Justin’s miraculous rescue

What a dramatic rescue and what an ordeal for Justin's owner, Troye. It all turned out okay in the end though!

Thanks to the digger driver's excellent work, the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team could then access him to get him ready for extraction
Thanks to the digger driver’s excellent work, the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team could then access him to get him ready for extraction

“I saw the gate open, and my heart sank. Please no…”

When Levin’s Troye Hudepohl went to check on her horses before going to work recently, she couldn’t find her young thoroughbred Justin. Normally he sticks like glue to his paddock mate, but this Tuesday morning he was nowhere to be seen. On walking further into the paddock, she saw the gate open into another normally out-of-bounds paddock where the septic tank is.

“I saw the gate open and my heart sank. Please no…”

The paddock was not a place for horses. Normally secured, and with an additional electric tape around the drain, it is somewhere they are never allowed, because of the deep drain which serves as an overflow for the extra water in the area. However, there had been some stock shifting going on, the tape was needed in another area and somehow the gate wasn’t latched and of course the inquisitive seven-year-old thoroughbred had to investigate.

And that is where Troye found him: wedged into a drain so deep and so narrow that there was no way of getting him out. “He saw me and started whinnying and trying to get out,” said Troye, still traumatised by the event which stretched out over most of the day.

“I am still scratching my head as to how he got in there. It was as if someone had picked him up and put him in there. I don’t understand how he got in, there are no skid marks or anything to show us how he ended up there. It was a really narrow drain.”

Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) in action
Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) in action

Troye’s first reaction was to scream for her father but this wasn’t a job for just two people. The after-hours vet, Richard Munn from Levin & Horowhenua Vets, was called but it wasn’t a job he could sort out either. He rang the Massey University Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT) and they were soon on their way.

It appeared that Justin had not been in the drain very long at that stage. While his head was wet, because he was throwing it up and down trying to get out, his back was dry and he still had plenty of energy.

VERT were there within the hour but soon realised it wasn’t a job they could do on their own either. One of the team had a contact at Graeme Bagrie Contractors and gave them a call to find that Scott Stratton and his 12-tonne digger were not far away in Shannon, and were able to be diverted to help rescue Justin.

Boards had to be used to protect Justin from any falling dirt, while it was carefully moved away from him.
Boards had to be used to protect Justin from any falling dirt, while it was carefully moved away from him.

It took about four hours of careful digging; Justin was sedated throughout the day “for his own good.”

Troye, who is a rural consultant for FMG, was there the whole time with her precious horse. She had to make a quick call to work to say she wouldn’t be able to come in, and her employers were very understanding. “It was a long day. The vets were great. They kept updating me, reassuring me, and doing everything they could to get him out safely.”

About 2pm, Justin was able to be extracted completely. It didn’t take him long to get back on his feet after being anaesthetised for the final lift out of the drain. “We thought he might be very cold but he wasn’t. The clay seemed to be keeping him warm,” says Troye.

Sedated, Justin is lifted out of the drain and is well on the road to recovery
Sedated, Justin is lifted out of the drain and is well on the road to recovery

The vets advised not to bath him immediately, in fact not for a couple of days, and they were able to check him carefully even with his mudpack on, and clean him up around his head and eye area. Troye was relieved to find he had got off very lightly.

“He had some minor injuries, a bit of a sore shoulder from being in such a tight space, an ulcer on his eye, and a couple of other scratches.”

Justin came out of his sedation quickly after being extracted from the drain
Justin came out of his sedation quickly after being extracted from the drain

She is in no hurry to put Justin back in work. “I’ll be liaising with the vet and going very tentatively. He seems to be back to his normal self, although he did have a bit of a sad face for a couple of days. As to whether there are any complications down the track, we will just have to see.”

Considering his ordeal, Justin was lucky to come away with just a few very minor injuries.
Considering his ordeal, Justin was lucky to come away with just a few very minor injuries.

Troye has had Justin for about two years. As a young thoroughbred he had been in training and trialled but for the last two years has been doing some low-level eventing and sports days. “He’s pretty chilled,” says Troye. “I put beginners on him and he’s great.”

Justin safe after his big ordeal
Justin safe after his big ordeal

Justin’s rescuers, VERT, are a specialist team, set up to conduct technical animal rescues and perform in-field veterinary treatment and disaster assessment. It is a voluntary group, with 12 active members plus three support members. The team includes small and large animal veterinarians, veterinary technologists, experienced animal handlers, police, an arborist and others passionate about animal welfare and technical animal rescue. While Massey University supports VERT members with release to perform duties and for training, the team relies on funding for its response capacity and educational activities. Members volunteer their time and fund most personal equipment individually. If you would like to donate to this worthy cause, you can through their fundraising page on this link.

As to the fate of the drain? It is no more. “We got the digger driver to deal to that while he was here” Troye said.

Justin looking ever so cute without his mud pack
Justin looking ever so cute without his mud pack