The day after the season’s first major winter storm in the Andes Mountains near El Colorado, Chile, an old mare got a new name—and a new lease on life.
“Garbanza” had been wandering in snow that reached four feet deep for about four days when snowboarder Rafael Pease stumbled upon her, thinking she was a rock.
“When I realized it was a horse, I decided to boot-pack over there to see if I could do something,” said Pease, a University of Colorado junior who went snowboarding in El Colorado for his 21st birthday in October.
The aging mare was stuck up to her abdomen in powdery snow, Pease said. She was no longer trying to move forward and was acting lethargic. “She was obviously going to die if we didn’t do something to save her,” he said.
Equine thermoregulation expert Grete H.M. Jørgensen, PhD, of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research in Tjøtta, seconded that prognosis.
“Depending on the horse’s body condition, its muscle mass, and its age (metabolic state), it could live stuck in the snow until it starves to death,” she explained. “How many days this may take is not easy to answer.
“But if we add into the equation the fact that the horse was stuck in snow, cooling its body down and making it difficult for the horse to lie down and rest, it’s quite amazing that the horse did not die before,” she said. “It must not have been in this depth of snow all four days that it was missing.”
Death by freezing occurs when the horse has exhausted all its internal efforts to regulate its body tempera