OLD TOWN, Maine — Members of a Palermo family heading north on Interstate 95 with their two draft horses early Wednesday didn’t notice when they lost the horses near Exit 197, Maine State Police Trooper Josh D’Angelo said.
The workhorses were tethered inside the back section of the horse carrier, and somehow the back “gate to the trailer opened and the horses came out” at around 6:30 a.m., he said. The horses were later seen walking around after having landed in a ditch.
Greg Smith of Houlton, who was driving behind the family, didn’t see the trailer gate open but did see “something in the ditch rolling,” he said.
“When I got closer I noticed it was a horse,” said Smith, a volunteer firefighter from Linneus. “I was probably 900 feet or so away and had plenty of time to stop.”
One of the large brown draft horses stayed up by the highway, and the other one wandered around the median near the tree line, he said.
“It’s unbelievable that they just got back up,” said Smith, who called 911.
Smith, who was driving for Land Air Express, also attempted to call a fellow driver, who was driving about half a mile ahead of him on the highway, but his cell phone was busy.
“It was bizarre,” Smith said, adding he was happy that he wasn’t following more closely to the horse trailer. “It would not have been a good sight.”
When Smith stopped to help, he also picked up an impromptu souvenir from the scene — a horseshoe that was in the roadway.
The horses suffered injuries which did not appear to be life-threatening, D’Angelo said.
“They sustained some real deep cuts on their legs, and both horses had some real severe road rash,” he said.
The highway was closed for about 30 minutes while the draft horses were corralled into to a small pasture area off the road.
Neither horse was wearing a harness, but a person passing by stopped and gave two ropes to D’Angelo, who had never handled a horse before. He and Old Town police Sgt. Mike Hashey led the horses up the exit ramp to a small field where they waited for their owners to arrive.
The horses’ owners, who were not identified, “were heading to Presque Isle for the horse pulling” event at the Northern Maine Fair, D’Angelo said.
Troopers caught up with them at mile marker 223. They turned around and picked up their horses and decided to head back to Palermo to get them medical attention, the trooper said.
Hashey said the horse he handled was named something like Chico, but his owner “said he was going to change it to Lucky.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the town of the family.