Eleven officers from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue and an RSPCA inspector received RSPCA Certificates of Commendation on Wednesday (30 March) for their heroic rescue of a horse from a frozen lake on Christmas Day 2010.

Officers spent more than two hours painstakingly chipping away the ice with an axe in order to pull thoroughbred mare “Ghillie” out of the frozen water at Patshull Park Hotel Golf and County Club in Pattingham, Shropshire.

The specialist water rescue team, a water officer, a fire engine and the rescue tender appliance from Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stafford Fire Stations arrived to find only the horse’s head and neck visible above the ice.

Ghillie was paddling in the water and was out of her depth. It is believed she fell into the frozen lake when the ice gave way and it refroze around her.

Had it not been for Melanie Brown from Sedgley, who was out enjoying a crisp Christmas morning stroll, alerting the emergency services, eight-year-old Ghillie would almost certainly have drowned.

The firefighters put inflated walkways around the horse and started breaking the ice.

When pulled from the freezing water, Ghillie’s condition was critical.

RSPCA Inspector Jackie Hickman assisted Ghillie’s owner, equine vet Sue Taylor, with emergency first aid removing excess water from the horse using straw and rugs, warming her up by providing heat from a gas fire heater.

Ms Hickman said: “The firefighters worked extremely hard in sub zero temperatures to save Ghillie’s life. Even though they were very cold and tired, not once did they complain as they had a genuine interest in the horse’s welfare.

“The officers worked tirelessly in the interest of animal welfare when most people were at home tucking into Christmas dinner. It was really rewarding for me to work with such a compassionate and dedicated crew.”

Fire station manager, Mick Daniels said: “The rescue of a horse is always difficult as even the most placid horse can be very dangerous when panicked or stressed.

“We are all very pleased we managed to save the horse, it was a fantastic team effort, and I think most of us were home in time to enjoy Christmas pudding!”

Miss Taylor added: “Ghillie has always been a nosey and adventurous horse but this time it was very nearly the end of her!

“But she escaped relatively unscathed except for a wound on her leg and a burn on her neck.

“I cannot thank the fire and rescue officers enough and Melanie [Brown] for alerting them.”

Awards were made to:

RSPCA inspector Jackie Hickman
David Cook — firefighter
Helen Green — firefighter
Simon Taylor — crew manager
Darren Jones — firefighter
Liam Hickey — watch manager
Paul Chapman — firefighter
Andrew Harvey — firefighter
Paul Radcliffe — crew manager
Matt Jenkinson —firefighter
Mick Daniels — station manager
Stan Cooper — station manager

For more up-to-date news, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (31 March, 2011)