This was the terrifying moment a brave young mother battled to keep her beloved horse calm as sea water closed in on the animal after he became trapped in mud ‘like quicksand’.
Exhausted and mud-splattered, Nicole Graham clung to her trapped horse Astro for three hours keeping his head high in a race against the tide.
The 78-stone show horse had sunk into quagmire-like mud and was facing the prospect of drowning as the water rose around them.
Miss Graham had been out on an afternoon ride with her daughter along the coast near Geelong, south of Melbourne, when 18-year-old Astro suddenly sank into the mud.
Before she could shout a warning, the smaller horse her daughter Paris was riding was also partially swallowed up by the mud.
After dragging herself through the mire, Miss Graham helped her daughter and the other horse on to firmer ground.
However, Astro was stuck fast and her efforts to pull him free only resulted in herself sinking deeper into the quagmire.
As Paris ran to their car and phoned for help, Miss Graham stayed at her horse’s side. She courageously clung on to his neck, terrified that he would not be freed before the tide came in.
After three ‘terrifying’ hours, rescuers managed to pull Astro and Miss Graham from the mud.
Miss Graham, who owns more than 10 horses and runs an equine dentistry business, told the Geelong Advertiser how a peaceful afternoon’s ride had turned to terror.
She said: ‘It was terrifying. It was also heartbreaking to see my horse exhausted and struggling.
‘We went straight down and under. There was mud everywhere and every time I moved it sucked me back down. It wouldn’t let us go.’
After ensuring her daughter and her horse were safe, she returned to Astro and prayed that rescuers would arrive before the tide engulfed the horse.
She added: ‘I’ve been riding here for 20 years and never had a drama. I’ve never seen any signs and didn’t realise it was so boggy.
‘When I saw the dust from the rescue trucks I was so relieved. I was starting to get overwhelmed.’
Fire lieutenant Roger Buckle, who was among a team of helpers, said: ‘It was like a quicksand.’
Fire crews worked with a local farmer, who provided a tractor, and a veterinary team. The firemen used hoses and a winch, but none of this equipment was successful.
A local helicopter was put on standby as a last resort at pulling Astro from the mud.
The combined rescue effort paid off. With minutes to spare before the water reached him, Astro – who had been sedated by vet Stacey Sullivan – was dragged from the mud with the aid of the farmer’s tractor.
‘It was a race against the tide and fortunately we won,’ said Lieut Buckle, who praised everyone efforts, including those of Miss Sullivan whose work in sedating Astro made it easier to pull him free.
Miss Sullivan said Astro was dehydrated but had coped well.
‘A lot of horses don’t make it and I think without the owner there the chance of survival would have been a lot lower,’ she said.