It was the scanner call heard around the Vineyard on Sunday afternoon: a horse in West Tisbury had fallen into a frozen pond. And more than a dozen volunteers from across the Island responded.
A day after a large blizzard left a foot of snow in its wake, the meadow in Deep Bottom Pond was a sheet of white. There was no noticeable difference between the manmade pond and the meadow, and Adara, an eight-year-old Welsh Cob pony, had wandered out onto the ice thinking it was the meadow. The pond cracked and Adara’s hind quarters fell into the water.
On Sunday afternoon just after 4 p.m., Pia Centenari-Leonard of Pearl Cove Farm received a call notifying her that the mare, measuring at 14.2 hands, was in the pond.
“I went out with my husband [Richard Leonard] and sure enough she was in the pond, about eight or ten feet out off the shoreline,” Ms. Centenari-Leonard recalled in a phone interview this week. “It was terrifying.”
Deep Bottom Pond resident Stephen Chapman was out for a walk around the meadow when he saw Adara fall into the pond. The Leonards had never met Mr. Chapman before and together they “tried to get her out, but it wasn’t going to happen,” Ms. Centenari-Leonard recalled. “We needed more than two people at the head.”
Emergency responders were on their way when five horses from the far side of the meadow began galloping towards the pond.
“It was an unsettling sight,” Ms. Centenari-Leonard said. “Adara was shivering, I’ve never seen an animal shiver like that before. I asked Steve to hold the halter and not to let her slip under. My husband and I tried to scare the horses off...they just wondered what the heck was going on. I think they felt Adara’s panic.”
Mr. Chapman was left holding the halter while the Leonards corralled the horses back into the barn. Mr. Chapman was familiar with Adara from his walks around the paddock, but only from a distance.
“I don’t know anything about horses but I talk to these horses as I walk around them,” he said. “Pia had to leave me there with the horse. I’m trying to keep her calm and give her encouragement and hold her but also calm her to keep her facing in the right direction.”
With no definition between the pond’s edge and the field, Mr. Chapman didn’t realize he, too, was eight to ten feet out on the ice.
“That’s bravery — I don’t know him. I would expect my husband to go out there and help, but I didn’t know who this person was,” Ms. Centenari-Leonard said. “Richard and I were trying to get the horses to turn around and not charge the pond. That was just an unbelievable situation.”
After securing the other horses, she headed back to the pond.
“The visual of all of these people coming out of the trees to help — I have goosebumps right now just remembering it,” she said.
Jeremy Bradshaw was the first to respond. Clad in waders, Mr. Bradshaw attempted to get in the water with Adara but “there was no way he could find footing,” Ms. Centenari-Leonard recalled. The pond has a two foot shelf followed by a steep drop-off. Off-duty West Tisbury police Sgt. Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, Peter Marzbanian, Betsy MacDonald, Cole Powers, Donna Bouchard, Margaret Oliviera and others also responded to the scanner call.
The West Tisbury fire department arrived strapped in cold-water gear in the event they needed to jump in the pond. With a rope underneath her hind legs, two people by her hind quarters and three pulling at her halter, the group pulled and Adara launched out of the water and galloped towards the barn.
In the end, Adara had been in the water for 35 minutes.
Ms. Centenari-Leonard returned to the barn where she began to dry off the horse and massage her to “get her stimulated again. She was really stiff on the hind end and had a lot of edema.”
When she returned to the meadow, all of the volunteers had left.
“The whole thing was just surreal,” she said.
Veterinarian Dr. Constance Breese arrived and stayed with Adara and Ms. Centenari-Leonard for several hours, giving the horse some medication and walking her until all of her functions were working again.
Today, Adara is doing well, Ms. Centenari-Leonard said, though she still has some swelling in her legs.
“She’s a nice girl, she’s got a big heart,” she said.
Mr. Chapman reflected on the success of the rescue.
“When you need to do something you just do it, it was very exhilarating,” he said. “You have a rush of joy and exhilaration and you weep for a few moments and think, wow, we’ve done something wonderful.”
Ms. Centenari-Leonard said she “appreciated all of the hands that helped save Adara’s life.”
“We are so lucky to have such wonderful volunteers and professionals, I want to say thank you to all for coming so quickly to Adara’s rescue.”
“The community effort is so typically Vineyard,” she continued. “The Island is a really beautiful place to live but the bottom line is it’s not about beauty, it’s about the community and the people who came out.”