A tale of a dozen horses saved by a rodeo queen

The Denver Gazette
The Denver Gazette

As homes burned around her, Meghan Rickel threw on her rubber boots and her Carhart Boulder Rodeo Queen jacket and got to work, pulling neighborhood horses from their flaming stomping grounds into waiting trailers. With the help of Boulder’s Mounted Search and Rescue Team, she saved 10 horses before she got to the end of the road in Spanish Hills South, where her own family’s barn was engulfed by a fire so hot it melted the metal fence around it.

What she saw waiting for her brought a sob to her throat.

Her own two horses, Caesar and Breezy, were staring in the kitchen window wondering where she was.

“We had to navigate through the fire to get to them,” said Rickel, who rode Caesar during her rodeo career. She said it just happened that her trailer was hitched to her truck, saving precious seconds.

"We had someone looking out for us for sure," she said.

Wednesday night, all 12 horses were safe and kicking their stalls out of nervousness as Rickel, her sister Alli and her mom, Gina, fed them hay at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, which had been set up as a shelter for wayward large animals.

Around the corner in an open stall stood Nibbles, a pregnant mare who had been expected to give birth Dec. 26.

Her owner, Alexis Gallego, had just brought her in from the Boulder Equestrian Center. “The fire was really close and I was so scared,” said Gallego.

In case Nibbles gives birth tonight, Gallego’s parents were putting up a homemade sign asking people to keep their eye out for a newborn foal in the dusty ground of the arena.

The Boulder County Fairgrounds started taking horses and llamas at noon Wednesday and were turning trailers toward Larimer County by dinner time.

“We have 100 animals, and that's our limit,” said Animal Control Officer Blakeley Brownd. “It’s very hectic for sure. They sense the stress around them.”

Behind her, half a dozen trailers large and small were making U-turns and heading north. The sound of screaming horses filled the air.

Along a line of stalls, each one with a single horse, Meghan Rickel’s hands were dark grey with soot as she stroked Caesar’s neck.

It had been a long day and Friday may be longer.

“As we drove away, I saw that the fire was only 45 feet from our house,“ she said. She told the Denver Gazette that her parents built the home on land where their four kids grew up.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not there anymore," she said with clear eyes behind a mask. "When I told my dad, he said I brought out everything that matters.”

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