by Fran Jurga | 23 March 2010 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
One horse trapped in the muddy river turned into two when an amorous stallion realized that a mare was wallowing in the river. The rescuers had to haul him out of the river, too.
The official report reads routinely enough: "At 08:54 on Saturday 13 March 2010 Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was alerted to attend a call to a horse in the River Avon at Fordingbridge. Control operators mobilized one fire appliance and a Land Rover from Fordingbridge Fire Station, one fire appliance and the multi-role vehicle from Eastleigh, and Animal Rescue Specialist Buster Brown to the scene."
Of course, I had to stop right there. "Buster Brown"? The famous American cartoon character might not have had a British audience. Some fellow's name really could be Buster Brown...or is this an early April Fool's?
They're not playing tug o' war, they're pulling the mare to shore and up the river bank.
As it turns out, Buster Brown is a trained animal rescue expert with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in England. They are known throughout the world for their expertise in extricating animals from all sorts of dicey situations and locations. But I wonder if they have ever had a story to tell like this one!
According to the next section of the report, on arrival, the crews secured the river bank. The firefighters dressed in their dry suits in preparation for the job ahead of them, which was to help a horse mired in the muddy, still water. Specialist Brown sized up the situation and formulated a plan of action to rescue the horse. But whilst in discussion with the officer in charge of the incident, Brown heard a splash.
He said, "Another horse had joined its companion in the river so we were now confronted with a mare and an amorous stallion in the water." A stallion had appeared on the scene, perhaps sensed that the mare trapped in the mud was in season, and decided to take advantage of the situation, as the rescue crew and firefighters stood helplessly on the bank.
Within a minute or two, the crews had two horses to rescue instead of one.
Brown reported that the crews recovered the mare from the river by gently placing five-meter straps around her body and, using a sideways drag method, were able to pull her out of the river.
The rescuers figured that if they could get the mare out of the river, the lovestruck stallion would at least try to follow.
Buster continued, "This still left the stallion to recover. Fortunately, he wasn't too pleased being the only one left in the water so after some lengthy coaxing we were able to gain head restraint by floating a line in the river beyond the horse. We pulled it up behind its rear, so as to get the horse to walk closer towards the bank to enable head restraint being completed.
"Once this was done, by using techniques gained from water rescue training, crews were able to entice the stallion to the bank and out of the river by using the mare to entice him out of the river.
"We walked her along the bank which made the stallion basically self rescue out of the river by following the mare. Using a little head restraint both horses were then handed over to the owner who took them to a secure field. Both were uninjured, if a little cold."
How's that for British understatement of what must have been a Monty Python moment there on the banks of the River Avon?
The rescuers had hardly recovered (or stopped laughing) from the river scene when they were called to help a pony in distress. The little bay Molly was trying to scratch herself in stereo by standing between two trees. Except she soon became stuck. Very stuck.
Notice that this pony's hind end is stuck between these two trees. She was just having a good scratch...
When the Hampshire crew arrived and saw Molly's predicament, they acknowledged that the owners had done the right thing to keep Molly calm while they waited. They summoned a vet to sedate Molly, then used a winch to pry the trees far enough apart to free Molly's hind end, and she walked out.
The rescuers noted in their report, again with typical understatement, that the vet figured that as long as he was there and the pony was sedated, she may as well have some dental work done. She was scheduled to have it done soon, anyway.
On the serious side of things, the Hampshire Fire and Rescue unit is a group of heroes if there ever was one. The larger force includes a dedicated team of four animal specialists who all come from farm and equine backgrounds and know their way around horses, farms, and the tools needed to get the jobs done. If they had a fan club, I'd be the first to join. Most of their rescues are not as mildly amusing as the ones I chronicled here. Most are not amusing at all, but situations where the rescuers risk their own lives to save a horse's.
I do think they should write a book to chronicle their rescues and the equine lives they have saved. It would be a great read and a great tribute to their quick thinking and coolness under pressure. The rest of us might learn a lot, too.