A story of loss and reunion in the high country has been playing out for three and a half months, ending with the heart-warming reunion this week between a woman and her horse.
Wanda Egan’s horse Rory escaped his yard from a camp in the Kosciusko National Park on 15 February after another horse had taken fright and run through the electric fence, quickly letting lose Rory and another seven horses. Three stayed in camp or were captured quickly, but four horses bolted off to the west.
Ghost Gully Camp Ground, in the High Plains area in Kosciuszko National Park, is a remote area near Yarrangobilly Caves to the south-west of Canberra.
Wanda was with the Illawarra ATHRA (Australian Trail Horse Riders Association) Club for its yearly February ride to the mountains.
Rory was sighted on the following day, then disappeared again. The chestnut gelding was last seen wearing a faded blue combo rug and a blue head stall.
Wanda is an experienced horsewoman from Nerriga, between Braidwood and Nowra, and she never gave up looking for him.
Sharing the information on social media, Wanda asked for people to share her search with friends who may visit the area, which is popular for riding, fishing and walking or just sightseeing. She knew Rory was still out there somewhere.
The following week Wanda organised riders and walkers to join her in the search. Some walkers came from interstate and riders from Sydney. The experienced riders assembled at the horse yards at Ghost Gully, Old Camp and Cooinbil for the search area between Bullocks Hill, Currango Plain and Old Currango.
Wanda advised the helpers that, “This is not a trail ride weekend. It’s for fit, shod horses. Experience in Snowy Mountain riding is advised as you’ll be doing some kilometres each day.”
A generous pilot from Cooma, Peter Davis, offered to start fly-overs. “The pilot took me for a flight to see what was visible from the air,” said Wanda. “But with no sightings before then it was too hard to know where to look first. He was seen over the next couple of days by myself and other riders, keeping up the search.”
Over coming weeks Rory was sighted several times in the area of Racecourse Creek and Chance Creek on Wild Horse Plain, still in the north of the Kosciusko National Park.
Wanda continued her push on social media as the search was getting desperate. Wanda was well aware that the National Park areas would be closed for the winter and the gates locked. Long Plain Road and Tantangara Road (beyond the dam wall) are closed from June to October long weekends.
Then on Saturday 2 June came the call that Wanda had been waiting three and a half months for. Two lady riders had found a horse with a blue rug not far from Currango Homestead. When they called him, he ran to them.
A jubilant Wanda and her husband Greg drove straight there to be reunited and take Rory home to Nerriga.
Amazingly, Rory’s rug had stayed on throughout his ordeal, as the weather started to get cold. Wanda was surprised that he hadn’t a mark on him although his condition was very poor.
“While I was overwhelmed with getting Rory back, his condition was a bit of a shock when we took his rug off,” she said.
“He hasn’t a mark on him or any new scars on him! But he has a large amount of muscle wastage due to probably hiding and not doing the work he was used to. Also, his rug has probably saved him with the recent snowfalls.
“I have a great diet plan for him which will change slowly as he gains more strength. Rory is so weak at the moment, even walking from day yard to night yard is an effort.”
Wanda doubts that Rory would have survived a winter, alone, in the mountains for another four to five months until the gates were opened again.
“He would have died. Even thinking it I well up with tears. It was that close,” she said.
“I’d like to thank everyone for your support, encouragement, the endless time searching, and telling me not to ever give up.
“’He is out there, and someone will see him’ said the mountain riders who have become friends, though not even knowing Rory, or my attachment to my horse.”