Half an hour after the photograph above was taken, Molly the mare was fighting for her life.
Her owner Judy Fountain, of Bango, near Yass, had just taken Molly’s coat off so the former racehorse could be warmed by the sun after weeks of wet, gloomy weather.
Molly, who is 27, was in her favourite sunbaking spot, on an incline adjacent to a round yard – and near her best pony friend.
“I was looking out the kitchen window and saw Molly – she looked to be in a weird position,” Judy said. “Turns out she had fallen into the trench – upside down.
“She’s a big girl – she weighs 620kg – so she was completely wedged in. I don’t know how she did it. She always sunbakes in that spot but for some reason that day she fell in.
“There was no room to manoeuvre … she was wedged into the fence so the only way out was to drag her in a forward motion because she was in there so tightly.
“I really thought it was touch and go with her, I really didn’t know if she’d make it.”
Judy bought Molly about eight years ago when the family moved to Bango from Canberra so there’d be more room for their horses.
“When we moved here we had two mares, but one died only about five months after we came here. The other mare was so distressed I ended up getting Molly as a companion for her. She’d been well looked after in her retirement as a racehorse and had become a brood mare.”
Since then, and prior to last Monday when the accident happened, Molly has had the best of lives. She’s no longer ridden, just gets to live her retirement out in regularly rotated paddocks, complete with nightly carrot and apple. Or two.
But on Monday, according to Judy, the old girl nearly died.
“When I saw her in trouble I called my husband and daughter … we tried everything but nothing could move her,” she said.
“Then everything started going wrong and we got really worried. The cars got bogged, the winch attached to the ute to get her out snapped. I thought we were going to lose her.”
Yass vets came out, complete with a larger winch on their car, but it also couldn’t take Molly’s weight. Meanwhile, after observing Molly’s heart rate and difficulty breathing, they sedated her to reduce stress.
Throughout the trauma, Judy held Molly’s head, constantly talking to her, telling her everything would be okay.
“I told her help was coming … and I think it helped,” she said.
“She was breathing heavily and neighing, we were really worried. I had a towel over her eyes and cotton wool in her ears so she couldn’t hear the noise of the tractor trying to get her out.
“We could move her a little bit but not much,” Judy said. “So we decided to ring Yass Fire and Rescue. ”
About an hour after Molly’s fall, Judy said it felt like there was a “cast of thousands” on site to help – three from her family, two from Yass Veterinary and four from Yass Fire and Rescue.
When the firies arrived, Judy said, they quickly assessed the situation.
“They were so calm, just watching what we were doing and seeing what was working. The winch had moved her slightly but not enough.”
Acting Yass Fire Captain Nicholas Whiting said although animal rescues were more common than most people thought for firies, they were always challenging.
But such rescues usually involved cows, he said.
“We’ve rescued a cow from a dam, and a cow stuck in a fence – but I’d never rescued a horse before. ”
Captain Whiting, along with his colleagues Deputy Captain Mathew Carroll and firefighters Brooke Watson and Cameron Madden, the Fountain family and the Yass vets, worked as a team to save Molly. They looked at what had worked, what hadn’t – and improvised.
“When we arrived we had to judge the situation quickly,” Captain Whiting said.
“One way we do that is to look how the vets were acting. We quickly knew we had to get the horse up. Things can happen when horses are lying down for a long time. So that’s when we decided on the tarp.
“There is special animal rescue equipment but we didn’t have that with us and there was no time to get it.
“So we discussed as a team what would work best for her. When an animal is stressed, their welfare is the most important thing.”
The rescue team decided to use a tarpaulin wrapped around Molly’s rear end to move her – a move that Judy said clearly saved her horse’s life.
Captain Whiting said he remembers walking away from the rescue thinking, everything will be okay.
“We had a good debrief with the vets later on and that helped too when we heard she would recover.”
Judy said Molly was recovering well from the trauma, with extra apples and carrots now permanently on her menu.