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‘I thought it would be a miracle if she got out alive’: stuck mare rescued from muck heap

A horse owner has praised the efforts of firefighters who worked for more than two and a half hours to rescue her mare when she became stuck on top of a muck heap.

Retired cob Gemma had inexplicably broken through electric fencing to scale the large and well-rotted pile of muck, which has been there since before owner Natalie Bucklar moved into her farm in Axmouth, Devon 18 months ago.

Natalie said she noticed the 15-year-old mare was missing early on Tuesday evening (2 June) and then “heard a whicker”. During a search, she found her cast round the other side of the heap.

“You might expect it of one of the others but not her, she normally minds her own business and is quiet as a mouse,” said Natalie. “I can only imagine that one of her friends bullied her as she had no food motivation to climb it.”

Natalie said that although the former riding school pony was cast when she was found she had managed to flip her over with the help of her partner. Gemma was still sunk too deep to escape, so they called the vet straight away.

After an assessment by vet Tessa Porter from Summerleaze Vets, it was decided the best option for Gemma would be to call Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service for help. They were able to send a specialist animal rescue unit from Exmouth as well as supporting crew.

“They were brilliant and sent a couple of local crew out to assess the situation, before a lot more crew arrived in stages,” Natalie said. “They called for a telehandler, as the best-case scenario was to lift her out as she was right in the middle of the heap.

“The telehandler was at the furthermost point of its reach getting to her — the next option would have been to drag her out, which none of us wanted to do.”

Natalie said she was not worried that Gemma was hurt as the surface was so soft but she was concerned about her suffering from heat and exhaustion.

“We didn’t know how long she’d been there before we found her and we were worried about the weight on her guts from being cast — there were some points when I thought that if she got out of it alive it would be a miracle,” she said.

After sedation and co-ordination between Tessa and the crew, Gemma was safely lifted from the muck heap, over a fence and into a paddock, where the lifting straps were swiftly removed using quick release so she did not panic.

“They really knew what they were doing and you couldn’t fault their professionalism,” Natalie said. “Tessa has also had previous experience in animal rescue and she was amazing — she made everything so much less worrying as she is so calm and controlled and great with the horses. I had every confidence in her.”

Much to Natalie’s relief, Gemma was up on her feet and grazing “within 10 seconds” of being freed.

“She was obviously dirty but there wasn’t a scratch on her,” she said. “I had kept it together while they were getting her out but when she started eating that was it, the tears started!

“We were so very, very lucky to have the fire service to get her out.”

A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue said an appliance from Seaton and specialist rescue crews from Exmouth had been immediately mobilised by fire control after they received Natalie’s call.

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“On arrival, the incident commander confirmed that one horse was trapped in mud and while specialist rescue teams were en-route, the crews got to work to make the scene safe. A telehandler from service headquarters in Exeter was also sent to assist with the rescue,” the spokesman said.

“The horse was eventually rescued using specialist rescue equipment and a telehandler and was left in the care of its owner and the vet.”

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