Sunday's stressful rescue

Dr. Aoife Byrne is a veterinary surgeon based at Chapelfield Vets in Norfolk.

Dr. Aoife Byrne is a veterinary surgeon based at Chapelfield Vets in Norfolk.

XL Equine vet Dr. Aoife Byrne DrMedVet MRCVS describes a day on the road, where she helps rescue a horse in distress.

It's the Sunday of my weekend on call and so far I've been pretty busy. The usual emergencies like a spasmodic colic, a limb cellulitis and a stitch up have kept me occupied all day Saturday. I'm quietly hoping that my Sunday may be a little less hectic and then my pager goes off!

It's the fire brigade asking for veterinary assistance with a horse trapped in a waterway. This is not the first time I've had this type of call out.

Our practice territory covers the Norfolk Broads. For anyone who doesn't know, these are a vast area of interconnected rivers, lakes and marshland between mid Norfolk and the sea. They're a haven for wildlife and boating enthusiasts and the grasslands in between are used as summer grazing by farmers and horse owners.

But horses being curious creatures by nature, will explore these waterways in their attempt to gain drinking water. The problem is these are often man made drainage channels with steep banks - easy enough to go down into, but a lot more difficult to climb back out of!

This particular horse had more than likely gone in for a drink, but finding itself unable to clamber up the bank had instead decided to swim down stream until it became exhausted.

It then planted itself by a retaining wall waiting to be rescued! It's owner found him, but soon realised he would be unable to get him onto dry land single handedly. So he called the fire brigade who have a specialised crew trained for dealing with animal rescues. They presumed veterinary intervention would be required so called me.

I arrive at the scene to be greeted by five happy (and hunky!) firemen and one angry owner. He's annoyed because he's not entirely happy that he now has to pay a veterinary weekend emergency call out fee on top of the rescue fee. He assumed the crew would just winch his horse to safety without being sedated first by a vet!

Their rescue plan was to come alongside the horse in a boat with me on board. I would sedate the horse then they would apply specialist lifting straps and hoist him up the bank and onto dry land. But the owner was having none of this plan! He argued that the horse was well and able to swim so just needed directing up the river a bit to an area of the opposite bank where it was not steep and he could duly clamber out.

I warned the owner that the horse was already tired and swimming him against the current would be exhausting. But the owner was adamant that was the method he'd like to try first. The fire crew duly obliged, boarded their rubber dingy & approached the horse. They attached a very long rope to his head collar & started to coax him out into the river. He resisted at first, but with four very fit & strong firemen pulling on him, he soon realised resistance was futile & took the plunge.

He swam well with the crew helping him keep his head above the water & reached the opposite bank to a round of applause from onlookers & boaters who had gathered to watch the drama unfold.

The horse was tired & cold, but miraculously unhurt by his misadventure. Due to the owner's wishes my part in the drama was relatively minor meaning I was more a spectator than a vet, but this meant I was able to get some photos of the event – all part & parcel of another exciting weekend on call!