Six horses stolen from a ranch southwest of Edmonton have been returned to the family that owns them.
The animals were recovered Tuesday evening and brought home safely, nearly a week after they were snatched from the Thunder Valley Ranches property in Wetaskiwin County.
The animals were found roaming loose in a remote wooded area near a gas lease between Rocky Mountain House and Buck Lake.
Cornelia Cameron, who lives on the ranch with her parents and her sister, got a call Tuesday afternoon from a stranger who said he had spotted the family’s horses just a few kilometres from the ranch.
‘It was really overwhelming’
The man, who works at a nearby gas plant, had seen reports of the horse theft on the news, and thought he recognized the animals.
Cameron, 17, drove out to the wooded area right away.
‘I was shaking and crying all at the same time’ – Cornelia Cameron
“I was alone which was maybe not a good idea since I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it turned out OK,” Cameron said.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be them, so when I drove in there and saw it was them, I was shaking and crying all at the same time.
“It was really overwhelming but it was nice to see them.”
The crime got a lot of attention from Albertans and from the wider equestrian community. Cameron believes that made the horse thieves panic.
“They were just dumped off a lease road, just in the back country,” said Cameron.
“I think that whoever stole them didn’t expect this type of publicity and social media attention, because we went to some extremes to get the word out there and to get them home.
“I think they felt pressured, that they couldn’t follow through on their original plan, and just tried to get rid of them without getting caught.”
The area where the animals were left wasn’t fenced, said Cameron, but all the horses were together when she arrived and appeared to be unharmed.
With the help of her mother and a neighbour, Cameron brought the animals back to the family’s elk ranch, where they will get full medical assessments on Wednesday.
It’s unclear how long they had been roaming the area.
“They actually came running up to me … when I stepped out of the car,” said Cameron. “It was getting dark so it was hard to tell but they all seemed to be in good health.
“I wasn’t going to let them out of my sight, not until they were home.”
Tire tracks and oats
Cameron was home alone the night of the theft.
Her parents were away on business and she had been left in charge of the sprawling property that has been in her family for more than three generations.
She was returning from school when she realized the animals, some of their most valuable horses, were missing.
Tire tracks led up to the gate and there were oats on the ground, said Cameron. She suspects someone used the feed to lure the horses into the back of a trailer. Together the horses are worth an estimated $100,000.
After the horses disappeared, Breton RCMP launched an investigation. The family offered a $2,500 reward for the safe return of the horses, and shared descriptions of the horses with a brand inspector and auction markets.
Cameron posted about the theft on Facebook. Her post was shared nearly 12,000 times by time the horses were found.
“I’m overjoyed that they’re home,” said Cameron, who thanked everyone who helped the family in their search.
“The amount of support we got was incredible and we’re grateful because I think that’s the main reason why they’re home.”