Garth Dominy, NSRI Wilderness duty coxswain, said: “On Thursday, 21st March, at 18h10, our NSRI Wilderness volunteer rescue crew responded to reports of a horse (a 10 year old mare named Firefly) trapped on an island on the Hoogekraal River, near to Karatara, Wilderness.
“It was reported that the owner, Don Hartig, had attempted to rescue the horse from drowning in the river. In doing so the owners and a veterinary surgeon becoming marooned on a small island with the horse, which had collapsed from exhaustion.
“The horse had reportedly been missing for two days and Don 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.
“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 he sedated the horse. 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 crew responded towing our craft SERENDIPITY and DIE SWART TOBIE together with our swift water rescue kit and our night kit (which includes donated head lamps and torches).
“By coincidence one of our NSRI Wilderness volunteers, Dr. Torsten Henschell, is a retired vet and another volunteer, Jacques de Bruyn, is an ex SA Defense Force Equestrian Unit officer, so they formed part of the initial ‘recce’.
“We were accompanied by SA National Parks ranger, Jonathan Britten, who knows the area very well.
“The vet was ferried to the low water bridge as he had another emergency to attend to and Carien went with to arrange provisions to spent the night on the island.
“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 added a torch and additional emergency space blankets. 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.
UPDATE: “Don and Carien and Firefly, who has strengthened throughout the night, are well this morning. In the daylight a shallow 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.
UPDATE 2: “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.”