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Whenever someone is in distress in or on South African waters, the NSRI will lend a hand – even if the individual in question offers them a hoof in return.

When the recent heavy rainfall in Richtersveld caused the Orange River to overflow, the Port Nolloth duty crew were contacted about horses stranded on islands along the river.

“There are a couple of kids who own horses there, and then some adults. Cost-wise, it’s cheaper to have them grazing on the islands because there is always enough water and green grass,” Hugo Foot, NSRI Port Nolloth station commander, explains. “They are given ample warning when the river floods, but because the horses are semi-wild, it’s hard to catch them and move them in time.

“One of the owners, who is very good with his horses, had two or three grazing on the island,” Hugo recalls. “Someone had tied up the front legs of one of his horses to try and tame them. When the flooding happened, the horse was unable to escape. His owner asked us if we would come and help him untie the horse’s legs or the horse wouldn’t survive. The owner came on the boat with us, along with two of his friends.”

According to Hugo, this was the first horse rescue his team has been involved in. Dealing with a semi-wild animal, especially one as large as a horse, can be tricky as they are quite unpredictable. In addition to this, all of the horses along the river were skittish because of the stress of the rising waters.

“We struggled to get the horse because even with his legs tied, he managed to swim between the islands,” Hugo says. “Eventually, about eight or nine of us used a rope to corral two or three of the horses in and remove the rope from the one horse. They put bridles on the horses and tried to get them to dry land. However, they were already so hyped up from us trying to catch them that we decided to leave them on one of the bigger islands where they would be safe.”

Back in action

After about two days, the water had risen significantly and it became apparent that some of the horses were still in danger.

“Some of the horses had foals with them and they couldn’t get to the bigger islands. They had been standing in the water for quite some time,” Hugo says. “At first we said we couldn’t help, as it’s quite dangerous for our crew to get in the water in those conditions. With us using a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) it’s risky to get into water like that where we could end up with a puncture.

“Then Have A Heart contacted us and said Network For Animals was also involved, so I contacted SANParks and asked if we could borrow an aluminum boat that we had previously used for a rescue, so we could at least try to catch the fouls.”

It took about two hours for the team to fetch the aluminum boat, only to find that the motor wasn’t working when they returned. Hugo and his crew didn’t have the heart to leave the horses in danger, so they made the brave decision to put their RIB in the water and help the distressed animals.

“We decided to just take it slow and make sure everyone was safe. The crew ran and swam between the islands – they actually weren’t even on the boat the whole time. Most of the people here are diamond divers, so we are already doing a risky job for a living. We’re used to these crazy situations,” Hugo says with a laugh.

The team working to rescue the horses was made up of eight NSRI crew members, one person from Have A Heart, two from Network for Animals, and four members of the public from Namibia volunteered to come and help retrieve the animals. In the end, all of the horses and crew involved were brought back to safety.

Hugo urges owners of large animals like horses to be vigilant about their handling and training, especially if they are not being kept in enclosed areas.

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