"On Thursday, 21st March, at 18h10, our NSRI Wilderness volunteer sea rescue duty crew were activated following reports of a horse trapped on an island on the Hoogekraal River, near to Karatara, Wilderness.
"It was reported that the owner, during attempts to rescue the horse from drowning in the river, had resulted in the owners and a Veterinary Surgeon becoming marooned on a small island with the horse, which had collapsed from exhaustion, in fading light, steep cliffs on either side of the river and 1 kilometer upstream of the low water bridge.
"The horse had reportedly been missing for two days and the owner, Don Hartig, had found the horse earlier in the day (on Thursday) in deep water, battling to keep its head above water.
"It is suspected that the horse had wandered up river and then tried to swim to safety but had ended up in deep water with steep cliffs on either side of the river bank and struggling to stay afloat with nowhere to go.
"Don had paddled to the horse using a borrowed canoe and had tried desperately throughout Thursday to keep the horses head above water while trying to coax the horse to either swim down river to a safe landing or to climb onto a small island in the river.
"Eventually the horse managed to climb onto the small island but collapsed from exhaustion and stress although physically uninjured.
"Local Veterinary Surgeon, Dr. Rolf Lambrecht, of the Knysna Veterinary Clinic, had been summoned and Don had ferried the Vet to the island on the small canoe where the Vet then sedated the horse and they stayed with the horse while she regained her strength.
"Don's wife, Carien, had also been ferried to the island on the canoe to assist.
"With fading light they had become quite desperate to find a solution to get the horse to safety and concerned friends and neighbors had called NSRI Wilderness with a plea for help.
"Our NSRI Wilderness volunteer sea rescue duty crew responded towing our NSRI Sea Rescue craft SERENDIPITY and DIE SWART TOBIE together with our full-scale swift water rescue kit and our night kit (which includes donated head lamps and torches) and on arrival at the low water bridge we were well received by the concerned friends and neighbors and a briefing was held to determine the best course of action.
"It was decided to initially send in a reconnaissance team to investigate and our sea rescue craft were launched onto the river.
"By coincidence one of our NSRI Wilderness volunteers, Dr. Torsten Henschell, is a retired Veterinary Surgeon himself and another one of our NSRI Wilderness volunteers, Jacques de Bruyn, is an ex SA Defense Force Equestrian Unit officer, so it was obviously decided that they should be sent in on the initial 'recce'.
"We also had with us an SA National Parks ranger, the manager of Wilderness National Parks, Jonathan Britten, who knows the area very well to accompany us.
"On arrival on-scene, 1 kilometer upstream, at the small island which is overgrown with vegetation, we found the owners and the Vet in good spirits but exhausted and the horse, the 10 year old mare, Firefly, perched precariously close to the river, she remained collapsed but she appeared to be regaining her strength.
"After consulting with Don, Carien and the Vet, the decision was made to ferry Carien and the Vet to the low water bridge, in order to release the Vet who had to leave to attend to another emergency, and to allow Carien and our remaining sea rescue crew to put together a provisions pack so that the owners could consider staying on the island with the horse overnight.
"The risk and safety of the situation was carefully assessed, with the major concern revolving around the possibility of the horse getting up in the night, in a confined space, surrounded by deep water and with twopeople in close proximity. Fortunately for all, just then Firefly managed to get up, unassisted, and remained calm, with Don kindly speaking to her whilst holding her reins. This made the decision easier for them to rather remain there for the night.
"Carien put together a pack of provisions and blankets for the cold night ahead, for themselves and for the horse. Hay was packed and the NSRI crew carefully checked the pack, adding an NSRI torch and additional emergency space blankets, and the concerned friends and neighbors added flasks of hot coffee and rusks.
"The final trip by rescue boat, Serendipity, left Carien and Don with Firefly, who was now munching away happily and calmly at her hay. We made sure that their cellphone was charged and that they had all the required emergency phone numbers including the direct Sea Rescue emergency phone number on speed dial.
"Our NSRI volunteer sea rescue duty crew returned to base at 22h00.
"Don and Carien and Firefly, who has strengthened throughout the night, are well this morning. In the daylight ashallow sand bar adjacent to the island has been identified. Attempts are underway to walk Firefly through the less deep water, and then to cut a path through undergrowth to walk her up to the pass and to safety.
"NSRI Wilderness volunteer sea rescue duty crew remained on alert to assist if necessary and by 14h15, Friday, 22nd March, Don and Carien reported that they had safely walked Firefly out of her predicament and she was grazing safely at home."
Sea Rescue Communications