Union County employees this morning implemented a fast and safe rescue of 18 horses who became panicked by a seemingly random occurrence, broke through a locked gate at the Watchung Stable, and galloped onto Route 22 West in Mountainside off Summit Road.

No one was injured and there were no traffic accidents. The horses--all County owned---are in good condition and are all safely back at the stable. The incident caused a half-hour shutdown before 9 a.m. of a half-mile of roadway on Route 22 in both eastbound and westbound lanes, stretching from Summit Road to Evergreen Court in Mountainside, County Police reported.

“This was an incident that —thanks to the calm and concerted efforts of our County workers—ended without accident and injury to civilians or our horses,” said Freeholder Daniel P. Sullivan, who monitors events at the stable. “All involved in the rescue---Parks, Stable, County Police, Emergency Management and surrounding municipal police departments--- did a great job.”

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County Manager George W. Devanney agreed.

“An extraordinary effort and outstanding coordination brought about a happy and safe ending,” Devanney added.

County Police Chief Daniel Vaniska said the incident that caused the horses to become frightened and burst through a locked gate appears to be an unknown but likely, random occurrence. He did note that it was the first time in recent memory that so many horses had escaped at one time during the nearly 80-year history of the County-operated Stable.

The horses fortuitously turned westbound in their sprint onto Route 22 West from Summit Road and never jumped over the median to the eastbound side. In all, they were free for approximately a half hour before roundup could be fully executed.

According to County authorities, some unknown incident caused 18 of 20 horses who were enjoying their normal morning outdoor time in the fenced paddocks area to become frightened, and burst through a locked gate around 8:15 a.m.

Fast-acting Stable employees immediately called County police who assisted them as they coordinated a dramatic rescue of the frightened horses who had quickly galloped their way in a pack from the paddock onto the main road, Summit Lane in the Watchung Reservation.

The horses turned left on Summit Lane, and then made a right at Summit Road, which leads directly to Route 22 West from the Reservation. The horses galloped about 2 miles from home before round up could peacefully start around 8:45 a.m.

The horses, reportedly among the elders at the stable, were rounded up in three groups and quietly walked back home by 9 a.m. They were wrapped with fresh blankets and dried off.  They  have been checked by a veterinarian, and it appears they are all ok, Parks Director Alfred Faella reported.

Located in the Mountainside section of the Watchung Reservation, the Watchung Stable has been owned and operated by the County of Union since 1933. Its goal is to provide the opportunity to learn how to ride, enhance equestrian skills or just enjoy the natural beauty of the 26 miles of bridle paths that weave through the Reservation, a 2,000-acre forest preserve.

The Watchung Stable complex consists of a main barn which houses more than 90 County and privately owned horses, four riding rings, and a show ring. In addition, this state-of-the-art, barrier-free facility includes an isolation barn, numerous paddocks, hay and straw storage area and an equipment garage.