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Humble heroes risk lives to lead horses trapped in NSW floods to safety

Monday April 5, 2021 - 07:11 EST
ABC image
Leon Gray guides the tired horses to higher ground. - ABC

When fast-rising floodwater surrounded Ann Biasol's home one of her first thoughts was for the safety of her horses.


She lives in a rural area south of Crescent Head on the NSW Mid North Coast and vast areas were inundated. 


Ms Biasol says State Emergency Service crews told her they couldn't reach her, so she appealed to friends for help.


"When my house started to be impacted with absolutely all land around me under water, I knew I was to lose power, so I reached out," she said.


She contacted friends Robyne English, a local, and Amanda Hancock, from the Sunshine Coast, who quickly hit social media to ask for help.


"It was clear that no-one was going to Anny's rescue, and we had lost all contact with her ? with water levels rising and rain continuing," Ms Hancock said.


"I said to myself: 'Anny and her horses are not dying on our watch'.


"I put out a desperate plea requesting someone with local knowledge, a boat and experience with animals to help save Anny and her horses."


Risky journey to high ground


Help first came in the form of local resident Phillip Aitkin, who launched a boat and set out to rescue Ms Biasol and her horses, Barney, Degrey and Navarre.


"Phillip definitely deserves a bravery award, because he risked his own life, going into unknown dangers with submerged fences and debris to rescue a stranger, Anny, and her horses," Ms Hancock said.


Ms Biasol said it was a long and difficult journey to higher ground. 


"The horses had to be swum and walked out three kilometres from my place to the highest mound," Ms Biasol said.


"We got our first horse Barney out and we had to rest him on the way, he's about 24, but he's a tough old horse, but it took forever to get him out, he was pretty sore, pretty tired. 


"There were a lot of dead cattle floating while we were trying to swim him out and there's a lot of bull sharks around, so we were pretty concerned about that."


Mr Aitkin, an experienced boater, reassured Ms Biasol they could get through.


"It was different," he said. "It's not often you get to put the boat in on the main road."


"We had power lines, fence lines, houses, shipping containers ? all sorts of stuff floating down the river.


"I just said, 'We'll be right, we'll get through this, but it's going to take time.'"


Other locals arrived to help, including part-time horse trainer, Leon Gray, who was out trying to save stock.


"The water came up really fast and caught a lot of people out. We saved and rescued a lot of animals," Mr Gray said.


After many hours, when the eldest horse, Barney, became so exhausted he refused to move, Mr Gray, got into the water to help him through.


"He basically just cradled the horse's head in his arms and swum him, with ... the boat as well, and got him the final kilometre up onto the bank," Ms Biasol said.


Mr Gray said he was just happy to help. 


"Mainly it was just leading [Barney] and coaxing him along. He was pretty exhausted but we just had to get him to higher ground," he said.


"It's rewarding to see the relief on Anny's face. 


"She really loves her horses. She was so happy.


"I seem to have a bit of a way [with horses]  and that time it worked, anyway.


"I've been called a hero but I was just down there doing what I could do."


The following day, Ms Biasol's other two horses were rescued, Mr Gray again leading them to safety.


"The other horses just refused to move," Mr Gray said.


"So I got in and just rode one of them out and the other one followed and we rode them about three kilometres out of the floodwater, along with another horse who just followed along with us."


The horses were cared for by a young family on the higher ground.


Ms Biasol said she was extremely grateful to the many people who helped.


"I just gave the horses big hugs ? thanked everyone for the prayers. So many people were so behind the animals," she said.


"I just got off that boat so quickly and went up [to the horses] and said, 'You boys are so loved by so many ? oh, my beautiful boys, you are safe.


"There's a few new heroes in my life."


Horses on path to recovery


A little more than a week later, the horses have returned  to the property where Ms Biasol is temporarily staying and are recovering from cuts and skin issues from prolonged exposure to the floodwater, which contained dead animals, sewerage and other contaminants.


Ms Biasol said they were in good spirits and eating well.


"There' s still a lot of sloughing on the skin and there's a lot of raw skin still to come off from their tummies right down to their hooves.


"It's everyday care and every day scrubbing for probably three hours a day ... they are eating and drinking.


"At several points we've had the army drop medication off at the gate," she said.


Women save more than a dozen horses 


While the rescue was underway at Crescent Head, further south on the Mid North Coast young women who agist their horses on a Wauchope property saved their much-loved animals and about a dozen more.


They were looking after the property for the owner who was away and worked during the night and heavy rainfall.


?We had about half an hour to get the horses out and before you know it we were in hip deep water and [it was] very stressful," Hannah Grilli said.


"We didn't think the floodwaters would come up that high.


"We pretty much grabbed horses. Horses that hadn't been ridden for a while, we just jumped on and hoped for the best ... and just went along the road with some cars behind and in front of us and took them to the stables."


Ms Grilli said the support of the community had been amazing.


"We have a great team now ... we have had volunteers and even kids help," she said.


"It's just amazing how well the community can pull together in a time like this and just so quickly."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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