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An eight-year-old thoroughbred gelding stuck in a narrow drainage ditch has been freed in a major operation which required a huge quantity of soil to be delicately removed.
Digger operator Scott Stratton worked for four hours carefully removing soil, during which specialist personnel monitored the sides of the ditch to ensure they did not collapse on the animal.
The manager of the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team, Hayley Squance, said it was one of the most challenging and complex rescues the volunteer squad had faced since it was formed six years ago.
The horse fell in the ditch on a lifestyle block north of Levin on Monday night. He was discovered soon after daybreak on Tuesday hopelessly pinned in the ditch, which was about 2 metres deep and only 80 centimetres wide.
Squance, who is the programme director for the university’s Bachelor of Veterinary Technology degree, said the animal was squeezed into the muddy ditch, with the pressure from the sides compromising his breathing.
The owners called in veterinarian Richard Munn, from Levin and Horowhenua Vets, who quickly realised he would need assistance to help the horse, who is used for hacking and eventing.
He was familiar with the university’s Veterinary Emergency Response Team, which has 12 deployable members, including two vets, two veterinary technicians, and two members who are also in the human rescue team.
The team had assembled by 9am, and were joined by Levin rural firefighters and the Palmerston North Urban Search and Rescue Team, by which time the challenges and complexity of the rescue had become all too apparent.
Squance said the confined space meant there was no way of getting equipment on to the horse to enable a safe lift.
It was decided to use a digger. A neighbour with a small digger began work, but it was quickly apparently that it wasn’t going to be able to do the job.
It was then that Graeme Bagrie Contracts Ltd were called, resulting in Stratton and a 12-tonne digger diverting from another job to begin the delicate on-and-off digging operation that lasted about four hours.
Squance said the digger stopped often to enable the urban rescue personnel to assess the ditch walls to ensure they were not at risk of collapsing on the horse, who had been sedated by that time.
Once the digging was completed, strops were placed on the horse for a limited vertical lift, for which the horse was given a general anaesthetic.
Squance said the lift was conducted carefully to ensure the tight suction of the mud was gradually eased and to keep the strain on the horse’s body at the lifting points within reasonable limits.
The rescue team also had to be sure the horse’s head stayed in a position where he was able to breathe.
He was pulled out about two metres and placed on a rescue glide, which allowed old-fashioned manpower to be used to pull him into an adjoining paddock.
He was on his feet in about 15 minutes. The vets gave him intravenous fluids and checked him over. No bones were broken.
Squance said it was not unusual for horses in such circumstances to be hypothermic, but he wasn’t cold.
He was given drugs to help his recovery and is being carefully monitored in the critical 48 hours following rescue.
You can finding the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team on Facebook here.