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Julie Sedin leads her 20-plus-year-old gelding Teddy out to graze Monday afternoon. Last week members of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Volunteer Rescue Squad freed Teddy after he became stuck in a bog. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Ingenuity, plywood and sweat save horse stuck in Minnesota swamp

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DULUTH, Minn. - After hours of struggling to free a beloved horse from the mud, Julie Sedin was out of options when she called 911 in desperation Thursday evening.

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The St. Louis County Search and Rescue Squad is dedicated to helping recover people from dangerous situations, but occasionally the volunteer crew agrees to broaden its mission to include equines in distress.

Teddy, a 20-plus-year-old Tennessee walker, had strayed out of Sedin's Midway Township pasture and into a nearby spruce bog, where he sank to his hips in the muck and became ensnarled in the roots of a tree.

After discovering the horse around 5:30 p.m., Sedin tried to pull him from the quagmire using a tractor, but the machine, too, got stuck.

She was at a loss for what to do next after three hours of unsuccessful efforts involving cargo straps, ropes and a winch.

"I'm a 110-pound woman. I can't lift a 1,000-pound horse," Sedin said.

She called in reinforcements, including her father, her son-in-law and a veterinarian, all to no avail.

Fearing the worst, Sedin sent for her ex-husband, David, who is very attached to the horse.

"After all the effort we'd exerted, I figured this was coming down to a life-or-death decision, and I wanted David to be able to say goodbye," Sedin said.

But she still was having trouble coming to terms with the idea of putting Teddy down.

"I didn't want to shoot him in a hole. Teddy didn't deserve that," Sedin said.

She called 911, explained her predicament and asked if anyone at all could help her.

Meanwhile, members of the St. Louis County Rescue Squad were gathered for a monthly meeting.

"It happened to be our meeting night, and a deputy called and asked if we would be willing to lend a hand," recalled Capt. Tom Crossmon. The answer was "yes," and a contingent of 15 to 20 rescue squad members quickly mobilized.

"He was stuck in there pretty good," said Lt. Rick Slatten, a squad member, remembering the scene.

With the help of an 18-inch wide sling, a tree and a winch system, volunteers were able to extricate Teddy from the roots and mud where he had been trapped for hours. But they weren't in the clear yet, Slatten said.

"Every time he tried to stand up, his legs went through again," he said.

After attempts to guide the horse out of the bog on his own hooves proved impractical, the rescue squad decided to switch tactics. A handful of members left briefly to fetch several sheets of plywood.

Upon their return, squad members worked one of the 4- by 8-foot sheets under Teddy. With the exhausted animal lying on his side, Slatten and his colleagues collectively pushed Teddy from one piece of plywood to another, shuffling the sheets forward in leap-frog fashion.

Slatten estimates the crew moved the horse about 150 to 200 feet to safety in this fashion.

"There were a lot of muddy, tired guys by the end," he said.

Sedin brought her five other horses down to visit Teddy and "offer him encouragement," as she put it.

Teddy struggled to stand, and Slatten recalls that when the horse succeeded: "Most everyone broke into applause. It was kind of a magic moment."

Slatten said the squad remains dedicated to its human rescue mission and generally doesn't aim to branch out. But he said members recognized Sedin needed help. "She had tried everything she could think of, and we were there."

By the time Teddy was back on firm ground, it was already well past midnight. Rescue members carefully cleaned mud from their equipment before stowing it away. Slatten said he finally got home and hit the sheets by about 3 a.m. Friday.

Sedin said she didn't have the words to express her thanks to Slatten and all his fellow volunteers.

"This group of guys wouldn't quit. They never gave up, and neither did the horse. They were just awesome," she said.

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