‘Kindness’ that kills

The dangers posed by members of the public feeding grazing horses were brought into tragic focus with the loss of an in-foal Clydesdale mare whose breeder had already lost a colt of the same breed after he was thought to have been fed by passers-by.

Lanarkshire-based Jennifer Spiers is a small-animal vet with a keen interest in equine reproduction.  She describes herself as having ‘married in’ to the Clydesdale breed, her husband being a third-generation breeder.  With two mares, Jennifer tries to breed a foal every year and describes the horses as a huge part of her life.

Jennifer lost her colt, 11-month old Kintra Oran Mhor, when he developed impaction colic in spring 2020 while she was away on honeymoon.  She says:  “A vet attended but his condition worsened dramatically and the decision was made to put him to sleep.  The field he was in was fenced off with an electric fence, but people still throw things in.  Whole loaves of bread still in the packets were found, along with crisps, custard creams and other biscuits.”

Further tragedy came when Jennifer’s six-year-old Royal Highland prize-winning mare Malcolmwood Lady Muck, Finn’s dam, was found dead in the field.  The mare was  showing no signs of illness the night before, and a post-mortem could find no cause for her death.  Jennifer says:  “We have had blood work and toxicology carried out but I am sure she died because she was fed something - we found multiple chocolate wrappers on the other side of the field gate that day.”

Lady Muck was sired by Carnaff Ambassador, a stallion owned by Jennifer’s father-in-law which was collected for the RBST Gene Bank as part of the work funded by the Heavy Horse Appeal.  She was due to foal in April 2021.

The problem of members of the public feeding horses was highlighted in 2020 by the British Horse Society and the University of Bristol following a survey amongst horse owners. More than three quarters of horse owners surveyed found that their horses were fed without their permission.
The survey also found that nearly a third of horses became unwell as a result, with half of these needing veterinary treatment. Almost a third of those that required treatment did not make a full recovery and shockingly 16 per cent died were euthanised.

RBST Field Officer Tom Blunt comments:  “The losses of Jennifer’s colt, mare and unborn foal and the impact that they have had on her breeding programme, was very bad news not just for the owner, but for the breed as a whole as the Clydesdales have relatively few breeding mares.  People may think they are being kind by giving horses ‘treats’ when, in fact, they can be putting their lives at risk.  The reports of horses and ponies dying in this way are increasing, so it is essential that the public is made aware of the problem because it is a situation that is very hard to police.”

The BHS has produced free signs for horse owners to place around their fields warning the public not to feed their horses. These are available for download at bhs.org.uk/behorseaware.