Fire crews save drowning horse

The owners of a horse which slipped into a canal have said they were terrified their beloved animal was going to drown.

Pepsi the horse lost her footing while going for a morning ride on a canal towpath in Leigh and plunged into the murky water.

Luckily owner John Gaskell was not riding her at the time, he had just dismounted so he could get past a tricky patch of overgrown trees, on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near Plank Lane.

But poor Pepsi, a 15-year-old middleweight hunter, lost her balance and splashed into the brown canal.

The fire brigade were called and crews from Leigh spent a gruelling hour trying to get her out.

John, a retired motor engineer from Lowton, said that for a few minutes he feared the worst: "During one of the rescue attempts the rope snapped and Pepsi slid back in, but couldn't get to her feet.

"For quite a while her head was under water and I was horrified. But then she found her footing and managed to breathe again, but she was very panicked."

The fire crews attempted various things to get the horse out, from using one of their ladders to ropes and hosereels. But they were concerned about Pepsi hurting herself on the concrete banks of the canal.

With one final rally of brute strength the horse was hauled out, to a round of applause from the crowd that had gathered. John's wife Brenda said: "She's got lots of cuts and bruises all over her legs, from rubbing hard against the side, but she'll be fine.

"She's got four or five stitches from the vets, but she's walking all right. We're just relieved we managed to get her out in the end."

Firefighter Mark Coffey, of Hindley fire station, said it was sheer brute force, and a lot of rope, that did it in the end. He said: "We were there for about two hours.

"The fire brigade's specialist water team came from Eccles, and their divers managed to find a shallower area of water to make the rescue easier.

"But we didn't have any harnesses, and we were worried that the horse would hurt his chest on the concrete banks of the canal. In the end we used a combination of hoses, ropes and a lot of strength."

Brenda said Pepsi had been with the family since she was born, and was one of their stable of five horses. "We're a member of the Endurance Horse and Pony Society, and Pepsi must have covered thousands of miles on endurance races across the country.

"Then she gets hurt like this, falling in the canal. It's strange. But I want to thank the firemen who helped to save Pepsi, they were fantastic.

"I can only say that the people of Leigh who had gathered gave a great cheer and a well deserved applause to our heroes of the day."