Man who swam terrified ponies to safety was shocked by electric current in the floodwaters

When six-year-old Ella woke in the early hours of Tuesday morning two wet, tired ponies were in huddled in her small bedroom staring back at her.

Not only were they inside her room, they had just swum though floodwaters in the paddocks, through the garage and been helped upstairs to the first-floor of her barn-style Kumeū home.

“She woke up and looked at me and she looked at the ponies and looked at me again and was weirded out,” said mum Latisha George.

“I said ‘your ponies are in your room’ and she was like ‘wow, that’s cool’. I said ‘it’s not a good reason though the paddocks are flooded’. She still thought it was cool, her ponies were in her bedroom – who wouldn’t want to wake up to that?”

Earlier in the day George and her partner Sean Bennett had tried to move all of their stock to higher ground as the paddocks began to flood but the miniature horses couldn’t go in the same paddock as the bigger horses.

As the torrential rain continued to fall, the couple starting trying to jack up vehicles to prevent floodwaters from getting into them. But, within 20 minutes water surrounding them had risen to a metre high and was flowing straight into the ground floor of their home.

“We were trying to save our cars and get our belongings off the ground,” he told the Herald.

George said she was swimming through water to a shed to find items more items to raise the cars but they gave up when the water went over the bonnets.

Knowing Ella and 1-year-old son Luca were safe inside they turned their attention back to the ponies which were now in deep water.

Bennett swam to the terrified animals to try and rescue them.

“They were all swimming in top of him and freaking out,” said George. “They were trying to climb on his back.”

By this stage the water was too deep to access tools to cut down fences and the driveway was blocked off – so with nowhere else to go Bennett swam the first of the ponies back to the house, through the laundry in the garage and up the stairs to the living room.

“We got the sick old minutes in first and he had to lift his front end in and carry him up the steps,” said George. “Then Sean went back out and got the second pony and we got him inside and when he went back down the last one, which is a rescue pony, was gone,” said George.

Later when Bennett went out again he found the third pony was stuck on the other side of some rails of the arena.

“He had to lift her over the fence and swim her back and because she had been out there for so long she had no energy,” said George.

Trying to get her into the laundry and up the stairs was equally as difficult as the water was so high in there, it was dark and they were trying to navigate floating objects like a washing machine.

“She was going drowning and going under and trying to go straight through the garage but because of the flooding I couldn’t shut the door and she was trampling me,” said George.

“We managed to get her to go into the steps but she fell down about five times on top of me so I’m just holding the rails so she doesn’t go back into the water.”

Bennett also got an electric shock from the current that was running through the water which had gotten into the power box.

Once inside the couple posted a message on social media asking if anyone could them with their ponies and other horses which were still outside.

Help arrived in the form of the fire brigade, a friend on a jetski and a stranger with a boat.

The children were eventually taken out through a bedroom window and onto the roof where their friend with a jetski were able to reach them.

“That was my main priority, getting the kids out to safety in case the house fell over or something like that,” said Bennett. “That was the main thing, just getting them out.”

The ponies were sedated and lower about 1.5m from the ranch slider down on to a boat that was floating on 3.6m of water.

The couple say they are incredibly grateful to the stranger who brought the boat in and everyone else in the community who has helped, including vet nurse Alice Haywood who arrived at 5am with floats to rescue the horses and their friend with the jet ski, which ended up damaged.

Their rental was a sodden mess today with mud throughout the garage and downstairs area. There’s a ring of dirty oil about three quarters of the way up the walls from their five vehicles which are all expected to be written off. Inside the upstairs is covered in mud, straw and a few discarded carrots.

“It’s a bloody mess, it’s had three horses living in it for a while so it smell like horse wee and horse poo.”

They are now trying to find somewhere to live and friends have set up set up a Givealittle page to help them.

But, despite the risks that came with swimming three ponies through floodwaters, the couple say they don’t regret a thing.

“We are animals lovers through and through and I’d do it again for them,” said George. It was hard, bloody hard but I’d do it all over again.”

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