“Rescuing a large animal is no easy feat.” The story of Dr Christine Smith’s advocacy for large animal rescue training in NSW.

When four abandoned, terrified horses were stranded on an island in the middle of the Hawkesbury River because of rising floodwaters, Avant Financial Service client Dr Christine Smith was among the people tasked with their rescue. 

A leading equine surgeon, the owner and managing director of Agnes Banks Equine Clinic, and a former President of Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA), Dr Smith remembers how complex the operation was. “There were lots of dramas. The entire exercise took the better part of a day, with multiple people and resources,” she says.

Each horse had to be caught, anaesthetised, moved onto a rescue glide, and then onto an SES flat boat. That boat could then carry each horse two kilometres, where they could be placed on a trailer and driven to a paddock to recover.

“The first horse we caught was extremely excited and scared and worried,” Dr Smith recalls, “at one point, on the boat, we thought the horse was going to wake up, which would have been a disaster. We were in a very dangerous situation with the floodwaters.”

A swift water rescue team was on hand in case Dr Smith, or another rescuer, fell into the river. Thankfully, that didn’t eventuate.

“We managed to do it safely,” Dr Smith says.

A decade ago, such a difficult rescue would likely have ended in disaster for human and horse alike. But nowadays, vets and emergency services are properly trained in large animal rescues, which makes operations like this rescue on the Hawkesbury River possible.

Dr Smith has helped to pioneer those training efforts, which commenced because of a chance encounter in the Agnes Bank stables.

An unusual neurological disease had swept the clinic, and several horses required slings to stand. As Dr Smith manoeuvred a horse into a sling in a recovery stall, Andrew Hatch from NSW Fire and Rescue walked in.

As one of the few Australians to have completed large animal rescue training overseas at that point, Hatch was alarmed.

“He said that the way I was approaching things was dangerous, and I was going to get hurt,” Dr Smith recalls.

“This started a robust conversation. We started sitting down and talking about how we could do things better, and safer.”

“I had a lot of trepidation about going out to a horse that was potentially trapped in a motor vehicle or had fallen through a septic tank. All my years of veterinary experience had not really given me the tools and knowledge and confidence to approach that job well. I had a lot to learn, and if I had a lot to learn, then certainly my junior colleagues also had a lot to learn,” she says.

Sharing knowledge between emergency services and vets became a crucial part of the plan that Dr Smith and Hatch put into action.

Now, they visit vet schools, the SES, the police, and the fire brigade to teach large animal rescue skills, using life-sized mannequins to perform simulations. Agnes Banks Equine Clinic also hosts training days.

“We would never consider accepting payment. It’s a community service, it’s a veterinary service. It’s a way to give back to the community,” Dr Smith says.

46 years have passed since Dr Smith’s parents bought her an 11-year-old Shetland/Hackney pony named Coco. She says that her love for horses, and her drive to work with them, hasn’t diminished over time.

“I’ve always loved their power. They’re independent in some ways, but they’re dependant in others. I’ve enjoyed the bonds that I’ve been able to form with them,” she says.

Avant is incredibly proud to partner with doctors who lead and contribute to their communities, like Dr Christine Smith.

To see more of Dr Christine Smith’s inspiring story, watch the video below: