Trio take hundreds of Vic horses to safety

Marnie Banger
Matt and Jackie Peterson and Steph Gray (R) rescued more than 300 horses in Victoria between them

Matt and Jackie Peterson couldn't bear the thought of horses in northeast Victoria dying in bushfires.

So the expert horse transporters and their employee Steph Gray gave up a week of their time and their resources to move hundreds of the animals out of harm's way.

The mission began with the Petersons offering via their business's Facebook page to evacuate horses for free using trucks based in Wangaratta.

The couple, who run M & J Peterson Horse Transport, have offered such free evacuations in past bushfire seasons.

Previously, about 60 people have taken advantage of their two trucks, which can move nine and 10 horses respectively.

This time they were particularly eager to get the word out after horses died in fire-hit towns such as Mallacoota and Cobargo.

The Petersons' trucks were in Queensland when the blazes in those areas intensified on New Year's Eve.

"We didn't want the same thing to happen here that happened on the south coast, because there was nobody there who could transport those multiple numbers (of horses) to get them out, that was the issue," Mr Peterson told AAP.

"And the fact that it flared up so fast, people had little warning."

The couple's Facebook post spread far and wide, accumulating more than 26,000 shares and 2.7 million views since they published it on January 4.

They were inundated with requests for pick-ups and decided to prioritise horses that were most at risk, taking many of their evacuees to the Wangaratta Livestock Exchange.

The couple and Ms Gray worked as late as 3:30am and sometimes received permission from authorities to go through road blocks to reach specific farms.

Some of the horses they loaded - primarily between Wangaratta and Bright to the southeast, but at times in East Gippsland - had never been transported before.

Among the pick-ups was a mare and foal they spotted on the side of the road with a man, who had initially decided not to send them off.

"He was just so relieved to get them on," Ms Peterson said.

The trio had picked up 324 horses by Friday night, when hot temperatures and strong winds threatened to send bushfire embers to towns along the Great Alpine Rd.

The threat didn't materialise thanks to a favourable wind direction and some rain.

Ms Gray has gone without pay for the week of pick-ups, in which the Petersons have spent about $8000 on fuel and left their five children with a nanny in what was meant to be their first week of holidays as a family in more than a year.

They have offered to take horses home for $50, as opposed to their usual $220 charge, but expect many owners will now have the time to bring the animals back on their own two-horse floats.

Reflecting in exhaustion on the week that has been, Ms Peterson said it was the least they could do for the horse community which supports their business year-round.

"The only reason why we're doing this is we were born to do this. Horses are our life, difficult horses are our life," Ms Peterson said.

"We were meant to do it, so we should be here doing it."