With Olympic fever about to engulf the country, the British Horse Society (BHS) is warning riders to be alert to the dangers of people celebrating by setting off Chinese lanterns.

The society says it has received “terrible reports” of the “catastrophic” effects of the lanterns when they land and are ingested by horses.

“We have been made aware of many ‘novelty’ lanterns, including a timely Union flag design,” said a spokesman.

The BHS is urging horse owners to check fields and hedgerows for lanterns and spent fireworks, which may be set off during the Games.

Sally-Ann Spence of Ashbury, Wilts, contacted H&H after her 12-year-old thoroughbred had to be euthanased. He had become a “walking skeleton” whose immune system had gone into “overdrive”, she said.

A post-mortem examination revealed he had suffered extensive internal damage due to a length of wire, identified as part of a sky lantern.

“No animal deserves to suffer as he had done,” she said.

Ms Spence is urging readers to sign an e-petition calling for the devices to be banned.

“Remember what was a beautiful light in the sky can quickly become an unnoticed killer in your hay,” she added.

The e-petition, on the Government’s website, was started by a natural history cameraman, Mark Vinall.

“These non-essential, air-born menaces are affecting wildlife, farm animals and domestic pets,” he said.

Mr Vinall added that the UK Coastguard has had an increase in the number of call-outs to false alarms – because the decorative lanterns are mistaken for distress flares.

If the e-petition – which closes on 22 August – gathers 100,000 signatures it will be discussed in Parliament.

But to date, only 4,183 people have signed.

To show your support sign at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13051

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (26 July 2012)