Yorkshire horse owner furious as lockdown walkers' 'arrogance' leaves her mare needing £1,000 of veterinary treatment

Members of Yorkshire's equestrian community have hit out at irresponsible 'lockdown walkers' who have been giving horses and ponies inapproriate foods and disturbing them while exploring the countryside.

Jayne Alexander with Callie, who became seriously ill after being fed by strangers
Jayne Alexander with Callie, who became seriously ill after being fed by strangers

Nationally, several horses have died and others have been left seriously ill with stomach and joint conditions as a result of bridleways and public footpaths being more heavily used during periods of lockdown.

While horse owners believe many of the incidents are caused simply by families who lack awareness of which foods can be dangerous, they say other people are deliberately causing the animals distress by entering fields unnecessarily and refusing to listen to safety advice.

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Among those who have launched a petition calling for members of the public to be fined for feeding equines without permission is human resources manager Jayne Alexander, who keeps her purebred Friesian horse Zeus and mare Callie at Park Farm's livery yard in Gateforth, near Selby.

Jayne's distinctive purebred horse Zeus also attracts attention from passers-by

Callie suffers from insulin resistance and a condition called Equine Metabolic Syndrome, which can lead to laminitis, a painful inflammatory illness of the hoof. She cannot eat sugary foods such as carrots and apples, and is only allowed a limited amount of grass each day to avoid flare-ups. Jayne uses a muzzle to prevent Callie over-grazing, but passers-by have removed this in the mistaken belief that it is cruel.

During the November lockdown, Callie was diagnosed with laminitis due to a sugar overdose that Jayne believes was caused by her being fed illicitly by strangers. She was forced to pay over £1,000 for veterinary treatment, medicines and protective hoof boots.

Her other horse, Zeus, is the same Friesian breed that has appeared in TV adverts for Lloyds TSB and Budweiser, and his popularity means people have been entering a woodland which has had its access blocked off to reach him.

"There have been a number of pointless deaths of horses and ponies all over the country and an increase in cases of colic and laminitis that have escalated during lockdown, due to the significant increase of people now going for walks in their local area," said Jayne.

"When asked, some of them say they never knew the bridleway and farm was there, and that they thought they could feed horses everything. I even stopped a man tipping grass cuttings into a very fat little pony that had a muzzle on. We have had people go into the paddocks and remove muzzles as they think the horse looks uncomfortable, and one lady said she didn’t like seeing the horse with it on.

"My mare Callie has had insulin resistance since 2012, and a muzzle allows her to go out for a few hours as too much grass can kill her. It’s a daily management to keep her alive and the people who think they have the right to feed her will not be around to see her in agony before she has to be put to sleep. When I explain that it’s the same as giving their child who has peanut allergy a chocolate bar with peanuts in, they look at me like I'm mad.

"We are looking at CCTV in the paddocks to try and help and I have also been in touch with the police, but as there is no law in place, they can't help.

"My horses are my children - they have kept me sane. Feeding anything to any horse without the owner’s permission can kill."

Jayne has also witnessed a number of other incidents of inapproriate behaviour at the working farm on the Gateforth Park estate where she keeps Zeus and Callie.

A bridleway runs through the middle of the fields and is also the main entrance to the farm.

She says the farm and nearby Hambleton Hough woods have been 'inundated' with visitors and there have been incidents of dogs worrying chickens and mountain bikers spooking horses.

"There are so many cars parked at the Hough that sometimes you can’t get past to drive to the farm. Last Sunday there were nearly 70 people walking up Hough Lane, which is only a half a mile in length, at once. There were three dogs running loose in ploughed fields in front of the farm and the horses' paddocks."

A woman walking a Labrador off a lead refused to apologise when her dog seriously hurt two chickens kept in the garden of one of the farm properties by the owners' 12-year-old son.

"The dog ran into the garden from the bridleway, chased and attacked his chickens. When he challenged the owner, she said he should not have them running about near the bridleway. The same woman has been past four times since with her dog not on a lead.

"We also have people on mountain bikes fly down at 35mph; we have put signs up warning of horses crossing and 10mph limits. As one lady was taking her horse to the field opposite the farm, she was almost hit by two men who came off their bikes; her horse went crazy and and dragged her along the bridleway. They got up, shouted abuse then got their bikes and sped off down the bridleway.

"We are trying to start a government petition which would make it a crime to feed people's horses, and if caught a fine would be imposed and if the horse or pony became ill, they would be liable pay the vet bill and/or disposal costs.

"Some people I have educated, and they understand and admire the horses from afar now; however others, even when asked not to, still try and feed the horses and go onto private land They don’t care that they may kill the horse they are stroking or admiring by poisoning them and making them so ill they cause colic or laminitis, and we have to put them to sleep because of someone’s arrogance or thoughtlessness."

Another owner, Sarra Mackenzie-Pilot from Saddleworth, is grieving for her 12-year-old pony Lightning, who died after a potato fed to him by passers-by caused him to choke.

Sarra's neighbours saw walkers beside Lightning's field giving him whole raw potatoes on January 17, and he immediately experienced breathing difficulties.

"A large potato lodged in his throat; unable to swallow it or dislodge it, he ran in a panic to the neighbours' fence. They alerted me, as they thought he might have been caught on the fencing. They went out with wire cutters and realised that he was gasping for air. Blood was pouring from his nose.

"The potato was so large it literally suffocated him. Ponies breathe through their noses, and the airway runs behind the oesophagus, but it was crushed by the potato. He died in their arms before we had made it across the field.

"He was only 12 years old and we bred him."