A racehorse who jumped into a river during a point-to-point had to be lifted to safety by the fire service in a dramatic three-hour rescue.
All Star Vinnie, an eight-year-old ridden by Joe Anderson and co-owned by Callum Bickers-Price, fell at the second fence during a race at the Teme Valley Hunt and United Pack meeting at Brampton Bryan last Saturday (7 April).
After briefly following the field, the chestnut gelding veered off the back straight and headed towards the river, which he then tried to jump.
“I said to my Dad ‘I’ll catch him when comes back round towards the lorry park,” said Callum, who was watching. “Then someone said: ‘Are you Callum? Your horse has fallen in the river.’
“I said ‘you’re joking!” He’d tried to jump it, landed halfway and then swum down the river to the weir.”
One of the event’s horse catchers Jack Cundy had boldly leapt into the water to prevent the horse from plummeting over the 12ft drop.
“He absolutely deserves a mention,” said Callum. “He swam across a bank-high river to catch Vinnie so he wouldn’t turn round as he could have easily slipped off the weir, which would probably have killed him.
“He was there for 10 to 15 mins with him before I got there and got in and moved Vinnie’s tail round so he had a bit of room to step back without going over.”
The course’s attending vet sedated Vinnie, a yard favourite who Callum has owned for two years, and the fire service was called.
“We were all stood waist-deep in cold water and the fire brigade said the only way we could get him out would be to lift him. They were going to try and send in a boat to swim him out but although he’d been as good as gold, he can panic over little things and we thought it would be too risky.”
Despite the arrival of chainsaws and a boat crew from Gloucestershire — which were supervising in case any of the rescue team fell in —Vinnie remained calm and quiet throughout more than two hours trapped in the water.
When the harness was attached and the machinery began to hoist him out, however, there was a heart-stopping moment.
“He just went nuts,” said Callum. “He started thrashing about and then the back straps of the harness broke but he’d managed to get his front feet on the bank and was able to get himself out.
“He cut his legs to bits on the wall of the bank and he kicked me square between the eyes in the process — luckily I had a helmet on as the force sent me flying back into the river.”
Once he was on dry and land the harness was removed, Vinnie acknowledged the efforts of the 18-strong rescue crew, as well as some 100 onlookers who had gathered on the bank.
“Everyone applauded and he stood there, I walked him ten steps away and he just stopped dead — I thought he was in pain at first,” said Callum.
“But then he turned around and whinnied, almost to say thanks.”
Callum — who had needed help to get out of the river himself after hours in the freezing water — walked the horse almost two miles back to the lorry park where he was initially thought to have escaped major injury.
But his condition deteriorated the next day, and vets suspect he has fractured his pelvis in three places.
“They say he should recover in time but he won’t race again — he’s lost his confidence over fences but he owes me nothing,” said Callum.
“He’s improved a bit over the past few days and been out for a pick of grass. I’m just happy to have a horse back — I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people.”
It was not the first comeback from near-catastrophe for Vinnie, who was originally bought at Doncaster sales by amateur jockey Callum’s former boss Tom Lacey.
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Having raced once, he broke down, had 18 months off and was nursed back to fitness by Callum, who has run him twice since.
He also had a “miracle” escape when he got loose from the yard and galloped on to the nearby A49.
“God knows how he didn’t get hit,” said Callum. “When we finally had him cornered in a gateway he turned on three strides and jumped a five-bar gate!”
While the horse’s talents are evident, a racing career has not been for him.
“He’s disappointed me a lot — he’s the best work horse I’ve ever sat on, he’s an absolute machine and he’s really got gears but under Rules he just doesn’t want to perform,” added Callum.
“I think hunting will probably be the right job for him. He’s got lovely paces and is light on his feet and well put together — he’s also so mild-mannered. I would challenge anyone of any age or ability to take him up the gallops and get a pull out of him, at home nothing fazes him at all.”
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