Horses walked into water to escape fire

OLIVIA CARVILLE AND MATT MARKHAM
Last updated 13:26 11/01/2013
Horses in Shands Rd

AT RISK: Horses in Shands Rd were perilously close to the burning scrub.

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Staff at a Canterbury horse trainer's property had to drive past burning fences and through thick smoke to rescue spooked horses from yesterday's blaze.

All 24 horses from Courtco Racing and staff were safely removed from the Robinsons Rd property yesterday.

Foreman Annabel Pilson said that when she saw oncoming flames she called ''everyone I knew'' in the area with a float to try to get the horses to safe land.

The smoke was so thick that Pilson could barely see a few metres in front of her as she scrambled to get the horses out of the barn.

Pilson drove the first load of horses off the property, past a burning gate post and fence.

When she returned to pick up the last four horses, police had cordoned off the street because the flames had engulfed the hedge along the property's driveway.

She was forced to wait outside for hours while staff inside protected the remaining horses. 

''It was pretty scary from where I was on the road watching the hedges on the front of our property go up in flames and knowing people were inside,'' she said.

Two of the horses were ''tucked away'' in a back paddock and the other two, including well-performed pacer Franco Emirate, were placed in the water walker.

A water walker is used to swim horses, many of which have issues with leg soreness, and takes the pressure of doing normal work off their legs.

"They were quite happy sitting in there. They probably had the best seat of the lot in a nice cool spot,'' Pilson said.

She believed the eight-hectare property was saved by the sand racing track.

''The fire was coming in from all angles and when it was running along the ground it was broken up by the tracks and wasn't getting much further than that,'' she said.

Courtco Racing owner Brian Court was in Australia for a funeral when he heard about the Prebbleton fire yesterday.

He boarded the first flight home and was escorted on to his charred property by police at 1am today.

He found he had lost only a few pine trees and about 2000 bales of hay in the fire.

''We could see that we had been extremely fortunate. Basically, our place would have been toast without the monsoon buckets, staff and friends. Without them we wouldn't have had anything,'' Court said.

There were some ''very valuable horses'' on his property at the time, including some Hong-Kong owned thoroughbreds and two standardbred pacers, Franco Emirate and Raglan, which were being held at Courtco Racing for specialised treatment in the water walker. 

His 24 horses were now ''spread all over the show'', but he would retrieve his stock today and hoped to be allowed back on his property this afternoon.

Prebbleton is a rich horse-racing area, with several leading Canterbury and New Zealand thoroughbred and harness racing trainers based there.

It also has two major breeding operations, the Nevele R Stud and Bromac Lodge.

Nevele R is New Zealand's largest standardbred stud, and despite early reports suggesting otherwise, it was confirmed last night that all of the horses on the property were unharmed in the fire.

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A barn used for storing firewood was reported to have been destroyed.

At Bromac Lodge, the reports were much the same, with staff and helpers working hard to get horses to safety.

Horse transport business Nationwide Transport was on hand immediately and assisted in relocating horses until they were unable to enter the police cordon.

- The Press

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