Mare and foal die after vet ‘held up by cycle race steward’

The owner of a mare and foal who both died after a vet was held up by a large-scale cycling event said the worst aspect is that help was minutes away.

Helen van Heyningen told H&H her vet was prevented from using roads closed for the Velo Birmingham & Midlands ride yesterday (12 May) just over a mile from her house, for an hour as a steward would not allow him through. Eventually, her partner Mennell Watson threatened to block the road outside with a horsebox and “within two minutes”, the vet rang to say he had been allowed through.

But by that time the mare Bon Amour (Penny) and her foal had died.

“Something went terribly wrong in that hour,” said Helen, who runs competition and stud farm Euro Sport Horse with Mennell on the outskirts of Solihull.

“The only way we got anyone to do anything was when Mennell lost the plot because the mare was in agony.”

Helen said Penny, who was competed by Mennell up to 1.30 level and whose previous offspring had already been successful as youngsters, was not due until Wednesday (15 May) but went into labour at about 9.30am.

“Everything was fine; the front legs were out, then the head, the shoulders – and nothing else,” she said. “I’ve never had that; we have eight or nine foals a year and normally, once the shoulders are out, the foal just flops out, but that didn’t happen.”

Helen called the vet, who was four miles away. She ran to a steward for the race, which involves thousands of cyclists, just off her land and asked for the road closure to be lifted to allow the vet through.

“He rang his manager and the authority was given,” she said. “The vet phoned about seven minutes later to say he was at another closed road and the steward there wouldn’t let him through.

“The stewards at my end were trying to contact him to say we had authority but he wouldn’t speak to them.”

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Helen tried to pass her phone, with the vet on the line, to the stewards, who tried to contact their colleague, she said, but to no avail.

An hour later, I’d managed to get the foal out but it had suffocated,” she said. “I think it had been kicking inside the mare and ruptured her; by the time the vet got here, she’d just passed away.

“She was in agony for a long time, with the vet 1.2 miles away – that was the worst bit.”

Helen emailed the ride organisers and asked someone to call her, but their reply read: “We are aware of the situation and are investigating the chain of events that led to this incident, and will respond in due course.”

“It doesn’t really help; we’ve got a dead mare and a dead foal,” Helen said.

“She was a lovely mare; so kind and the best mother you could wish for. Lovely to handle and just an amazing mare.

“In events like this, everyone should have a radio and be able to speak to everyone in the vicinity and for this steward to say someone’s not coming through is just not on – and all they’ve said is they’re aware of the situation and they’re investigating.

“It was all so unnecessary.”

H&H has approached ride organisers for comment.

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