This animal took a nasty stumble and found himself wedged in a narrow ditch. Stuck up to his head in mud, and barely able to breathe, he spent hours in the cramped space as an emergency response team worked to rescue him. His story is incredible.
It seems that sometime during the night the animal had fallen into a six-foot-deep, 30-inch-wide ditch, just north of the town of Levin, New Zealand. And, of course, as he was stuck in the mud, he couldn’t get himself out.
Luckily, the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) responded promptly to a citizen’s call for help the next morning. VERT members, after all, undergo intense training and have seen all sorts of animal emergencies.
Hayley Squance, leader of the VERT team, has said, “If a large animal is trapped you do not try to rescue it on your own. It requires a multidisciplinary response.”
And the large animal in question – a thoroughbred gelding – did indeed require the efforts of multiple parties to free him. Certainly, the horse was stuck in such a tight space that rescuers could not attach straps to pull him out right away.
Interestingly, it turned out that this particular horse had not only been ridden for pleasure, but also in equestrian competitions that include dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. In fact, Squance told the Daily Mail that a gate had been left open, which was why this purebred found himself in deep trouble.
Upon discovering the stuck throughbred in the morning of May 10, 2016, then, the owners called vet Richard Munn from Horowhenua Vets in Levin. Munn was familiar with the VERT team, and he reached out to them for help. Luckily, the rescue team had experience with horses stuck in mud.
Plus, the Massey University team has 12 members at-the-ready for animal emergencies. This group includes vets, vet technicians, and even two members of the human rescue team.
So, the team arrived promptly at the scene at 9 a.m. to find that a neighbor and a vet had been helping support the horse’s head. The tired animal could do little else but wait.
“All we could see was the horse’s head,” said Squance, recalling when VERT first arrived at the scene. “As it was getting exhausted, its head was going into the mud.”
The operation, then, would require some serious heavy lifting. Therefore, the VERT team needed the assistance of the Levin rural firefighters, and the Palmerston North Urban Search and Rescue Team.
First, rescuers placed a cushion beneath the horse’s head to help him breathe more easily. Then, after evaluating the situation, they realized that they would have to dig the horse out of this predicament.
They borrowed a small digger from a neighbor, but it proved insufficient. So the next move was calling a contracting company to get access to a larger digger.
With that done, the following four-hour procedure saw digger operator Scott Stratton carefully widening the ditch around the horse. A tarp was also placed over the horse to protect him from loose dirt, and Stratton stopped frequently so other emergency crew could evaluate the safety of the sides of the ditch for any imminent signs of collapse.
Squance likened the situation to “a grenade with a pin pulled out in a contained space.” She also said that it was one of the most difficult rescues VERT has had since it started out in 2010.
The VERT team, though, is top-notch. And, in addition to advanced training for their members, the response team also hosts emergency rescue workshops.
So, after about five hours, rescuers finally managed to position straps around the chest, abdomen and rear of the agitated animal. They secured the straps to the digger’s bucket, and Stratton hoisted the horse out of the mud.
Once above ground, the horse was placed on a rescue glide so that he could be moved to a safer field. However, the horse had fallen or slipped into the drain and got stuck feet-first – something that Squance says was just lucky. If he had landed on his back, the situation might not have had a happy ending.
Fortunately, though, the horse recovered quite quickly, up on his feet only 15 minutes after being freed from the ditch. Squance reported that the horse was “up-and-about and eating but definitely quite sore.” He was monitored by a vet for 48 hours after the incident, and, as far as anybody knows, he is now safe and sound.