Stricken horse sparks rescue drama on Holy Island mudflats
An RAF helicopter airlifted a horse to safety after it became stuck in mud near Holy Island causeway on Saturday.
In a dramatic three-hour operation, a Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer, firefighters, coastguards with specialist mud equipment, two Seahouses lifeboats, local farmers, the RSPCA and a local vet battled against the rising tide to save the animal.
The horse was one of two stuck on the mudflats about half a mile from the causeway, near Fenwick on the mainland side of the sands.
Seahouses inshore lifeboat was called out at just after 3pm to act as a safety boat as local coastguards attempted to free the horses. Four fire engines also rushed to assist.
An ambulance crew had also made their way to the scene as one of the horse riders had suffered pelvic injuries, although these were not thought to be serious, after being thrown from one of the horses.
After more than an hour, one of the horses was freed from the mud, but the other was still firmly stuck, with the tide rising ever higher.
The all-weather lifeboat from Seahouses, with additional crew, was also called in to help the rescue efforts, as two of the inshore crew members were already in the water with the horse, trying to keep the distressed animal as calm as possible. Rennie Gresham, from RentonSwan Vets, also arrived at about the same time.
The Sea King helicopter from RAF Boulmer was diverted from another incident to help the rescuers, and was flagged down by Mr Gresham to take him to the horse, as he was unable to wade through the rising tide and soft mud without damaging medicine and equipment, or reach the horse in time.
Mr Gresham was taken on-board the helicopter and heavy lifting equipment was attached to enable the horse to be lifted, as the specialist animal sling was unavailable, before the chopper flew to the scene and hovered overhead.
The horse, not without difficulty, was hooked into the harness as lifeboat crew members tried to keep its head above the rising tide. However, the first attempt to raise the animal from the mud failed, with the horse slipping out of the lifting equipment just as it was being winched upwards.
After the failed attempt, Mr Gresham was winched down from the helicopter to the horse, to administer a sedative intravenously, to ensure the horse did not move once in the air. While there, he and the other rescuers rearranged the lifting gear and created a makeshift head collar with rope to try to make sure the horse did not slip out of the harness again.
Three hours after the drama began, the helicopter, thanks to great skill from its crew, was able to lift the horse from the flooding mudflats, landing it in a nearby field.
Mr Gresham, was then picked up by the helicopter from the inshore lifeboat and dropped in the field to treat the horse for shock.
Mr Gresham told the Advertiser: "It was the last attempt, as once he was sedated he couldn't keep his head up."
He added: "If they dropped it a second time they wouldn't have got a third attempt. As it worked out, without the sedation the horse would have died."
Mr Gresham praised the rescuers involved, in what was a first for most of those there.
He said: "The Boulmer team were extremely professional, and so were the lifeboat guys, and the guys that rescued the first horse did a sterling job.
Seahouses lifeboat operations manager, Ian Clayton, also applauded those involved. He said: "I would like to pay tribute to the Holy Island coastguards, and those lifeboat crew personnel from Seahouses who were in the water, supporting this poor animal.
"The RAF helicopter did an absolutely superb and professional job, a first for them I believe, made even better by a very successful conclusion, and without their assistance, this poor animal would have certainly perished in the fast rising tide.
"Everyone at Seahouses lifeboat station was thrilled by the successful result!"
Mr Gresham said that he had spoken to the owners the following morning and was pleased to hear the horse was safely back home with only minor cuts and bruises to show from the incident.
The owners, from Hawick, were staying nearby at Beal and had ridden across to Holy Island and were returning when one of the horses threw its rider and bolted onto the sands, before it became stuck.
In attempting to rescue it, it is believed that the other horse also became trapped in the soft mud, prompting the mass rescue efforts.
See more on Maritime Patrol and Search and Rescue.
Horse rescue picture Steve Miller and article both from the Berwick Advertiser.