Nestled on the coast at Nelson’s Bay in NSW, Hunter Horse Haven provides a place of safety and recovery for neglected horses that need a home. However, it still resembles more of a swamp than a peaceful place of healing following the devastating floods that inundated the coastline. Even recently, 22 horses from its herd were still stranded atop a small hill, surrounded by murky but now slowly receding floodwater.
Founder of Hunter Horse Haven, Debbie Barber, says the rain wouldn’t stop falling. “It started with torrential rain, lightning, thunder… the whole caboodle. The rain just didn’t stop for five days. And I was thinking, ‘please stop!’ The horses were just standing in the paddock shivering even when they’d been rugged with winter coats, because the rain was just so torrential – nonstop day and night.”
Spread across more than 80 acres, the sanctuary keeps the majority of its herd in four main paddocks at the front of the property. “It was just before midnight that I saw the last of the front paddocks starting to fill,” says Debbie. “I was out there in the dark in my four-wheel-drive with the headlights on, monitoring the horses and the fences because things were getting stuck to them and pushing the fences over. But the water was even starting to go over the bonnet of my car.
“The council drain that runs through the property overflowed and was flowing directly into here. That exacerbated everything, and we flooded really quickly,” says Debbie. “I sent a message out at 4am and the volunteers were there at first light and that’s when we got the last of the horses up. But that was so scary.
“The waters were so dangerous. The stormwater coming from the council drain had wood with nails and screws in it. It was just awful the stuff coming through the paddock and the floodwater was covered with spiders and bugs. There were all these spiders running everywhere! And in the end, I told the volunteers ‘don’t come until it’s urgent’ because it was quite dangerous.”
As dawn broke, Debbie and her team of volunteers began moving the horses further back into the property to the only dry ground left on top of a small hill, where they have been trapped for more than a week. “All these horses were standing there shaking and all the little foals were shaking so much they could hardly stand up,” says Debbie. “They were terrified, and you can’t just go to bed and leave them standing in that horrific rain!