FARGO — An investigation report sheds more light on what happened to an Alberta woman who died last week after a horse trampled her at the North Dakota State University Equine Center.
Kimberly Rae Elliott, 57, arrived at the equine center on Nov. 29 while transporting five horses, according to the report, obtained by The Forum through a public records request. Elliott, who owned and operated Elliott Equine Transport in Okotoks, Alberta, was forced to keep the horses at the equine center for four nights due to a winter storm.
On Dec. 3, she asked for help with loading the horses, so equine center manager Shannon Eck, equine lecturer Tara Swanson and two agriculture student employees, whose names are redacted from the report, assisted her in leading the horses from a barn to her horse trailer, according to the report, compiled by NDSU.
The horses were all loaded in the trailer — two in the front stalls, one in the middle compartment and two in the back stalls, the report said.
Elliott, who was alone in the middle compartment of the trailer with the doors shut, had finished securing the two horses in the back and was closing the back inside stall wall when she said, “He kicked me,” according to the report.
Eck, who was waiting outside the trailer with the other NDSU staff member and students, said she saw Elliott’s face look out of the trailer before she fell behind the horse that kicked her, the report said.
“The horse then became severely frightened and went into flight or fight mode ... and started to kick at what was on the ground behind him (that was Kim),” the report said.
One NDSU student grabbed the horse's halter when it stopped reacting. Then Eck and Swanson opened the side trailer door, removed the horse and called 911 as they helped Elliott, performing CPR on her until emergency crews arrived and took over, the report said.
NDSU allows members of the public to house horses at the equine center for $10 to $20 a night. A liability waiver must be signed to use the center's arena, but not the stalls, the report said.
“However, this all occurred in her horse trailer, not in the equine center,” the report noted.
No one else was physically hurt in the trampling incident, but those involved were offered counseling services, NDSU spokeswoman Brynn Rawlings said.
It's believed to be the first time anyone has died or been severely injured by a horse at the equine center, Rawlings said.
When asked if NDSU expected to change any policies about housing horses at the equine center, Rawlings said “review of policies and procedures is standard practice in all areas of NDSU.”
Elliott's friends and family honored her life Thursday, Dec. 12, during a memorial service in Canada. She had been shipping horses for more than 20 years, and she was doing a routine transport before she died.
Roy Linkenholker and his wife, Tammy Sunderland, own On The Road Again Transport. The couple said they knew Elliott.
Sunderland remembered her as someone who would text people to check on them or ask if they wanted to meet for coffee.
“She’s just kind of one of those people who makes friends with you,” Sunderland said.
Linkenholker and Sunderland have hauled horses around the country for several years. They also give riding lessons to youth.
“You never, ever know how they are going to react,” Linkenholker said of horses. “You may take them to the same exact thing 100 times .... Something little and different can cause a whole different reaction because they have their own brain.”
Hauling animals presents the risk of getting injured, and anyone who does it should always be aware of their surroundings, Linkenholker said.
“Just watch the horse,” he said. “You really have to pay attention and be diligent, because you just never know.”
Even when people are being as safe as possible, accidents can happen, the couple said. Sunderland said she got kicked two years ago, and the injury put her out of commission for six weeks.
“It’s always on the top of my mind lately,” she said. “This tragedy with Kim just kind of multiplies that fear because it does happen. They are big, powerful animals.”
Sunderland suggests having at least two people when loading or hauling horses. Linkenholker said people who transport horses should get as much information as possible about each animal.
“If anything makes you feel uncomfortable, ask more questions,” he said. “You just have to always expect the unexpected.”