In 2006, Netherlands’ greatest horse rescue took place after discouraged rescue teams placed an urgent plea for help on a Friesian horse forum.
A massive storm had lifted the sea water by as much as 13 feet above normal, pushing the water into a wilderness area outside of Marrum.
Although the wilderness area is part of a Nature Reserve, local farmers allow their animals to graze there freely during the summer months. But one horse owner neglected to heed the October deadline of removing animals from the reserve, as well as the severe storm warnings.
When the storm hit during the night, his herd of about 100 horses suddenly found themselves trapped on a small “island” of raised ground, surrounded by high sea water. You might also enjoy reading When animal romantics play havoc on humans.
Days of failed horse rescue attempts
Marrum’s fire department began floating and ferrying horses and the smallest foals with the help of the Dutch Army. Despite their efforts, they were only able to rescue 20 horses before the water started to recede after 3 days.
Throughout the days, during which the horses were trapped, rescue workers supplied the horses with fresh drinking water and hay to keep up their strength.
When the water started to recede, the water levels sank to less than 3 feet deep across most of the flooded fields, and up to 6 feet in the pits that crisscrossed with drainage channels. The lower water level forced the Army to abandon the horse rescue efforts, because their pontoon boats became stranded in the mud.
The rescuers tried their best to move the horses, but every further attempt failed. The horses did not want to risk leaving their little “island”. The use of helicopters was too risky, as it would’ve spooked the horses. 19 horses had already died from drowning or exposure to the wet and icy wind. The rescuers realized they needed outside help.
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Ladies on horse back to the rescue
Quickly one of the rescuers placed a call for help in the Friesian Horse forum. It read “Horses and riders sought…. Only experienced riders with horses without fear of water.” 6 women responded and met the next day to take part in the horse rescue.
The plan was to send the group of riders to the trapped herd and let herd instinct take over, with hopefully the herd following the rider’s horses to safety.
The drainage channels, as well as submerged barb-wire fences were hard to see. Firefighters had to set up an escape route for the horses to be able to move through the water without getting caught up in the fences.
Then it was time to begin with the great horse rescue. The women rode out to the herd where 4 of the women took the lead to guide the herd. Thankfully it worked, and about 100 horses took the journey of about 650 yards to safe ground. In some areas the horses were forced to swim, especially the much smaller foals. As they neared the edge of the water the herd broke into a gallop. It was almost like they were relieved to feel solid ground again.
It went almost perfect, except for one horse was too weak to follow the others. Rescue workers had to lead the horse on foot with an additional rope behind its hind quarters to encourage it to walk. As soon as they reached the shore, the horse collapsed from exhaustion. They immediately covered it with blankets and the present veterinarians attended to it.
They took the horse to a warm stall were it made a full recovery. It turned out that it was just exhausted. But several of the horses, rescued earlier by boats, contracted lung infections and needed to be treated.
Watch the video of the rescue
In this video you can watch the great horse rescue. The video says 200 horses and 7 women. Those numbers are incorrect. All reports I found state the numbers to be closer to 100 horses. 6 women answered the call for the horse rescue. Nevertheless, the video shows the entire rescue on horseback.
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