“I’m just at a loss for words, overwhelmed with relief that he is safe,” says Finley the horse’s human, Gin Szagola, after their reunion.
As disheartening and stressful as the past week has been for Szagola, Finley’s must’ve been something else entirely. Later into the afternoon of Tuesday, May 2, Finley decided to free himself from his hoof tether at one of the backcountry campsites in South Dakota’s Wind Cake National Park.
After realizing her horse was nowhere nearby, Szagola alerted park staff, and the search was on. Alongside partners from Custer State Park and Custer County, officials had been working since Tuesday to locate Finley. UTVs, hikers, horseback riders, and infrared cameras on a county operated drone were all put to use. The works, you could say.
Szagola, too, never tired on the search, even as hope faded. “I’ve been searching from sunrise to sunset since his disappearance, and while I have been trying to hold onto hope, after all this time I had begun to fear the worst,” she offers.
Szagola herself is an intrepid traveler, documenting her adventures on her Gin and Faith website. She and Finley have, in fact, ridden across most of America together. So giving up on her companion was never an option. Any fellow rider immediately understands.
Thankfully, Finley’s a survivor.
A familiar horse appears wandering Highway 385 one week later
According to the national park’s media release, a horse matching his description was spotted trotting along Highway 385 near the Wind Cave Canyon Trailhead.
Custer County Dispatch notified Wind Cave at 7:55 a.m. Monday of a call in this area. As soon as park rangers made it to the scene, they spotted a familiar looking horse. Rangers then led the horse into the park’s maintenance yard, Szagola was called, and fingers were crossed.
Sure enough, it was Finley, and “overjoyed” is surely an apt word to attribute to Gin Szagola of their reunion. Finley is even “in good shape after spending a week in the backcountry,” the park notes.
“The efforts to find him have been incredible. Just amazing. It has saved his life. I’m just at a loss for words, overwhelmed with relief that he is safe,” Szagola lauds.
After his safe return, Finley was examined at the Fall River Veterinary Clinic. “Other than dehydration and a slightly scraped up leg,” the park says, this wily horse is “healthy.”
“We’d like to thank everyone who helped on this search, especially the Custer County Sherriff’s Office, Custer County Search and Rescue, Custer State Park, the South Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and the numerous people who on their own were looking for the horse,” offers Park Superintendent Leigh Welling.
Horseback travel is allowed in Wind Cave National Park’s backcountry with a free permit available at their visitor center. But the next time Gin and Finley visit, chances are he’ll have more than a hoof tether to keep him from wandering.
Way to go to all involved with Finley’s rescue, and the best of luck to this duo as they travel on.