A joint effort by firefighters, neighbours and vets saved the life of a much-loved horse in a mission worthy of the TV series Animal Rescue.
The drama began about 5.15pm on Tuesday in rural Waipapa as Rudy and Shona van Spreeuwel were leading their horses across a modest bridge from one part of their property to another.
Two horses made it across without incident but Gilbert took a mis-step and tumbled into a narrow ditch filled with water after recent heavy rain.
It was immediately clear Gilbert wouldn't be able to get out by himself. It was also clear he wouldn't survive a night up to his shoulders in cold mud.
Compounding the couple's distress was the fact that this was no ordinary equine.
Gilbert, 21, was Rudy's first horse and was his steed when the couple were married in a horseback wedding.
Shona said Gilbert initially ended up straddling the bridge, then ''porpoised himself'' headfirst into the ditch.
He managed to get his head out of the mud and on to the bank, but there was no way he could get out. Nor did the couple have a chance of lifting 520kg of horse by themselves.
Shona rang neighbour Kerry Sinclair, who happens to be a rope access expert and has his own experience of horses in need of rescuing.
He advised her to call Kerikeri Fire Brigade and arrived within minutes to take charge.
''He was amazing. It was like ringing a super hero. He was the right person at the right time.''
Two crews of volunteer firefighters arrived a short time later, along with two vets to sedate Gilbert and stop him panicking.
Together, Sinclair, the firefighters and vets managed to get soft strops under Gilbert, run the ropes around a downed tree and use a hand-powered winch to lift him carefully out of the ditch then forward on to solid ground.
The area was too boggy for fire trucks so rescuers had to rely on brute strength. The operation was further complicated by darkness so firefighters set up a lighting rig.
''It took a lot of skill and patience to work out how to get him out safely. It was a very narrow ditch. He was in the water for about an hour and a half before they could get him out,'' Rudy said.
Shona said the support they received from the neighbourhood, the fire brigade and vets was ''quite overwhelming''.
She had no doubt they had saved Gilbert's life.
Once the vet had checked him over for injuries they gave him a hose-down with warm water, dried him off, and put him in a warm stable for the night with his own blanket, a big feed bucket and a trolley of hay.
A grateful Rudy said Gilbert was clearly still sore the following morning and ''shaken but not stirred''.
Kerry Sinclair said it was a challenging rescue.
''It was dark, it was a deep ditch with very little room, it was very muddy and slippery. It was a tricky job.''
Kerikeri fire chief Les Wasson agreed Gilbert wouldn't have got out by himself. Once back on solid ground, however, he was ''good as gold''.
It is not the first time a horse has been rescued on the rural Waipapa street after getting stuck in a ditch.
In fact, the last one — of a heavily pregnant mare — was in 2009 on Sinclair's property.
That horse was saved by Kerikeri Fire Brigade and later gave birth to a healthy foal. At the suggestion of one of the firefighters it was named Flick.