Pictured Above: Justin Nelzen (center with red life jacket), guides a horse to safety during flooding April 18, 2016, along Cypress Creek near Houston, Texas. The photo was included in CNN’s “2016: The year in pictures.” Nelzen passed away Jan. 11, 2017. He was 40.
Montgomery, Texas, farrier Justin Nelzen, who gained national notoriety for saving dozens of horses from spring flooding in his home state, passed away Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. He was 40.
Nelzen was a single father of two children, a girl, 14, and boy, 12. The children were with their mother at the time of his death, according to Rate My Horse PRO.
Nelzen was a veteran of the Marine Corps and Navy, including serving in Afghanistan. Nelzen trained endurance horses and won the 650-mile Mongol Derby.
It was a torrential downpour on April 18, 2016, that dumped a foot of water and claimed at least eight lives and caused an estimated $56 million in damages in Harris County, Texas, that brought Nelzen national acclaim. The farrier rushed to Cypress Creek to help. Law enforcement tried to stop him, Nelzen told the Houston Chronicle, but let him go after he informed them of his search-and-rescue background. Nelzen saved 10 to 15 horses himself and another 11 with the help of others, according to the Chronicle.
“Horses are like my calm, my Zen,” he told the Chronicle. “Being in the military, you come back with baggage. But horses are soothing. You can lean up against them and feel their heart. Sometimes I’d rather be around a horse than a person. When I looked out in the water, I didn’t see horses. I saw my family. Like my daughter.”
A photo of Nelzen and others rescuing horses along Cypress Creek was among the images included in CNN’s “2016: The year in pictures.”
“We were so proud,” Nelzen’s mother Tami Nelzen told Rate My Horse PRO. “His biggest accomplishment was him being himself. He was proof of a life lived.”
Funeral services are pending.
A FreeFunder page has been established to assist the family with funeral expenses.