met other riders and asked them for help. They obliged by riding to the closest phone and calling Sinbad's veterinarian, Dr. Vern Thacker. Dr. Thacker arrived shortly, and was amazed to see the distance that Sinbad had fallen down, and to see that the horse was able to stand. He did a careful examination and was further astounded to find that the horse had no serious injuries. He knew Sinbad had had a terrible trauma, and that there were likely to be complications later from the shock. Sherrie sensed Dr. Thacker's concern, and told herself that she had to be realistic. Although Sinbad looked pretty good on the outside, they had no way of knowing what he looked like on the inside. They couldn't tell at this point whether he had serious or even fatal internal injuries.
More help soon arrives in the form of a park ranger. Once Sherrie and the others had assured themselves that all of Sinbad's external injuries had been attended to, they realized that the biggest problem still faced them: How were they going to get the injured horse off the ledge and to safety and medical attention? Their first plan was to push Sinbad into the nearby river, where he could swim downstream a short way, then come out on dry land on another flat trail. However, since the horse wasn't able to walk very well, Dr. Thacker thought that this might be too difficult for the horse. Then Dr. Thacker remembered that earlier that year five horses had been airlifted out of the Sierra Mountains, via a helicopter and sling. Several calls were made. The sling's inventor, Charlie Anderson; the veterinary team at the University of California Davis that helped develop the sling; and Scott Baker, the helicopter pilot who airlifted the five horses, were all put on standby.
By this time it was late afternoon, and Dr. Thacker decided that their best chance for a successful rescue would be in the morning. The decision was made to leave Sinbad on the ledge overnight, with Sherrie and several others there for company. Dr. Thacker thought that Sinbad would be able to survive the night, but had one important requirement for Sherrie. He insisted that Sinbad be kept standing; apparently the horse had an elbow fracture which would be further damaged if he were to lie down. Sherrie and her beloved horse spent the night, with a campfire, on the ledge by the water. Sherrie stayed up all night with her horse, petting him and talking to him constantly, to keep him calm.
When morning came, the rescue operation was mobilized. Scott Baker assessed the situation, and didn't like what he saw. Sinbad was in a dangerous canyon, very near a bridge that spanned the chasm. Scott would need to be very careful: The canyon was windy and full of wires and cables. The bridge itself would present a very serious challenge, as Scott needed to lift Sinbad away from the bridge, and then over it to safety in a nearby field. The rescuers agreed that Sherrie would leave Sinbad on the ledge and be waiting for him in the field.
As Sherrie made her way to the improvised landing strip nearby, Dr. Thacker began fastening the sling around Sinbad. The horse was clearly very frightened, so Dr. Thacker gave him a mild tranquilizer. He also blindfolded Sinbad. Although this may sound cruel, it was done in the horse's best interest. Horses tend to calm down when they are unable to see their surroundings. With help, Dr. Thacker wrapped a soft blanket around Sinbad's head and tied it securely in place. As the helicopter hovered overhead, Dr. Thacker and the others finished the sling around Sinbad. Almost as soon as they had Sinbad hooked up completely, he began to fall to his knees. The helicopter was easily able to bear the horse's weight and keep him upright, but Dr. Thacker remembers thinking that they were very lucky that the tranquilizers didn't take effect until the moment they were about to lift off!
Very slowly and gently, Scott Baker lifted Sinbad high up into the air, over the nearby bridge; then they were on their way to meet Sherrie. The plan was to fly Sinbad approximately five miles to the field next to a ranger station. Sherrie was waiting and watching anxiously as Scott and his precious cargo approached. Sherrie remembers seeing the helicopter appear on the horizon, but could not see Sinbad. She started to panic when, in her words, "up, over the trees," her horse appeared, hanging from the helicopter. She remembers feeling extremely grateful that her horse had made the flight okay, but worrying about the next step: the landing!
Scott hovered in the sky, and very gently lowered Sinbad to the ground, where Sherrie, Dr. Thacker, and others waited to receive him. When Sinbad's feet were finally on the ground, he fell down. Although this was due to the effect of the tranquilizer, Scott was sure that the horse had died during the flight. He was extremely happy to land and find that Sinbad was still alive!
Dr. Thacker's quick examination made him reveal that Sinbad was in much worse shape than the previous day: His nose membranes were gray and his heart rate was very low. At this point, Dr. Thacker thought Sinbad might die, so he quickly administered a reversal agent, which counteracted the effects of the tranquilizer. Sherrie stroked Sinbad and kept up a constant stream of encouragement, and was rewarded when the horse began to roll his eyes, and his heart rate sped up. Soon Sinbad was able to stand up; everyone present was absolutely exhilarated by the horse's dramatic rescue and recovery.
Three months later, after Sinbad had had a chance to recover some, Sherrie and her husband arranged a reunion with the group of rescuers. She is extremely to everyone who helped save her beautiful horse. Although Sinbad may never be able to be ridden again, he is doing well, and Sherrie is delighted to have her best friend with her. Dr. Thacker notes that the horse just simply seemed to have the will to live, and the heart to survive his terrible ordeal. Everyone involved with the rescue has been impressed with Sinbad's bravery, and Sherrie's unwavering love for and devotion to her magnificent horse.