“He’s a big old boy and he just fell right through.”
– CERI PHILLIPS
Fire departments have been known to rescue cats stuck in a tree – but a horse trapped in a 25-foot deep well?
In the end, however, it was the tanker truck that saved the day.
The dramatic rescue story began when Ceri and Dewi Phillips were rounding up a handful of horses that they own on their farm near Birtle on Dec. 7.
To their horror, Dusty, a 19-year-old Percheron-paint cross gelding walked onto an old wooden well cover that was concealed by snow, and with a crash, the 1,700-pound animal plunged out of sight into the hole.
“They were just running around like silly horses do sometimes. The other three ran right by it. He’s the slower of the four. He stepped up onto it with his front feet and then his back feet cracked it,” said Ceri, 18. “He’s a big old boy and he just fell right through.”
When they rushed closer to see what had happened, they could see him treading in the icy waters about 10 feet below the surface.
Dewi rushed home to get the backhoe with the idea of somehow hoisting the horse out. Ceri and her mom Claire, fearing that the horse might get tired, tossed a lariat loop around Dusty’s neck just to keep his head up and out of the water and prevent him from drowning.
Within minutes, Ceri’s younger brother Owen was ready with the backhoe at the scene. A short while later, firefighters from the Birtle Fire Department arrived as did a local veterinarian.
The first priority was keeping the horse alive, so the firefighters decided to pump the five-foot diameter, wooden-cribbed well dry.
“He still had water up to his shoulders, but he was sitting flat on his butt. He wasn’t really freaking out; I think he was happy that he didn’t have to swim anymore,” said Ceri.
Despite the obvious choking risk, the vet assured the assembled rescuers that lifting the horse out by its neck with a rope was the better option, and a first attempt to hoist Dusty out was tried.
“I was a little nervous, thinking, ‘Oh, please don’t hurt him!’” recalled Ceri.
The first bid had to be aborted after it became clear that the backhoe’s boom wouldn’t be able to lift him high enough. The rope was then readjusted for a second try, but it still couldn’t go high enough to bring his hind legs clear of the hole.
After those setbacks, Dusty was quickly lowered back into the well to catch his breath while the rescuers discussed their alternatives.
Some suggested dumping rocks or straw bales down the well so that he could climb up on top and make his way out.
Ceri had a better idea.
“I was like, he was so close to the top before, why don’t we just pump the water back in?” she said.
Thousands of gallons of water on board the pumper trucks were then poured into the well, and the horse floated up to the surface. Another tug with the backhoe, and Dusty the horse was free.
“He stood up, and all the firemen kind of laughed because he just started eating grass,” said Ceri. “He’s a snacker. After that, I guess he was hungry.”
A blanket thrown over his back, “Dusty the Olympic swimmer” was trailered to recuperate from the experience in a makeshift stall at a nearby friend’s heated garage.
Apart from small cuts on a leg and nose, the horse has since made a full recovery.
“He was happy to see his friends when he got back home,” said Ceri. [email protected]