A horse owner from a Derbyshire village has issued a desperate plea to walkers asking them not to feed animals when out in the countryside.
The woman, who wished not to be named, was left heartbroken after holding one of her five horses, Sassy, in her arms as she died.
Sassy showed no previous signs of distress and was only 10-years-old, meaning she should have been in the prime of her life.
Instead, her owner found her on the ground, visibly weak and in dire need of attention – and just 20 minutes later, the horse had died.
As Sassy was a fit horse with no other visible health issues, she believes this could have been the cause of her death.
Now the owner has asked anyone walking out in the countryside to avoid feeding any animals, as it could have disastrous consequences for livestock, wildlife and people’s pets.
Ross Cooper, a British horseman and equine behaviourist based in Derbyshire, has explained why feeding horses can have such a devastating impact.
“Equines have a very sensitive digestive system which has been unchanged by domestication, leaving them open to a variety of medical conditions,” he said.
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“Two commonly associated with feeding include choking, where food substances get stuck and swell in the throat (horses can’t be sick, therefore cannot displace anything stuck) and colic, which is pain within the abdominal or gastrointestinal tract. Both can be life-threatening.
“Horses are designed to ‘trickle feed’ (graze consistently) for 18 hours a day on forage with low nutritional value. A horse’s diet has to be carefully monitored to ensure the correct requirements are met.”
There has been a reported rise in health issues for horses, as lockdown has encouraged people to exercise in local outdoor spaces.
This has allegedly led to more walkers throwing their unwanted food into fields with horses and other domesticated animals as they’re out on a walk.
Mr Cooper says he has seen evidence of this when out on a walk himself, claiming to have spotted carrots that had been thrown into a horse’s field in Belper earlier this week.
He said: “Horse owners all over the UK are experiencing increased footfall on footpaths adjacent or through their land as a result of the lockdown, and people are taking it upon themselves to feed horses potatoes, bread, mints, vegetables and even meat.
“Items of food being fed by the public are highly unsuitable and can get stuck in the throat, interfere with medication, ferment in the intestines causing a build-up of gas, and some are straight-up poisonous.”
While walkers may think they are doing something useful by giving food to the animals, Mr Cooper claimed that it would likely have the opposite effect.
If those out in the countryside are genuinely concerned about the welfare of an animal, he claimed the best thing to do is contact a local welfare agency instead.
He said: “I appreciate the public may be feeding with the best intentions, but it is not their right to be taking it upon themselves to feed others’ animals. This blissful ignorance is causing severe illness and death among many beloved pets.
“I expect people walk past a field of muddy horses with no rugs on and take pity, but nature designed horses to be well-suited to the elements and low-quality food, which are managed effectively by their owners.
“Sassy herself was a native breed of horse and lived out on the Welsh mountains for the first few years of her life, so she was well-adapted to living in natural conditions.”