The fences were flagged, the course aerated, and the last recognized Maryland Horse Trials of the year at Loch Moy in Adamstown, Maryland, was just getting underway on Oct. 10 when course builders Tyson Rementer and Craig Haynes heard an odd call go out over the radio. There was something weird near the drainage pond. Was it a tree branch? A weird bird? It looked prehistoric, maybe even like an alligator, but everyone knows alligators aren’t native to Maryland…
Rementer and Haynes investigated and soon sent out a grainy video via group text to various event officials. They claimed Loch Moy had its very own Loch monster. Safety coordinator Mike Smallwood was doubtful about the video’s authenticity, but he headed to the pond to take a look.
“I was like, ‘Uhhhh? No!’ ” he said as he gazed upon the three-foot-long gator basking in the sun in the retention pond.
While property owner and event organizer Carolyn Mackintosh called Frederick County Animal Control, Smallwood admitted to doing “my best Steve Irwin impression” as he crept within a few feet of the reptile to take photos.
Animal control officers tried to capture the young gator (possibly a caiman?) with nets but to no avail. “They couldn’t get anywhere close to the thing,” said Smallwood. “It would just dip off into the water.”
A professional trapper, Tim Ryan of ABC All Wildlife Removal, had to be called in, and his initial efforts were also in vain, as he tried to hook the alligator and drag it into a net. “He’d get it in so far, and the thing would just spin out and go, ‘Na na na na,’ ” said Smallwood.
They even went so far as to take kayaks out on the pond to try to capture the rapscallion reptile, but when that didn’t work a live trap was the next step, cleverly baited with roadkill groundhog. Official veterinarian Chad Davis, DVM, got in on the fun, periodically checking in on the gator hunt to see how the experts were faring and asking Siri many, many questions about alligators. Animal control officers said this was their third alligator in recent history, although it was their first in a pond. The others had been in houses, pets that had grown too big or too aggressive for their owners. In all likelihood Loch Moy’s gator, which experts estimated to be about 6 months old, was the victim of a similar situation and had been abandoned by an unscrupulous owner who had tired of the scaly, toothy pet.
The pond was on the route for Phase C of the beginner novice three-day, so throughout the day on Friday horses and riders hacked by. “[USEA President] Carol Kozlowski would take a couple out at a time, so they’d understand the phase,” said Smallwood. “Nobody seemed to care. Everybody got a giggle out of it. It was like a fish tale. The 2 ½- maybe 3-foot gator was made out to be 20 feet long.”
“He’s been a real source of entertainment at that event,” agreed Kozlowski.
Smallwood camped out on the schooling course and periodically checked the trap Friday night. He drove down to the pond in the dark around 6:30 on Saturday morning. “It was like waking up Christmas morning and seeing the thing you asked Santa for under the tree,” he said. “I shined my lights, and I saw his eyes in the trap. I parked and ran over.”
It’s against the law in Maryland to own exotic pets, so after its capture, the alligator was taken to the Catoctin Zoo and Wildlife Preserve in Thurmont, Maryland.
While the real alligator has been relocated, Mackintosh purchased an inflatable pool toy to take its place. “It’s down there right now,” said Smallwood. “We’re still rolling with it.”
Various people have suggested Rementer create an alligator cross-country fence, and Smallwood said “Gator Crossing” and “Don’t Feed The Alligator” signs are on their way to Loch Moy. “They’ll be here just in time for the starter trials next week,” he said.
“You wouldn’t believe it unless you were here,” added Smallwood.