A rider whose horse was trapped in her horsebox for hours after it was tipped into a ditch by an over-hanging branch has praised the “simply incredible” emergency services and passers-by who came to her aid.

Mary Bannister, who lives near the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire border, was driving her horse Blue home from a two-day training camp last Friday when the branch caught the roof of her 3.5t lorry.

Mary told H&H the experience was “terrifying”.

“I was driving slowly, 30mph at most, and suddenly there was the most almighty bang,” she said.

“I had no control of the box. It went off the side of the road and started tipping over.

“Then we came to a halt, sideways in the ditch. I was suspended by my seatbelt and I could hear Blue thrashing about behind me.

“My lorry’s got a side ramp, and it was the ramp side in the ditch. My first thought was: ‘How am I going to get my horse out?’ It was terrifying.”

The driver’s door was stuck shut but passers-by climbed up to free Mary while her friend Lucy, who was driving her own horsebox just behind, arranged for the emergency services and a vet to be called.

“My priority was a vet as I knew my horse would need sedating,” Mary said. “It’s rear-facing but he somehow got himself turned round. But thank god, he was on the left-hand side.

“Had he been on the right, as he normally is, he’d have been trapped under the partition and been horribly stuck but as it was, he was just almost sitting there.

“He’s such a laid-back boy too; if he wasn’t, I don’t think he’d have walked out.”

The fire brigade, police and a specialist large animal rescue unit were soon on the scene.

“They were all absolutely amazing,” Mary said.

“They put straps across so they could winch the lorry up, then hydraulic lifts to get it to an angle so they could get into him. The whole thing took about three hours as it was such a dangerous situation; the vet wasn’t allowed in to sedate Blue until it was stable.

“The animal rescue team was simply incredible; I didn’t know these units existed and I can’t praise them enough.”

Eventually, the heavily sedated Blue was freed from the box and persuaded to his feet, after which Lucy volunteered to walk him the two miles back to his yard, as he was too unstable to be loaded into another lorry.

Once home, he was tubed and given antibiotics and painkillers and Mary’s livery yard owner Emilie checked him through the night for any signs of colic.

The 12-year-old Irish gelding suffered cut legs but appears to have escaped major injury and is sound, Mary added, although he will be checked for any possible hidden injuries.

“On Tuesday, two of the firefighters got in touch and came to see Blue,” she added.

“They genuinely cared about his welfare and wanted to see he was ok, which is pretty awesome.

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“They’re from Markyate station, which is having an open day on 26 May and the animal rescue unit is going to be there so we’re going to go and say thank you.

“We’re both so very lucky to have walked away. It was a very large branch, attached to a tree which then came down completely. If there had been a car behind us, or Lucy was closer, someone could have been seriously hurt.

“But mainly, I’m just overwhelmed and wanted to say thank you to everyone – and beware of trees!”

Watch commander Ben Russ, animal rescue team leader for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “During any large animal rescue operation, it is vital that prior to our arrival the animal’s owners, members of the public and bystanders try to remain calm in what can be a very distressing environment. In doing so they limit the risk to themselves and can reduce the likelihood of the animal becoming distressed which can have a negative impact on our rescue efforts.

“We would urge anyone caught up in a situation such as this not to place yourself in harm’s way by getting close to the animal as even the most calm and well-natured pets can become unpredictable in unfamiliar situations.”

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