The devastated owner of a three-year-old bred to showjump who “died in agony” after she was panicked by a spent helium balloon is calling on merrymakers to think before they act.
Espoiro, who was by Ramiro B out of a successful showjumping mare, ran through two gates in “blind panic”, suffering two broken legs and a broken neck.
Owner and breeder Jennifer Birtwistle, of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said the young mare, who was due to be backed this year, had swallowed the string of a helium balloon.
“The first we knew was when a taxi driver came up the drive saying there had been a terrible accident,” Mrs Birtwistle told H&H.
“She’d been crashing round the field, choking with the string of the balloon down her throat, then she went through the gate and broke her leg.
“Then she went through the other gate, breaking another leg and her neck. She was lying in the driveway, tangled in the gate; she must have been dying in agony and absolute terror, and all we could do was stand there helplessly.
“I’ve been around horses all my life and have never seen anything like this, it was absolute carnage.”
Mrs Birtwistle, a British Showjumping judge who “breeds one special horse a year”, said the fields are checked regularly for any sort of litter.
“These balloons have been landing for a long time,” she said. “This has been so tragic but I’m not surprised.
“I’ve been worried about them for years and on red alert for them all the time but I never in my wildest imagination expected anything as bad as this.”
Mrs Birtwistle said Espoiro had been nicknamed Feisty when she was a foal.
“She was so brave and bold, which was how she’d been bred,” she said. “So anything landing in her field – and the string looked like a piece of hay – she’d have gone and nibbled at it.
“She must have swallowed it, and the balloon was attached.”
Mrs Birtwistle is calling for the practice of letting off balloons to be stopped.
“Litter is litter; if you or I dropped paper in the street, we’d be fined,” she said. “But people don’t understand. I can’t tell you the response I’ve had; people ringing up to say they’d done it and hadn’t realised the consequences.
“It’s a craze; people let them off at weddings or after someone’s death; do they think God is up there reading all the messages? That’s not going to happen.
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“Generally, we’re a nation of animal lovers, of kind people, and I think that includes those who let these balloons off; they just don’t make the connection between that and them coming down somewhere.
“Feisty was bred to be special and she was in that field – with her mother, as it happens – as it was the safest place we could find for her without bringing her into the kitchen.
“But nowhere’s safe from these balloons landing from the air.”