Family, horse reunited after 10-month ordeal

Written by Dick Mason March 03, 2014 12:38 pm

 Kachira Phillips, left, and her  sister, Ryleigh, are delighted that their family’s mustang Tango was recently found after having been missing for about 10 months. (Heather Phillips photo)
Kachira Phillips, left, and her sister, Ryleigh, are delighted that their family’s mustang Tango was recently found after having been missing for about 10 months. (Heather Phillips photo)
Mustang back home near North Powder 

The college math class Heather Phillips was attending was ending, and, unbeknownst to her, two of the most unforgettable hours of her life were about to begin.

At 11:40 a.m. on Feb. 21, Phillips received a text message from Jacob Bingham of North Powder while in a Eastern Oregon University math class. The message quickly pushed mathematical equations out of Phillips’ mind. 

Bingham told Phillips that Tango, a mustang her family had lost 10 months ago, had just been spotted near Ladd Creek about 10 miles east of La Grande.

A suddenly impatient Phillips sat through the last 10 minutes of her class and then drove to Ladd Creek. Immediately upon arriving, she saw a sight of a lifetime — Tango. The 4-year-old was 100 feet up a hill from a parking lot for snowmobilers in the Ladd Creek area. 

“My heart fluttered, I almost cried,” said Phillips, a full-time student in the Oregon State University Agriculture Program at EOU.

Tango was alive and moving freely but it was obvious he had not been eating well.

“He was very, very emaciated,” Phillips said.

Tango also was leery of people, running from Phillips initially. Phillips, however, made a point of remaining 10 to 15 feet from the horse. Then she turned her back and waited for 20 minutes. The strategy drew Tango in.

“He was curious and came up to me,” Phillips said. “He was very lonely and wanted to be touched.”

Phillips then brought Tango back to North Powder with the help of Union County Sheriff’s Deputy Kati Heath, who brought a halter, and Bingham, who arrived at Ladd Creek with a horse trailer. Phillips brought Tango back to the ranch her family operates near Wolf Creek. Tango was greeted by Phillips’ husband, Bradley, and their daughters, Ryleigh, 7, and Kachira, 14. It was and continues to be a joyous reunion.

Tango had been missing since late April 2013, when he jumped over at least one 6-foot panel and escaped from the ranch.

Since that day, the Phillips family had conducted a never-ending search for Tango. 

“We had spent every free moment looking for him,” Phillips said.

The family talked to 200 hunters in Union County, telling them about Tango and providing them with a description. The effort provided the Phillips family several reports of Tango sightings, ones with enough descriptive detail that it appeared that it was their mustang. 

“He had been spotted on and off,” Phillips said.

The family feared that cougars, wolves or disease had claimed him. Tango escaped these hazards perhaps with help from his previous experience in the wild. He was part of a wild herd in Harney County before he was captured. The Phillips took him in about two years ago

Tango survived at least one serious health condition during his 10-month ordeal in Northeast Oregon, according to evidence on one of his hooves.

“He had an abscessed hoof, which had healed over,” Phillips said.

Concern for Tango elevated in mid February when cold, snowy weather struck again. 

“Thank goodness the weather had improved. I’m not sure how much longer he could have survived,” Heather Phillips said.