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Horse owners are being urged to remain vigilant and be prepared for further flooding and damage after some parts of the country had a month’s rainfall in less than a week over the Christmas period.

More than 500 weather warnings have been issued over the past fortnight and many owners have found themselves caught out by the storms.

H&H reader Andrea Norbury from Leatherhead in Surrey was forced to call out her local fire service to rescue one of her ponies who was trapped on the wrong side of a flooded ditch.

“It has just been horrific,” Andrea said. “The fire service were brilliant and the pony was fine.

“We also had 5 ex-racehorses that were up to their chests in water in their stables.”

Jim Green, who is large animal rescue specialist for Hampshire Fire and Rescue, told H&H that livestock owners have responded well to the crisis.

“People seem to have put contingency plans in place,” he said. “But we need to make sure that we are proactive when bad weather hits. As a nation, we are poor at planning for extreme conditions.”

Owner concern
Welfare charities have also been inundated with calls from owners and members of the public who are concerned about the welfare of horses.

“Since Christmas we have received more calls about horses in waterlogged flood plains or standing in water, and if the weather persists the situation will only get worse,” said World Horse Welfare’s Sam Chubbock.

“When people are concerned about horses owned by others, we are asking callers to monitor the situation to see if the horse is in a waterlogged field temporarily, which is less of a concern than if they are in deep or flowing water.

“They should call us back if the situation persists or if the horse seems to be in distress.”

The RSPCA was forced to step in to move groups of trapped ponies to higher ground in Maisemore, Glos, and Christchurch in Dorset last week.

Power cuts
As well as flooding concerns, power cuts have also caused havoc in the equestrian world.

More than 100,000 homes were left without power over Christmas. International dressage rider Amy Stovold, who is based in Dunsfold, Surrey, was one of those affected.

“It was an awful time,” said Amy. “The yard didn’t have any electricity for three days and my poor staff had to have everything finished before it got dark.”

Showing producer Lynn Russell is also based in Dunsfold and was left without any power over the festive period.

Lucky escape
Other owners across the country have expressed relief that their horses have not been seriously injured after roofs and field shelters were blown away and trees have blown over.

Barbara Wakinson in Lancashire woke up to find that a huge willow tree had split in half and fallen across her stable block with 2 horses inside.

“The branches had pierced the roof in 2 places, but thankfully the stables are built out of concrete blocks and were able to withstand the weight,” she said.

Gabrielle Davies from Bolton said it looked like a “twister had ripped through” her farm. Caroline Griffiths from Anglesey in Wales had the roof of her stable ripped off and blown more than 30m away.

Cancellations
The terrible weather has also forced numerous cancellations to the racing calendar. Ffos Las, Huntingdon, Exeter and Lingfield racecourses have all been forced to abandon fixtures in the past fortnight.

And Wincanton, Taunton — which was to host the first hunter chase of the new season — Fontwell, Cheptstow and Sandown had to cancel after further heavy rain last weekend (4-5 January).

Sandown was due to hold the feature race of the weekend, the Tolworth Hurdle. Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said the Surrey track “sadly had no choice but to abandon” due to the weather conditions.

Hunts have also been affected by the weather.

Despite a bumper turnout on Boxing Day (news, 3 January), some packs, such as the Farmers Bloodhounds, were forced to cancel meets over the weekend. Many other hunts were restricted to roads and tracks.

Danger hasn’t passed
Although the worst of the weather has hopefully passed, there is still concern about the damage left behind.

Vets and farriers are already seeing more cases of foot abscesses caused by infection seeping into waterlogged hooves standing on the wet ground.

“Horses are prone to pus in the foot in wet weather,” H&H vet Karen Coumbe warned. “Mud fever and rain scald are also seen more often now.

“It is worth remembering that if horses are forced into a sudden change of routine due to the weather, there can be a concern about colic, too.”

View pictures of the storm’s aftermath

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine, 9 January 2014