Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 25, 2013

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Horses caught by flooding rains.

River Rescue

by Aussie

The cold of the night would soon arrive. Heavy rain had been falling from late in the day, flooding low-lying areas - panic squeezed my heart; must get the horses to higher ground. Riding for the Disabled had just been granted land by the local council - land the council didn't want and it was on a flood plain.

Damn the council; they couldn't care less that our horses were grazing on that land and that volunteers that had erected round yards and a tack shed to hold all the special equipment that was needed to ride disabled members. Members who needed sheepskins, special saddles and halters for the 'bomb-proof' horses we used.
Horses are donated or saved from the knackers; some just on loan from owners happy to have their horses involved with RDA.

Three years had passed since I came out of hospital; I started my own riding school in the suburbs; quickly realizing - physically, this was too much for me to handle. Australia is a country of changing moods and we were in severe drought - Lucerne hay had to be hand delivered to my eight horses there is no goodness in the dead grass.

The feed bills were rising and the vet bills kept piling up; hired horses didn't seem popular where I set up my business. What to do?
I needed to make a decision about my eight horses - they wouldn't sell in the current climate. Horse owners were hand feeding and my lot weren't warm bloods or thoroughbreds.

"Sixty bucks a head," the dogger told me.
"No way, I'll find a home for them, I paid three hundred for each horse and you want to give me sixty dollars to turn them into dog food?"

I called Riding for the Disabled and they came out and inspected my bunch of mismatched, motley horses; from Raani a quarter draft horse, Chester the ex trotter, Lily - little child's pony, and two carriage horses named Bib and Bub; they were broken to saddle. Two left-at-the-post - ex racehorses called Tank and Fiddle and last but not least - Honey - my star mare that was ridden to death by a former so-called riding school who took advantage of her gentle and willing nature. She was so mal-nourished that I had an equine specialist look at her and put her on a special diet - only then did she start to pick up and her honey colored coat shone in the sun.

"Well, we do need horses to set up the new centre close by - three months trial and we'll see how they shape up," Jill Causy was the head coach and state controller of adopted horses. I liked her, she reminded me of the Princess Royal!
I owned a truck for transporting horses and carrying bales of hay when I needed to buy Lucerne.
One of the volunteers from RDA was able to truck my horses to the grounds where they would be put on a three months trial for use as RDA horses.

All of my horses passed muster and were being used every Wednesday and Saturday. At that time we were using the local Pony Club grounds until we had secured the council land given to us in the suburb of Morayfield. After six months of paper work and a grant from Sport and Recreation; we were underway with the Cartmill Centre - thus named after our Vet's brother who had died of cancer - during his time with us he spent every minute helping with buildings, railings, shed work and walking horses until he became too sick and he passed away thinking of his two disabled children.

Opening Day: The Lord Mayor came to cut the ribbon - declaring the Cartmill Centre officially open to the public. The horses were dressed up for the occasion - sausages sizzled and sandwiches and sticky buns were popular with the children. We had games for the horses to take part in; Honey was looking like a girl - her mane and tail were plaited and she had pink ribbons attached to her saddle. She was so perky and healthy, she seemed to know that she was loved and in turn, loved all that came to pat her.

Raani was pulling a small cart around, giving children rides; he had been a circus horse in his working days. Lily, dear little child's pony; enjoyed the smaller children feeding her pieces of bread - sure she put on weight that day. One small child tried in vain to stuff a hotdog in her mouth, much to his chagrin - Lily let her mouth hang open and the hotdog ended up on top of his curly head of hair; sauce included. The opening day was a wonderful success and the newspapers covered the event.

Light rain started to fall in the afternoon as we began the Endurance Ride to raise money for equipment. The idea was that each rider had to complete a circuit of the grounds, follow the trail through the forest and finish with barrel racing - of course this was for experienced riders like myself. The rain was coming down in sheets by three in the afternoon. I pulled on my Drizabone - oilskin coat and kept on riding, the longer we stayed in the saddle - The more money we raised.

Heavy thunder rolled around the ridges and the skies opened up - we decided to call it a day. All that took part in the Endurance Ride were awarded medals (I still treasure that medal) and I am a Life Member of RDA.
We unsaddled the horses and let them go to graze. All the workers and riders sat under cover around a log fire; sipping cups of tea and just trying to warm up. We jawed for ages, discussing how we would handle the various schools that had applied to ride with the centre. Riding is a dangerous sport, even the best of riders can come a cropper - horses are beautiful but they are unpredictable too.

Around four in the afternoon, tired from riding and the excitement of Opening Day, I set off for home, watching heavy clouds roll in.
That was Saturday and the rain kept on coming down. There was no way we would be riding on the approaching Wednesday. By nine that night I was on the phone to the committee - worried about the flooding and getting our horses out of the grounds. All the members agreed with me and after contacting the SES and asking members to bring ropes and any spare halters; we set off for the Cartmill Centre twenty minutes from home.

