Earlier this week, a group of Surrey firefighters joined an RSPCA animal collection officer, to receive commendations for helping save a horse that had fallen in to a swollen river on Christmas Day.

Officers from Blue Watch at Painshill fire station and a retained crew from Cranleigh fire stationwere called on 25 December last year to help rescue a polo pony mare, from the Wey and Arun Junction canal downstream from a bridge at Elmbridge Road, Cranleigh.

“When I arrived the horse was extremely frightened and struggling to stay on its feet in around 4ft of fast flowing river water,” said Peter Stonebanks, Woking station commander. “The river is about 25-30ft across and had been swollen by heavy rain.

“We believe the horse probably fell into the river around 1mile upstream and had swept along by the current until the water became shallow enough for it to stand.

“Tom Evans, of Painshill Blue Watch, went in to the river wearing a dry suit and waded across to put a halter on the horse. The water was extremely cold and fast flowing. When Tom tried to move the mare towards the bank, she collapsed and went under. He managed to hold the horse’s head above the water and got her over to the bank quickly which prevented her from drowning.

“The river was about 2ft lower than the bank, so we couldn’t just drag her out. By this time she was showing little signs of life — her eyes were closed and she had completely collapsed.

“Four hours after we were first called, we finally managed to get her out of the icy water with help from a local farmer’s tractor and fork lift attachment. As soon as she was on dry land the vet got to work in trying to revive her, but we didn’t hold out much hope for her.

“It was a fantastic sight when the vet managed to get the horse get back on her feet 30 minutes later. It made missing Christmas dinner worthwhile!”

RSPCA animal collection officer Dave Ellis, who also received an award for his part in the rescue, praised the efforts of everyone involved: “As well as the fire crews and the vets, the landowner, his family and friends played a vital role in this rescue. They got the tractor that finally got the horse out of the river and found blankets and bedding from their house to help bring the horse’s temperature back up to normal. “

RSPCA chief inspector for Surrey, Dave Fox, said: “The entire rescue team pulled together in very testing conditions to save this horse and we felt the individuals concerned should be recognised for their fantastic efforts.

“Everyone was out in the cold and rain determined to do what they could to help, when they could have been inside enjoying their Christmas celebrations. It is a testament to everyone concernedthat the horse pulled through after spending so long in the water.”

The non-service rescuers who took part in the rescue will also receive RSPCA awards in the next few weeks.