The heartbroken owner of a pony who was suffocated by a whole raw potato fed to him by lockdown walkers wants to ensure no other owners have to feel her devastation.
Sarra Mackenzie-Pilot’s 12-year-old Welsh section A gelding Lightning ran into a fence in panic on Sunday (17 January) and died moments later.
“I’m empty, broken,” she told H&H. “He was the most beautiful pony I’ve ever known, with the sweetest nature. From his first breath to his last, he was the love of my life.”
Sarra said a neighbour called her on Sunday afternoon to say Lightning had run into the fence.
“She thought he was stuck, but then saw he couldn’t breathe,” she said. “We ran straight over but didn’t get to him in time. He collapsed as we went across the field, and had died before we got to him.“He had a whole raw potato stuck in his throat.”
Sarra said a single-track road runs alongside the field in which she keeps her herd, including Lightning’s dam Sophie, who she has owned for 22 years.
“She’s got equine metabolic syndrome and is prone to laminitis,” she said. “We’ve got that well under control but are paranoid about people feeding her so we’ve had signs up for years by the road, saying not to feed the horses.
“The people who fed Lightning would have been three metres away from one of the signs. And he would have been choking pretty much straight away, they’d have seen him. But rather than alert anyone, they just left him to die.”
Sarra bred Lightning for her daughter, to move on to when she grew out of Sophie.But this did not happen, and as Sarra is also under 5’ tall, Lightning became her riding pony.
“I broke my spine and shattered my leg four years ago, and couldn’t walk for two years,” she said. “Every day, Lightning would be at the gate waiting for me.
“When I got the all-clear from the doctor, my husband tacked Lightning up and I walked him round the field. He’d never walked in his life, as he was such a whizzy pony, but, he went so slowly and carefully; it was like he knew I needed him to be different.
“Lightning gave me the impetus to get out of my wheelchair and walk again. My legs are different sizes and I will always walk with a limp, but he made me feel like I could fly.”
Lightning and Sarra competed in concours d’elegance with great success, qualifying for national championships and winning a roomful of rosettes.
“It doesn’t feel right now,” she said. “The whole herd is shuffling around, looking for him. We’ve got his mum and his sister and brother; they’ve been a herd and they don’t understand where he is. His mum was standing over him while he died and I had to take her away; she’s devastated.”
Sarra said the number of walkers shot up last lockdown, and again this time.
“There’s never been so much footfall, so we put more signs up,” she said. “But they were being pulled down, we’ve found people in the field trying to get closer to the horses.
“It’s this entitled belief that they’ve got some god-given right to do it, and if you confront them, they say ‘it’s only feeding them’, or ‘it’s only a bit of fun’. But look what feeding Lightning did; I had to drag his body away across the field.”
Sarra said she had been sharing social media posts about other horses and ponies who had been made ill or killed by the actions of walkers, and that she has had more than 800 messages since she shared her own story; many from people who have undergone similar experiences.
She is now working on a campaign, Lightning’s Legacy, and raising money through a fundraising page. She wants to provide stark warning signs, possibly with pictures of what feeding horses and ponies can do, to warn walkers off.
“This needs to be out there,” she said. “It’s not your god-given right to feed ponies. The pictures might be a horrible shock tactic but maybe people need to see them.
If this makes even one person think twice, that’s a good thing.
“It might make them walk away, and if it saves one pony, it’s worth it. It won’t bring him back, but it’s a reason to keep going.”
Sarra wants to raise awareness — one person commented on her post to say he had not realised potatoes were “poisonous” — and also to keep Lightning’s memory alive.
“Lightning was everyone’s friend; everyone loved him,” she said. “Someone wanted to feed the ponies on their nice Sunday walk, now every Sunday for the rest of my life is ruined.
“He was my angel, and if I can stop this happening to anyone else, that’s all I can ask; that no one ever has to feel like this because I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
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