‘She was lying in the road, broken’: owner’s devastation as horse dies after new year fireworks

  • The devastated owner of a horse who died after New Year’s Eve fireworks were let off close by said the hope the tragedy will make just one person reconsider their choices is keeping her going.

    Joanna Barnett’s much-loved Connemara Tallulah, whom she described as “my rock; my horse of a lifetime”, ran through a fence in blind panic and was found on the road. Despite Joanna’s and vets’ best efforts, she had to be put down on New Year’s Day.

    She was 22, and had been with Joanna for 18 years.

    “I was fostered and I got her soon after I left care,” Joanna told H&H. “She’d been with me my whole adult life. I’ve spent four days crying, and just want to do anything I can to make people think.

    “It would be easy to get bitter and point fingers but nothing good will come from that. All I can do is try to educate people on what the consequences [of fireworks] can be, and make them think – is it really worth it?”

    Joanna said she and her husband were lucky to buy a property with land, which needed a huge amount of work and to which Tallulah moved last year. She had never been badly affected by fireworks over the years, Joanna said, adding that even when they were let off frequently in the area around Halloween and Bonfire Night, and again on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the mare was calm.

    “On New Year’s Eve, they started about 9pm and she was fine then too,” Joanna said. “The weather was terrible; it was teeming it down and windy and I thought there was just no need for fireworks. But she was fine.

    “Then, later, I heard from a lovely lady who used to live next door, to say they’d found a grey pony in the road. She said she knew Tallulah was secure but did I know whose it might be. We flew round there, with a headcollar and a bucket of nuts. I was so naive; I thought I’d catch her and walk her home, but what we were greeted with was her lying in the road, broken.”

    With the help of an emergency vet and police, Joanna got Tallulah up and home. She was given sedation, painkillers and fluids, as “for a while we were hopeful that she might get through the shock, potential internal injuries and the colic that was caused by her terror”.

    Warning: you may find this video upsetting

    “I can’t thank the vet enough,” Joanna added. “She was exhausted but we initially thought she might be all right. By about 12pm, I knew she wouldn’t be. You can see it in their eyes, and you know in your heart. She went downhill rapidly and all I could say to the vet was ‘Please get here as quickly as you can, I can’t let her suffer any more’. It was horrific.”

    Joanna said she has no interest in pointing fingers or apportioning blame. But, she added, her horse was in pain despite all efforts, and her death was unnecessary.

    “I can only hang on to one thing; that something good will come of this,” she said. “I don’t expect to change the world, but I’d like people to think ‘Is it really worth it?’ I won’t ever be able to see fireworks again without seeing her lying there in pain, dripping with sweat, that’s finished for me and my children. But other people can enjoy them, in a safe way.”

    Joanna said that although she would like a complete ban on fireworks, she understands that many people enjoy them. She would like to see restrictions on sales, times and locations for setting off fireworks, as is to be the case in Scotland, or alternatives such as noiseless displays or laser shows.

    “There are so many options,” she said. “I think backyard fireworks have had their day; people need to move forward and in 10 years’ time, look back and say ‘I can’t believe we used to do that’. I don’t want to start wars but people need to wake up to the realities.”

    Joanna has been over what happened in her head repeatedly, she said, and she does not believe she could have done anything differently. Tallulah had always lived out; she was very stressed when Joanna tried to stable her once, her field was secure and she had never previously been bothered by fireworks.

    ‘If you google ‘Horse death fireworks’, that tells you everything you need to know and I doubt any of those owners could have done anything differently,” she said. “People talk about sedation but you never know when the fireworks are going off; you can’t get the vet out at random, or time it just right before the adrenaline kicks in.

    “I didn’t expect her to be terrorised like this but something must have happened that was particularly terrifying; I’m told some of the ones let off later were exceptionally loud.”

    Joanna said she has had many messages of support since she posted about Tallulah on social media; she shared videos of what happened because, upsetting as they are, she feels they should help get the message across.

    “My husband didn’t even cry at our wedding, but he cried on Sunday,” she said.

    “Tallulah was my rock, my horse of a lifetime. She’d been with me from leaving care to being married with two children; every time I had a bad day, I could go and give her a hug and talk to her. I got a tracking app and we’d covered 300 miles together recently; what better friend could there be?

    “She’d given me so much and she deserved a better end. The only thing I could give her was love at the end but it doesn’t feel enough. I’m lost but something good has to come from this – I have to hang on to that or I wouldn’t be able to move – but if it makes one person think, saves one horse or wild animal, that’s all I can ask.”

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