Neglect Causes Wild Horse Death at Cold Creek - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Neglect Causes Wild Horse Death at Cold Creek

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Some of the wild horses of Cold Creek. Some of the wild horses of Cold Creek.
Hoof marks that sink deep into the soil are grim reminders of the horrible struggle that played out in this spot earlier this month. Hoof marks that sink deep into the soil are grim reminders of the horrible struggle that played out in this spot earlier this month.
"We had funds from the Nevada Fire Safe Council this last June that were allocated to be used by the end of June in the restoration of the pond," said Alan Hartzog, Cold Creek volunteer firefighter. "We had funds from the Nevada Fire Safe Council this last June that were allocated to be used by the end of June in the restoration of the pond," said Alan Hartzog, Cold Creek volunteer firefighter.
"It was absolutely horrible.  In fact, one of the most traumatic things I've seen in my life," said Rhea Little, Cold Creek resident. "It was absolutely horrible. In fact, one of the most traumatic things I've seen in my life," said Rhea Little, Cold Creek resident.
After hours of backbreaking work, volunteers finally managed to free the horse from the mud. "She was so exhausted. She actually just laid down and took one last breath and was gone. She died right there," Rhea Little explained. After hours of backbreaking work, volunteers finally managed to free the horse from the mud. "She was so exhausted. She actually just laid down and took one last breath and was gone. She died right there," Rhea Little explained.

A horrifying incident involving a wild horse has galvanized the tiny community of Cold Creek, just north of Las Vegas. Residents are already on edge about wild horses because of Bureau of Land Management plans to round up most of the herds that live in the area.

But it's a different type of government negligence that led to a tragedy in Cold Creek.

Makeshift planks and scraps of wood still litter this crusted mud bog on the outskirts of Cold Creek. Hoof marks that sink deep into the soil are grim reminders of the horrible struggle that played out in this spot earlier this month.

"It was absolutely horrible.  In fact, one of the most traumatic things I've seen in my life," said Rhea Little, Cold Creek resident.

Like most other residents of Cold Creek, Rhea Little loves wild horses. Drawn by the ample water that flows through Cold Creek --  and gave the place its name -- herds of wild horses descend on the community almost nightly to drink from the stream and the ponds that have been created. Residents know the individual horses so well that most have names.

Horse lovers are already on edge because of plans by the BLM to round up and haul away most of the horses and burros that live -- and thrive -- in the Spring Mountains. A town meeting held earlier this month left most residents disgusted by the BLM plan. But, as if to add injury to insult, residents got to stand by, in horror, as one of their beloved horses died in a mud hole that should not have been here. Months ago, this was a freshwater pond, stocked with rainbow trout, and a water source for the horses. But the pond was drained earlier this year to allow for repairs and maintenance. They never happened.

"We had funds from the Nevada Fire Safe Council this last June that were allocated to be used by the end of June in the restoration of the pond," said Alan Hartzog, Cold Creek volunteer firefighter.

Hartzog says a team of volunteers was assembled, along with heavy equipment, and the community was poised to put its $26,000 grant to good use. But on the day the work was to commence, bureaucracy intervened.

"Two hours prior to the equipment arrival it was canceled," said Hartzog. 

"We can't get anyone to say who did it.  It's within Clark County. I don't know which entity canceled the equipment. No one will say."

County officials were advised to seek federal okay before proceeding with the project out of concern for environmental regulations and multiple agencies with jurisdiction on the land.

Weeks and months ticked by with no decision until the original grant money was rescinded. The pond descended into a treacherous bog, a death trap for horses. When Rhea Little arrived on the scene earlier this month, she saw volunteers struggling to free a wild horse stuck in the mud.

"Sinking mud up to her shoulders. She was fighting and struggling. It was pretty dramatic."

During the fight to save the horse, Little was assigned a job of her own.

"Other horses in the family of the horse that was in the mud were trying to come towards the mud pond." Little explains the other horses kept trying to run toward the stuck horse. She believes they were trying to help.

After hours of backbreaking work, the volunteers finally managed to free the horse from the muck.

"They tried to get her to stand up. She was so exhausted. She actually just laid down and took one last breath and was gone. She died right there. The other horses kept circling," Little said.

The death of the horse was traumatic enough, but residents know it could just as easily have been a child that wandered into the mud. That's not the worst of it. The pond has long been the principal source of water for fighting fires in and around Cold Creek. Government agencies use it to fight wild fires. The missing pond is not only a threat to horses. It's a threat to Cold Creek itself.

"Our firefighting ability is greatly hindered by not having that pond down there. The U.S. Forest Service dips water out of it. It's been used for years and years," Hartzog said.

Not anymore.

A county spokesperson told the I-Team on Wednesday that funding to repair and refill the pond is now on the front burner because of public safety concerns. They hope to get final approval by Christmas.

Email your comments to Investigative Reporter George Knapp.

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