After 20 days in the woods, it was time for Leo to rest

  • Frederick M. Klein-McNeil with his horse Leo in a courtesy photo. Leo was lost in Bear Brook Park in Allenstown since September 6th. Courtesy—

  • Courtesy Courtesy

  • A courtesy photo of Leo. Courtesy—

  • The search for Leo (at left, with Frederick M. Klein-McNeil) in Bear Brook State Park earlier this month. Left: Courtesy; Above: Courtesy of Lisa Consentine

  • The search for Leo in Bear Brook State Park earlier this month. Lisa Consentine—Courtesy

  • R.L. Hayes (left) and Griffin Gilman help in the search of Leo in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown earlier this month. Courtesy

  • Courtesy—

  • The search for Leo in Bear Brook State Park earlier this month. Lisa Consentine—Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/29/2020 5:28:43 PM

The horse’s co-owner called Leo a “gentleman.”

“He was used by his previous owner as a lesson horse,” Frederick Klein-McNeil of Hampton Falls said Tuesday by phone. “He was good with meeting new people and teaching them how to ride. It was easy to meet and get to know him, easy to work with him.”

Something went tragically wrong on Sept. 6, Labor Day Weekend, to the horse owned by Klein-McNeil and his life partner, Michael Klein-McNeil. They went riding in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown. Michael lost his balance getting off Leo as he misjudged the distance to the ground.

Free from Michael’s grasp and scared by the awkward dismount, Leo trotted up a hill and was never seen alive again by either man.

Last Saturday, 20 days after he went missing, after a Facebook message had rallied hundreds to search day and night for Leo on the park’s endless trails and in its great woods, news broke that the smooth, chestnut beauty had died about one-quarter of a mile from the spot where he bolted.

A man and a woman, part of a grassroots rescue team, spotted Leo, who, probably exhausted and hungry, stopped running. He lay down instead. Frederick said the man told him that Leo had died as the hiker cradled his head.

“They want to remain anonymous,” Frederick told me. “When COVID settles down, we’ll get together. I made a lot of friends.”

The anonymous couple and other volunteers are forever intertwined with Michael and Frederick, part of their life stories. Frederick grew up in Arizona, where horses were part of his family. His dad moved to Montana after a divorce, and there were horses there, too.

“In my childhood, I had access to horses and I always volunteered to work in someone’s barn to be around them,” Frederick said. “It’s expensive, and I couldn’t afford to keep doing it until I was an adult.”

He met Michael at a college in Colorado. He attended graduate school in Rochester, N.Y. The couple lived in Portland, Ore., for a while. There, once both men had established themselves in the health care field, Frederick returned to riding and caring for the animals that he had always loved. For their intellect, their sensitivity and their grace as athletes, able to sprint and run long distances in a rhythmic display of power and grit.

“A lot of people are captivated by the size and the wildness of horses,” Frederick told me. “Also, many people believe they have an internal sixth sense. They’re very intuitive, and that offers peace and tranquility. If you are sad, they are sad, if you are anxious, they are anxious.

“They are therapeutic in that way,” he continued. “And it’s an exhilarating experience to ride no matter what.”

The couple moved to the Granite State a year ago and quickly discovered Bear Brook State Park and its trails, trails, trails.

Frederick explained that Leo hesitated at a steep incline, wanting no part of the climb. He also said Leo was a tall horse, about 17 hands, or 5⅔2/3 feet. That meant a long drop for Michael, and that landing from that height caused his knees to buckle.

That’s when Leo got scared. That’s when he changed his mind. He ran, up and over the hill.

“He turned and scampered up,” Frederick said. “He vanished.”

Frederick and Michael searched deep into the night. They thought they’d find Leo in the morning, for sure. Maybe in the parking field, where his food and water had been.

They didn’t, though. They posted their loss on Facebook. They worked their full time jobs, tended to their farm and rotated looking for Leo. Frederick in the morning, Michael at night, both on weekends.

And they were not alone. Dozens of people ran to help like a herd of galloping horses. Snowmobile clubs, hiking clubs, biking clubs, mountain biking clubs, equestrians.

They followed the Facebook posts and they changed their lifestyles to help. Frederick said searching went on 24/7.

He said sightings were reported, but no one had anything concrete. Just something in the woods that didn’t stick around long. Something that blended real well with the trees and ground and leaves. A brown horse with a brown saddle and a green saddle pad.

Frederick stopped here. His mind shifted to precautions he had not taken. Placing a GPS on Leo. And a colorful outfit. And something reflective for night searching.

Then he spoke about the caring, anonymous couple. They had helped from the start, shortly after Labor Day. They set out on foot on the 26th, leaving their bikes behind. They tracked Leo for about an hour, Frederick said.

They spotted Leo, about 30 feet off the trail, in the deep woods. Soon, he was on the ground, resting.

Meanwhile, with no cell service in that spot, the woman was forced to run to the trail for a signal and relay information from the man to Frederick. And visa versa.

“He was malnourished and tired, exhausted, as reported by the hikers,” Frederick said. “But there were no injuries. I said leave him and I’ll assess him when I get there.”

Frederick was a five-minute walk from Leo. He called his veterinarian to meet him there. “We still had hope,” Frederick said.

Leo died that day. Frederick said he could hear and feel the emotion from the woman. Right through the phone.

He said heavy equipment was brought in to remove the 2,000-pound animal, making a sling out of towing straps. He was buried on their farm, home to five more horses.

Frederick doesn’t know how Leo died.

“People think horses are big and tough, but they have quite fragile digestive systems,” Frederick said. “It could have been bad water, or he could have died from old age.”

Perhaps, Frederick wondered, Leo, at 24, was dying and instinctively knew it. Maybe he ran away to die, and was soothed at the end, with hands on his face and head, comforting him.

“Animals leave so they don’t get the rest of the herd sick,” Frederick said. “Maybe it was time to leave the herd and meet his own fate.”

Maybe. But Frederick, in a sense, won’t permit Leo to die. He plans on bringing the volunteers back to Bear Brook once COVID-19 passes. He’ll say thanks. He’ll raise his glass.

“We’ll just enjoy the park,” Frederick said. “We can do a little toast and tell our little horse stories.

“Once people get talking about their horses, there’s no end in sight.”




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