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‘I’m thankful for what we had’: heartbreak as H&H pony of the year ‘gains his wings’ aged 31

The owner of the H&H pony of the year, the blind 31-year-old Shetland who changed lives, says she will take the heartbreak at his loss for the “magic” of the 27 years they had together.

Smurf, who was found abandoned at the side of the A1M in 1993 and went on to provide therapy for countless people, “gained his wings” on Friday (21 August) after a bout of colic.

Owner Lisa Walker told H&H Smurf had been on top form on Thursday.

“He was doing a therapy visit in the morning,” she said, explaining that while social distancing is in place, she has been taking the ponies to a paddock to allow people to visit them.

“I took all three ponies and when the lady left, and the three of them were playing, and I thought it was such a lovely day, we’d stay there. We spent the day just pottering in the sun.

“That was his last day, and I’m holding on to the memory that it was such a lovely one.”

That evening, Smurf started showing signs of mild colic, so Lisa took him to her vet, nearby. All his vital signs looked all right, she said, but after he had been tubed and given pain relief, she decided to leave him in for the night so staff could keep an eye on him, thinking all would be well.

But the next morning, staff rang to say the pain relief had worn off and Smurf did not look good.

“They scanned him again and could see some kinks in his intestine, as if it was twisted,” Lisa said. “The treatment wasn’t having any effect and we had no choice.”

Smurf could not be considered for surgery owing to his age, blindness, a heart murmur and weakness; vets said it was not likely he would even be able to get to the clinic.

“We had to let him go,” Lisa said. “He came over to me and [my son] Alex and put his head on our laps, as if to say ‘Come on, Mum’. And that was it.

Picture by Ben Smith, Photography North

“Before they put the needle in, he was starting to go; we just helped him on his way.

“In a way, it’s so hard because it happened so fast but I’d have hated to see him deteriorate, always wondering ‘Is it today we’ll have to do it’ or if it was too early, or too late. This way, he took the decision out of my hands.

“In my heart of hearts, I knew my time with him was limited but I wasn’t ready; I don’t think I ever would have been.”

Lisa said what has helped her and her family is the outpouring of support they have received.

“We’ve been getting phone calls and emails from everywhere; pantomimes, museums, hospice, a lord, people from as far away as Australia,” she said. “My sitting room is full of cards and presents, and more flowers than I’ve ever had.

“It’s so overwhelming but it helps because it’s like people understand how upset I am because they are too. He was integral to a lot of people and I didn’t fully realise.

“He was on the local news and everyone’s mentioned the H&H award; that was such a proud moment, winning that, and he’s gone over the rainbow bridge still as pony of the year.”

Lisa said the routine of looking after her other two ponies, Tom and Marley, helps, and she is considering setting up a sensory garden, Smurf’s Garden, in her pony’s memory.

“The vet said he was one in a million and the care home residents called him ‘Smurf, the giver of love’, so that’s what’s going on his casket,” she said.

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“Whatever he did; pantos, therapy, school visits, parties, he always gave 100%, even when he lost his sight, he was just perfect, really.

“I just keep reminding myself that I was the lucky one, to have him all that time, and I never thought in my wildest dreams he’d achieve what he did, and change my life completely; I’d never have set the business up without him.

“I’ve got to be thankful for those years of watching him create memories, it was almost magical to watch.

“I’d take the heartbreak now because we’ve had those 27 years, and I wouldn’t change anything for the world. It’s been amazing.”

Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade to access our H&H Plus online service which brings you breaking news as it happens as well as other benefits.

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