A pony who touched hearts across the world as he fought to recover from horrific burns suffered in a suspected arson attack has died at less than a year old.
Phoenix, who arrived at Redwings Horse Sanctuary in August, having suffered extensive burns in a stable fire thought to have been caused deliberately — and in which a yearling died — failed to recover from a general anaesthetic yesterday (19 October).
“We are beyond devastated to announce that our beloved Phoenix has passed away,” a Redwings spokesman said.
The spokesman explained that Phoenix had been having 24-hour care for his first-, second- and third-degree burns, having bandages reapplied to most of his body every one to two days.
“We’ve been sharing the colourful bandage creations by our vet nurses, but they hid a very distressing picture underneath,” the spokesman said.
“We have never published images of the true nature of his injuries as we felt they were simply too horrific to share, but under his dressings his skin had simply fallen away leaving a very painful, red raw surface that was open to infection, and which the vet team were handling incredibly sensitively.
“It became apparent in recent weeks that his extensive wounds had healed as best they could and that they would never recover sufficiently to allow him to live a good quality of life in the future unless further intervention was taken.”
The spokesman said that without further action, it was likely Phoenix would have to spend months, if not years, in bandages, and be left with “paper-thin scar tissue that would restrict his movement and his ability to spend time in the sunshine or with other horses”.
“He would never be able to play or exhibit natural horse behaviours and he would always be prone to injury or infection,” the spokesman said.
After extensive consultation with burns experts, it was decided that Phoenix’s best chance would be a skin graft; taking a thin layer of healthy skin from his abdomen and creating grafts to apply to his burned areas.
An expert Dutch vet joined the Redwings team for the procedure, but Phoenix did not recover from the anaesthesia that was essential for the operation.
Redwings chief executive Lynn Cutress said: “It’s hard to describe how devastating Phoenix’s loss has been for everyone at Redwings. Since he arrived, our vet team, in particular, had dedicated themselves 24 hours a day to his care and in the process discovered an affectionate little pony with one of the biggest hearts we had ever seen.
“Simply put, we all fell in love with him, and we all miss him dreadfully.
“It was obvious that he was desperate to live the life of a normal pony his age and we felt he deserved that chance. Performing surgery on any animal carries risks but we knew, and all the experts agreed, that without going forward with skin graft treatment, he would never enjoy the quality of life he deserved.
“We can’t thank our supporters enough for their well wishes and kind donations since Phoenix’s arrival. Everything Redwings does is 100% funded by donations and it was the generosity of the public who enabled us to provide him with the intensive care he needed and kept our amazing vet team going through this very demanding time. We know Phoenix touched the hearts of so many people across the world and we’re so sorry to have to break such terribly sad news to everyone.”
The plan is to scatter Phoenix’s ashes in the memorial garden at Redwings’ Caldecott visitor centre in Norfolk to allow supporters to pay tribute. A permanent memorial will also be installed at the charity’s Hapton headquarters, where Phoenix lived in the horse hospital.
“Phoenix was an exceptionally special case, both clinically and in our hearts, but sadly there are many more horses and ponies who have devastating stories like these; this is the upsetting reality of animal welfare work,” the spokesman said.
“We are proud to have been able to give Phoenix, and many other horses, the best chance of living a safe and happy life after experiencing terrible suffering, thanks to your support.
“Rest in peace our dear Phoenix, you’ll for ever have a place in our hearts.”
Anyone who would like to donate to Redwings in Phoenix’s memory can call 01508 481000 or donate online.
You might also be interested in:
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 your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.