A shivering and shaken horse was pulled free from a creek after being stuck for hours yesterday.
A watching crowd cheered and clapped when Sweet Pea, a mare aged about 14, was finally rescued by a digger.
Owner Helen Wilkin said she arrived to check on her horses in a paddock at Whaler's Gate, New Plymouth, yesterday morning shortly after Sweet Pea had been discovered in the drink by a passing rider.
"It's one of your worst nightmares," she said.
Again and again the horse tried to scramble up the bank, which had collapsed around her, but each time she lost her footing and fell back into the water.
The horses had been in the area with the creek for two years but had never been near it, she said.
Firefighters were waist deep in the water for almost three hours, trying to free the horse.
Not only were they digging with shovels and scooping away mud with their hands, but the firemen tried to hoist the horse out using a winch and strops.
Senior station officer Nick Burke said it had been a difficult rescue.
"We were fortunate a contractor, Earthworks, offered their bobcat. Without it, we would've been a bit stuffed."
Burke was concerned the arrival of the digger would spook Sweet Pea but she put up next to no resistance when she began to be lifted out of the water.
Digger driver Shane Adamson said a policeman friend of his had been at the scene and had phoned him to ask if he could help.
"It was lucky we had a transport free so we chucked it on and came down. You have to help people out sometimes."
Eleanor Moorhead, a Riding for the Disabled volunteer, said a woman had been riding her horse down the road nearby when she spotted Sweet Pea and sought help.
"We've brought some hay and shovels and a cover," she said.
At times during Sweet Pea's ordeal the horse looked tired and distressed. Both Sweet Pea and her paddock-mate, Missy, who was watching nearby, neighed and whinnied at each other.
New Plymouth Vet Group vet Sarah Goulter had to sedate Sweet Pea to keep her calm during the rescue but said she should make a full recovery.
"She's got no open wounds and her lungs are clear, which is good."
Sweet Pea was prescribed a round of painkillers and antibiotics to make sure she did not develop any infection.
- © Fairfax NZ News