It took a community -- and a tow truck -- to raise a horse (with photos)

By Dave Greber

January 10, 2014 Updated Jan 10, 2014 at 11:14 AM EDT

Town of Chenango (WBNG Binghamton) Thursday was supposed to be just another day for Tracy Durham and her beloved horse of eight years Voluntario Interagro.

But then, the worst.

What could have been a deadly fall that cost the life of the national champion dressage horse brought two strangers -- a tow truck driver and a horse trainer -- together in an unlikely way.

Jeffrey Peabody is used to hauling 100,000-pound broken down tractor-trailers in his day job as a recovery specialist for U Save Towing and Recovery in Binghamton, which made Thursday's phone call a once-in-a-million chance.

"When they called me, they said they have a horse on the ice and it can't get back up," Peabody said. "I just said I'll be right there."

Needless to say, Thursday marked Peabody's first horse recovery, although he said he's been around horses most of his life. But never has he used a 75-ton tow truck to lift anything alive.

This was no semi stuck in the snow, he said.

"We had to use some wide straps to rig the horse and to get him to come up, to sit him up," he recalled. "And when he came around, we kind of let the straps out, so we were kind of trying to hold him up."

Voluntario -- Spanish for volunteer -- was being led by his owner and lifelong companion Tracy Durham for his morning walk when he slipped on frozen ground and ice.

Pictures and video provided by U Save Towing and Recovery and pictures provided by the Broome County Sheriff's Office show people crowded around the animal, working deliberately in below-freezing weather to keep the horse from further injuring itself.

Down he stayed for hours. All Durham could do was watch in agony as firefighters, members of the China Pointe Stables and Peabody worked to right the horse.

"I'm a veterinarian, so I know probably too well that some of the injuries that some horses can sustain can be career, if not life, threatening," Durham said. "Having them be down on the ground for extended periods of time becomes life threatening. So, my first thought was to do what we needed to get him up."

Tracy said the men and women at China Pointe Stables, emergency responders and Peabody saved her horse's life.

But they did so much more, Durham said, because to her, Voluntario is more than a horse.

"This horse means the world to me," Durham said. "So for these folks and the fire department, the folks here at China Pointe, my colleague Dr. Ellen Johnson, to have everyone devote their entire day to giving him a fighting chance, means the world to me."

The bill for U Save Towing and Recovery to perform a typical tow service for as many hours as they spent in the town of Chenango would have numbered into the thousands. Horse rescues, like the one they performed Thursday, however, are on the house.

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