The gutters were overflowing and my anxiety levels were rising with the waters. So many thoughts were racing through my mind, please let the rail bridge be open to road traffic.
As we pulled into the Morayfield Railway station, my worst fears were realized. The land that the horses were on was just like a bowl catching the water as it flowed over the rail line - from where I was standing, one hundred metres away from the horses; they were up to their chests in muddy water. Little Lily rested her head on Honey's back; some support for the little one who would have been treading water by that time - she was only twelve hands high, almost a miniature horse.

At least fifty volunteers from our group came, SES volunteers and Police Rescue as well as Geoff Cartmill - our vet.
"Geoff, I didn't expect you to be here?" I wiped the water from my face.
"Night off - thought I might be able to help with a stranded horse," he smiled at me but his eyes showed a different story.

Sergeant Adams came over to our group and asked what he and his men could do to help.
"Have you got any good swimmers?" I smiled at him.
"The best, only what do you want us to do?" Adams replied.
Geoff took charge of the river rescue; "need a strong swimmer to swim the horses out on to higher ground - any of your men know how to handle frightened horses?" Geoff quizzed.

"Woods, get over here son - you're a horseman aren't you?" Adams beckoned to the young constable.
"Yes, I have my own stable at home, what do you need, sir?"
"I need you to swim out to the...which Horse is it again?" He looked at Geoff.
"I think they will follow the mare - Honey, the dun colored mare."
"She's quiet and I think you are right, Geoff," I nodded at constable Woods.

By ten that night the SES had floodlights set up and swimmers ready. Roped around the waist the young constable waded into the swiftly flowing waters and soon he was swimming against the current that threatened to wash him away from the horses. He was a strong swimmer and I knew he would make it. Next, Geoff loaded a syringe and put it safely into his waterproof jacket.

"Just in case we can't calm one of them down," Geoff had decided to go with the next swimmer; hand over hand and following the rope that Woods had attached to the submerged wire fence just below the rail line.

The horses were swimming around in circles - the young constable had calmed Honey down enough to hold on to her halter, treading water, both man and mare made slow progress towards where we stood on dry land. Raani - of all the eight horses, was in panic mode - Geoff whacked a sedative in Raani's rump and held on to his halter. Ten minutes we held our breath, waiting to see if he would go quietly with Geoff. The injection did it's work and Raani started to swim towards Honey - the six other horses followed.

Lily was in trouble; she was a child's pony and tiny in stature. She kept throwing her little head above the water and snorting wildly.
"She's in trouble, she's drowning," Geoff filled another syringe and plunged back into the fast waters. Honey was shivering and shaking and we calmed her and the rest of the horses; rubbed them down and covered them with warm coats. Horse floats were parked close by ready to transport them to private homes.

"I'll do it sir, you're exhausted and I'm... Well..." Woods smiled sheepishly.
"Younger?" Smiled Geoff.
"I'll go with you, constable, just in case it doesn't work."

Both men struggled to reach little Lily who was white-eyed and fighting hard to follow the path to freedom.

"Now, now, calm down girl," both men swam either side of her, Geoff held her head and whispered sweet nothings in her ear.

After what seemed an eternity, the men coaxed Lily on to dry land. She was in shock and finally her legs crumpled beneath her and she went down.

"Belly band, men, now!" Geoff realized if they didn't get her up she could get worse.
The SES men struggled to place a belly band around her and hook it up to the tractor.
"Ready? Now lift her slowly until she can feel the ground under her hooves." Geoff spoke strongly to the men as he stroked Lily's tiny head.

The other rescued horses were loaded into the waiting horse floats and people drove very slowly with them in the poor visibility.

The tractor lowered Lily till she felt the ground under her hooves and she whinnied to Honey - Honey was about to be loaded on to the double float, she backed down the loading ramp and whinnied back, turning her head towards Lily.
"Bring her over," I shouted to the driver.
"C'mon girl," she walked slowly over to Lily and nuzzled her neck as I patted her nose - Lily responded and took her own weight on her tiny legs.

What a river rescue it turned out to be! The grounds were useless, our round yards under water; losing special saddles and sheepskins - expensive equipment that was hard to replace. We did ride on the following Wednesday at the adjacent Pony Club grounds. Meanwhile, Geoff and some of our members had approached council and finally after much haggling - they agreed to back-fill the land and with the help of Rotary and Lions Clubs, build an arena where the children would be under cover and could ride in any sort of weather.

Today, the Cartmill Centre thrives and I am proud to have been part of it. All my horses are gone of course, galloping around God's green pastures. I don't ride now - too many injuries - horses are still my favorite people.

This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry


RDA: Riding for the Disabled
Dogger: person buying horses for dog food etc.
Knackers: place where animals are slaughtered for dog food.
Drizabone: Australian designed oilskin coat for farmers and outdoors - now exported to the US.
Jawed: talked
Cropper: fall
SES: State Emergency Service;Voluntary disaster organization for helping people and animals in distress.
100 metres in distance from where I was standing to where the horses were in distress; around the length of two public swimming pools.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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