Handout Aidan Quinn and Mackenzie Porter pose on location at the filming of 'Horses of McBride' on Alberta's Moose Mountain.

Just before Christmas in 2008, Toni Jeck was faced with a tough decision.

Armed with some hay and a shotgun, she was tasked with deciding the fate of two starving horses her snowmobiling brother had found trapped in two-metre deep snow on the side of Mount Renshaw, near McBride, B.C.

Despite finding the horses covered in bald patches and severely underweight, Jeck was convinced they could survive, if only she could get them off the mountain.

What followed was a four-day ordeal that warmed the hearts of Canadians as they watched a group of snowmobilers dig a trench more than a kilometre long, in minus 30 degree Celsius temperatures to free the horses, who — it was later discovered — had been abandoned there in the fall by a man on a hunting trip. The story of the snowmobilers who could and the horses with the will to survive wasn’t forgotten.

On Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT), CTV presents The Horses of McBride, starring Aidan Quinn, a TV movie based on the events of four years ago. Actress Mackenzie Porter, who portrays Jeck in the movie, says she has trouble wrapping her head around the strength and willpower it must have taken to keep digging in sub-zero temperatures.

“I can’t imagine it. Just the little amount of work we were doing to portray this story on film was exhausting. And I experienced nothing compared to what the Jeck family actually experienced,” she says.

Filming for The Horses of McBride took place in the Kananaskis Valley, which mimicked some of the deep snow conditions in the real rescuers faced.

“I did a lot of shoveling, luckily I only had to do it when the camera was rolling,” says Porter, laughing. “I got an amazing workout.”

While the shoveling may have been tough for Porter, the work with the horses came naturally to the actress, who grew up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alta., and rode with her sister and dad.

Aside from horsemanship skills, Porter was also able to exercise her acting abilities alongside seasoned veteran Quinn, whose past films include Legends of the Fall.

“I’m a huge fan of his so I was excited when I heard he was on board for this film. He was just really grounded,” she says. “The first day I met him he invited me to dinner to rehearse and just build that relationship with him. He’s just this amazing person.”

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