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Father and son save horse from drowning in flood: 'We were her last option'

A father and son fought a deadly flood to save a drowning horse named Tilly by bringing her into their home and keeping her head above water.
/ Source: TODAY

Using only a boogie board and an extension cord, a determined father and son spent a sleepless night saving an exhausted horse name Tilly from drowning in a deadly flood.

Leigh Shepherd, 52, and his son, Rob, 21, came to Tilly's aid during the early hours of April 1 when Leigh's wife, Colleen, heard a sound shortly after midnight in front of their home in Murwillumbah in New South Wales, Australia.

Family saves horse from drowning
The Shepherds used a boogie board to keep Tilly's head above water all night until rescue workers could come the next morning as the flood waters receded. Courtesy of Leigh Shepherd

They shined a flashlight into the darkness and saw a horse struggling to swim in rising water about 40 feet from their home. While they didn't know it at the time, the horse belonged to a neighbor about four doors down.

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"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."

However, the area next to the landing in the home was completely flooded, resulted in an anxious Tilly swimming back out to where Leigh had just pulled her from. He tried again to bring her to safety using an old whip, but he couldn't properly get it around her neck.

Family saves horse from drowning
An exhausted Tilly collapsed on the landing of the family's home after initially being brought to safety from the flood with a boogie board and an extension cord. Courtesy of Leigh Shepherd
Family saves horse from drowning
Leigh Shepherd and his son, Rob, were able to save a horse named Tilly from deadly flooding in their Australian town by bringing her into their home and keeping her head above water. Courtesy of Leigh Shepherd

Rob then suggested using an extension cord to corral Tilly and guide her back to the house, which proved effective. As Leigh led Tilly, Rob was somehow able to hold up the exhausted 25-year-old horse as Leigh helped lift her up on to a 4-foot landing near a staircase.

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"Once we got her up on that landing, she just collapsed,'' Leigh said. "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."

From about 1:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., Leigh and Rob took turns wading into freezing cold water nearly up to their waist to keep her head above water while the rest of her body was submerged.

Family saves horse from drowning
Tilly is now back with her owner after being treated by a veterinarian for a laceration on one of her front legs. Courtesy of Leigh Shepherd

"At one point I said to Rob, 'She's not gonna make it,' but he was like, 'She will,''' Leigh said. "We stuck with it."

Rescue workers came in the morning to get Tilly, who survived the ordeal with only a deep laceration on one of her front legs. She was treated by Dr. Greg Baldwin, of Baldwin Equine Veterinary Services, who hailed Leigh and Rob for their lifesaving effort.

"We saw Tilly yesterday, and she looks just peachy,'' Leigh said.

The Shepherds had two of their cars and everything in the downstairs of their home destroyed by the flood caused by Cyclone Debbie, which claimed the lives of at least six people, according to the BBC.

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"There's been people who have lost their lives, so we've really been pretty lucky,'' Leigh said.

Tilly has been returned to her owner as she heals from her injuries.

"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."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.