Stop Feeding Horses: Appeal to Northamptonshire's lockdown walkers after spate of deaths
Well meaning but misguided walkers have been feeding horses over the past year on lockdown strolls - leading to a surge in deaths in fields
A young girl from Northamptonshire has issued a plea to walkers to stop feeding horses in fields - because it is killing them.
12-year-old Francesca Gibson nearly lost her 'best friend' Pingu in September after he developed a lethal intestinal conditional brought on by too many treats from well-meaning walkers.
But it comes after a national surge in horse deaths in the last year from colic - a painful and life-threatening condition caused eating too much of the wrong food like bread, carrots and apples.
Now, a national campaign is underway by Facebook group 'Stop Feeding Our Houses' to educate the public on the harm it is causing, and has grown to over 9,000 members in just two months.
For Francesca, she was left fearing for her beloved Pingu's life after he fell severely ill last year.
She told this newspaper: "I came to see him one morning and he wouldn't eat anything. He had his head down and was so miserable, not anything like he normally is.
"It was scary. I just didn't know what would happen.
"I love him. He's my best friend."
However, Fran's horse trainer - Ann McGettigan, from Great Houghton - was able to spot the signs that Pingu was suffering from colic, a condition where the intestine becomes inflamed.
It is believed the surge in colic cases around the country is because of walkers going on strolls to get out during lockdown and make a habit of bringing treats to horses in fields - unaware of the damage so much food can do.
Ann herself knows the dangers, as she has lost three horses to the surge in cases despite signs up not to feed her animals without permission.
She said: "People all over England have lost horses since lockdown because there are more walkers. People come from all around to feed. They think they're doing a nice thing.
"But people are bringing bags of breads, bags of apples, carrots, grass clippings... I once found nine whole iceberg lettuces still in their wrapping.
"And because everyone has Google they all think they're experts. But when the world and his dog is bringing apples and carrots all day it makes them sick because they just eat and eat and eat.
"People see a horse in a field and think 'aw, they aren't being taken care off', when they're being as well fed and looked after. If I tell them not to, they say I'm being rude and they read online somewhere that they could. They're my horses.
"And it's horrible. Colic and colitis can be a horrible, painful death. If a horse died of colic you can tell because the ground all around them is thrashed to bits."
For Fran, it meant her and Ann had to work fast to treat Pingu.
Mum Kim Gibson said: "It was a 50-50 chance we would have had to put him down.
"It was so upsetting. Pingu is Francesca's best friend.
"The trouble is people think they're being kind. It's lovely that people get to see and experience horses but they have to stop feeding them without permission."
Through a process of walking him back and forth every day to keep his gut moving and with medicinal drops, Pingu was able to make a full recovery.
The Facebook Group 'Stop Feeding Our Horses' was founded in January to raise awareness of the issue and inform the public how overfeeding can put horses in pain and cause grief to their owners. For more information, visit their page here.