ST. HELENA ISLAND -- A 2,000-pound horse stuck waist-deep in pluff mud was saved from certain death Sunday by residents, animal control officers and firefighters using a rope, a tree, fire hoses and a lot of tugging.
Firefighters and Beaufort County Animal Control officers were called to the end of Fripp Point Road at about 1 p.m. to find the horse stranded 50 yards out in the marsh. No one's sure how the horse named Doc got there.
His legs were completely submerged in the pluff mud, and the sweltering summer sun was bearing down.
"That horse was probably about to die," said Stephanie Edwards, one of the first on the scene. "It wasn't very anxious; it was just laying down. We had to hold its head up and get it to drink water. The horse had given up."
After being unable to free the horse for more than two hours, Animal Control called the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District.
"We were originally contacted to use our hoseline to spray water on the animal and do our best to keep it cool," said Lee Levesque, fire district spokesman.
But later they were called on to help pull the horse out.
Using two pieces of empty hoseline, firefighters fashioned a makeshift harness for the horse and attached a rope to it, Levesque said. The rope was run through a pulley, anchored to a nearby tree.
For more than an hour, 15 to 20 people tugged on the end of the rope as the exhausted horse fought to free itself from the pluff mud.
"They'd all yell, 'Pull!' and then 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' " Edwards said.
A little at a time, Doc's liberators tugged at the rope, inching the horse closer to the edge of the marsh.
"We used a little bit of water to break the suction hold of the pluff mud on his legs, and as we did that, he'd bring his hind legs up and take a few steps, and this went on for a while," Levesque said. "It took a whole lot of manpower to get that horse up."
The horse was loaded onto a hard plastic sled used to transport lame and sick horses and pushed across the marsh to solid land, Levesque said.
As veterinarians examined the horse, informing his owner, Walter Gay of St. Helena Island, that the animal would likely need an IV for dehydration, the horse stood up and took a few steps.
"Everyone just broke into applause when Doc stood up," Edwards said. "Everybody felt so good and was so excited to get that horse out. It was a very neat community-comes-together kind of situation."