Volunteer firefighters used the jaws of life to free a horse suffocating under its own weight after it tried to escape from the float it was travelling in.

The 21-year-old horse had tried to jump through the front window of the tandem float after taking fright. The animal's head and neck smashed through the window and its front legs became stuck on one side of the dividing breast bar while its rear legs were on the other.

He was suffocating himself with his body weight. He was going blue at that stage.


The horse, named Razzy, was one of two horses dropped off to Kat MacMillan's rural property in Welcome Bay by friend April Hickman for grazing on Tuesday night. When Hickman went to leave with Razzy in the float, leaving the other horse behind, Razzy became distressed and lashed out.

MacMillan, former chief executive of Riding for the Disabled, called the fire brigade and vets immediately. A sedative was needed to calm the terrified horse enough for firefighters to cut it free.


"I saw they would need the jaws of life to get him out. They came very quickly, two teams of them. They were amazing. They worked as one amazing, calm team to save this horse's life," Macmillan said.

While waiting for the vet to arrive from Pukehina, Razzy lashed out again in distress and got his front legs stuck on another bar leaving him suspended by only his neck, cutting off his airways.

"He was suffocating himself with his body weight. He was going blue at that stage."

Macmillan said firefighters quickly went into the float, despite no sedatives for the horse, to cut the bar to allow the cfreature to breathe again.

"That was a big risk but they took it. They could see he was dying."

Macmillan said the firefighters took turns to soothe Razzy, whispering to him and gently stroking his head.

"It was really humbling to us to see the compassion with those guys around an animal. They were just wonderful. It was the upside of this terrible ordeal to see these big, strapping guys, to see them like that ... what an awesome sight to see."

Hickman said the waiting was the hardest part. Razzy was a family horse and usually quite calm, she said.

When the vet arrived Razzy was sedated and firefighters were able to cut the remaining bar and free the horse, who was yesterday nursing mostly superficial cuts and grazes.

"The fire guys were amazing. They saved his life, no doubt about it. If they weren't there and not so quick-thinking, we couldn't have done anything. We would have had to try to cut the float ourselves."

Fire Service Bay of Plenty coast area manager Murray Binning said animal rescues could be quite distressing for everyone involved and were "very dangerous".

"We very rarely extend our resources to cats up trees but horses and larger animals stuck in holes, that sort of thing, we go to them quite often."

Saving lives of animals

The New Zealand Fire Service rescued 21 animals last year in the coastal Bay of Plenty, up from 13 in 2015. This included pets and wild animals.

Nationwide, an extra 50 animals got into strife in 2016, as 444 animals needed rescuing by the Fire Service last year, an increase from 394 the year before.
- New Zealand Fire Service