AN ELDERLY horse is recovering after being rescued from a three-hour ordeal in a flooded ditch.

Twenty-nine-year-old Harry slipped down a muddy bank in his field in Tawney Lane, Stapleford Tawney, in freezing weather on Sunday morning.

His horrified owner Wendi Vaughan found her beloved horse, which she has owned for 22 years, trapped and struggling to keep his head above water.

"We thought he might be with a sheep, because he likes sheep," said the 40-year-old, of Wimborne Close, Buckhurst Hill.

"Unfortunately when he saw me he tried to get up. He was just stuck in there, covered in mud.

"I was holding his head and talking to him."

Specially-trained fire fighters and Waltham Abbey-based vet Ralph Hege rushed to the scene, while Mrs Vaughan kept the animal's head above the water.

The rescuers worked for three hours before 600kg Harry was hauled to safety using a small crane.

Steve Foster, assistant divisional officer for Essex Fire and Rescue, said: "It was quite a difficult extraction. It was very, very muddy.

"The owners said he was quite a lively character for his age - and they said he didn't like men."

Harry is now receiving daily care from Wendi and co-owner Amanda Crowley and is on track for a full recovery.

"He is doing so well. He has a few cuts on his face and a few swellings but other than that is eating well and is getting less stiff by the day," she added.

"If he wasn't so fit and healthy he would have died as lying in a ditch full of water on a freezing day is not good at the best of times.

"The vet was amazing, and thanks also should go to animal rescue and the fire brigade."