Flooding caused by Cyclone Debbie in New South Wales, Australia, has claimed the lives of six people and damaged countless homes but, thanks to one family, Tilly, a 25-year-old horse, was spared.
Sometime after midnight on April 1, when floodwaters in the town of Murwillumbah in New South Wales were rising ever higher, the Shepherd family heard an odd sound outside their home. It was Tilly, who was fighting to keep her head above water as the flooding continued on, unabated.
Leigh Shepherd, 52, and his son Rob, 21, instantly jumped to Tilly’s aid after Leigh’s wife, Colleen, pointed out the sound. Using only a boogie board and an extension cord, Leigh and Rob spent a sleepless night with the horse as she attempted to keep from drowning.
Tilly was struggling to swim in the rising waters about 40 feet from the Shepherd’s home. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the horse belonged to a neighbor just a few doors away.
“My wife said she was going out there, so of course at that time I knew I had to go in,” Leigh Shepherd told TODAY. “I just grabbed a boogie board that we had, swam out there and grabbed her by the mane and got her back to the house.”
Unfortunately, the Shepherd’s home was surrounded by flooding as well. Tilly panicked, and swam right back out to the area where Leigh had just pulled her from. Leigh attempted to lasso her into the safety of their home using an old whip, but he couldn’t get it to circle around her neck. It was then that his son Rob suggested using a long extension cord to corral the terrified horse and lead her to safety.
Eventually, the pair guided Tilly back to their house and were able to lift her up onto a 4-foot landing near their outdoor staircase. The poor horse was so exhausted by the ordeal she couldn’t even stand up, but the rising waters showed no signs of stopping.
“Once we got her up on that landing, she just collapsed,” Leigh told TODAY. “The waters were still rising, so we just got that boogie board and kept it under her head. I don’t know how we did it, but I’m so glad we did.”
The unlikely trio stayed that way until 6:30 in the morning, the two men taking turns swimming into the frigid waters that reached nearly to their waists, in order to keep Tilly’s head above water.
My hat goes off to Rob and Lee !These guys no doubt saved Tilly's life. When Rob saw Tilly struggling in flood water…
In the morning, Tilly was collected by rescue workers and treated by Dr. Greg Baldwin, of Baldwin Equine Veterinary Services, who commended Leigh and Rob for their lifesaving work. Tilly survived the ordeal with only a deep cut on one leg, and it’s thanks to the Shepherd family she didn’t die.
The damage by the flooding and cyclone was severe: the Shepherds had two cars and everything in the downstairs portion of their home ruined. But they say it was worth it to save Tilly’s life.
“It’s been a good thing to be able to do something for Tilly,” Leigh said. “We’re just so happy. I think we were her last option.”