A motorist’s video Friday night shows escaped horses headed for Interstate 70 eastbound, as indicated in the sign above the animals. (Vail Daily screengrab)

By John LaConte, The Vail Daily

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best encountered one of the most unique situations he’s seen in 15 years of duty in a high-speed horse pursuit on Interstate 70 near Eagle Friday night.

The horses escaped from the Eagle County Fairgrounds, where the annual fair and rodeo was wrapping up its third night of the four-day event.

Best said a makeshift corral had been constructed in a camping area just west of the fairgrounds. After one horse in the corral knocked down a board helping to contain the animals, another horse became anxious from an electrical fence, prompting a total of four horses to escape from the corral.

Once in the roundabouts at the Fairgrounds Road terminus, the horses took the same route that anyone from the Denver area might be headed after enjoying the rodeo: They exited the roundabout at the I-70 east onramp and made the descent onto the freeway.

“That’s a worst-case scenario for us,” Best said. “Having livestock on the interstate.”

Fortunately, the incident concluded some 20-30 minutes later with the horses being escorted into a waiting trailer. Best said while responders might have encountered some bad luck in the horses’ unfortunate choice of roundabout exits, they encountered a few strokes of good luck along the way, as well, with a four-horse trailer happening to be on-scene at the moment.

The biggest bit of luck is the interstate was closed 13 miles away in Glenwood Canyon due to mudslides and debris fall.

But Best also said there was an additional bit of luck in the makeup of the motorists who were on I-70.

“A lot of people were aware of what was going on, and patient with us in closing the road and getting these horses rounded up before something bad happened,” he said.

“Who is riding those horses?”

DeDe Dickinson left the rodeo a little later than she had planned on Friday. As a “horse lady for 40 years,” as she calls herself, she attends for the animals more than the music, but stayed a little longer to enjoy a few songs from the Buck Ford Pure Country Band.

When she left, heading east on Fairgrounds Road, her eyes deceived her, she said, as she thought she saw horses with riders in front of her.

“I’m going, who is riding their horses?” she said.

In addition to being a horse owner herself, as a real estate agent, she also knows most of the horse properties in the area.

“I know there’s no place to ride around here,” she thought as she saw the horses heading east on Fairgrounds Road. “But there’s this guy with his flashers on behind them, maybe he’s escorting them somewhere.”

The vehicle ended up escorting the animals into the roundabout, Dickinson said.

When she arrived in the roundabout, what she saw frightened her.

“They’re standing in the roundabout,” Dickinson said. “There’s no halters, there’s no bridles, there’s no people riding them.

In another second, she had reached a conclusion about what was transpiring in front of her.

“They’re runaways,” she said.

She called 911. As she was on the phone, “somehow the guy that was trying to escort them with the flashers on actually started pushing them down the onramp to the interstate,” she said.

She said she became frantic with the 911 operator, who said others had called, as well.

“He somehow doesn’t understand that he’s pushing them, and he’s making them run down the side of the interstate,” she told the operator.

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