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18 January 2011, 15:13
Crowborough firefighters have been praised for winching a heavyweight horse to safety, after it was in danger of drowning in a river.
Animal Sanctuary Happy Endings has thanked East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service when they came to the rescue of Birdy, after he slipped and fell into the River Darenth, near Sevenoaks.
Crews came to the rescue as Birdy who was struggling to keep her head above water. Both sanctuary staff and a vet battled in vain to pull her free and she was eventually winched to safety by the specialist animal rescue unit from ESFRS.
Chris Johns, co-founder of Happy Endings Animal Rescue Sanctuary, said: "It was an absolute nightmare. Poor Birdy had fallen into the river and the banks were really steep so she couldn't get out by herself.
"She was laying on her side in the water and was so cold and exhausted that she was struggling to keep her head out of the river.
"I got into the water and it was freezing cold and up to my waist. I was trying to hold her head out of the water so she didn't drown."
Four firefighters from the East Sussex Animal Rescue team from Crowborough worked alongside five members of a fire service water rescue unit from Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
A vet was sent to the scene and sedated terrified Birdy while firefighters secured straps around her and used a specialist Unimog 4 X 4 to crane her out of the water.
Chris added: "She is such a heavy horse there was no way we could have got her out. The firefighters were absolutely incredible, we can't thank them enough.
"They saved Birdy's life. Without them she would have drowned or we would have had to have her put down in the water."
Soaking wet Birdy was carefully lifted out of the water and back into her field where she was checked over by a vet and rubbed down on January 8th.
The firefighters then used the crane for a second time to winch the heavyweight horse back onto all four feet and she was taken into a stable where she was covered in lots of rugs to help her warm up.
Crew Manager of the animal rescue unit, Graham Wilton, said: "We secured straps around her and were able to carefully crane her out of the river and onto the ground. Using every available coat and piece of sacking we rubbed her, to warm up her legs and then carefully lifted the horse up on her feet.
"The water wasn't too deep but the horse was lying on her side and couldn't get up. The quick actions of the firefighters from Tunbridge Wells, lifting her head out of the water probably saved her life."
Graham said the unit has about 100 call-outs a year: "We rescue anything from the small Shetland up to quite large Shire horses. Birdy was one of the biggest horses we have helped.
"We understand these animals are part of the family for most people and we do our best to save them. Luckily we have quite a few happy endings."