A heartbroken vet who lost an 11-month-old horse and its mother after they were fed by passers-by has warned of how the public can unintentionally “kill with kindness”.
Jennifer Spiers, who breeds horses in South Lanarkshire, was on her honeymoon in spring last year when she got the call to say the young horse, known as Finn, was ill.
Finn had developed impaction colic, an accumulation of feed or other dried indigestible material that obstructs the horse’s colon, and Ms Spiers was stuck abroad unable to do anything to help.
She told STV News: “People just don’t have any idea. Despite having signs, despite having them fenced in, you’d have maybe 20 to 30 people stopping to see the horses.
“We’ve found whole loaves of bread, bananas, crisp packets.”
Finn’s condition worsened and he had to be put to sleep.
Then in December, the colt’s mother, a prize-winning Clydesdale called Lady Muck, was found dead.
“From the minute she was born, I’ve been with her. She was a one-in-a-million horse.”Jennifer Spiers
Ms Spiers said: “On December 29, we went to check on them in the morning, they were absolutely fine.
“We drove past later on and couldn’t see Lady Muck. We went down to see if we could find her and she was lying dead – she had just passed away.
“I knew she was dead, I knew she wasn’t going to be with us anymore.”
Lady Muck was six years old and Ms Spiers had known her, her whole life.
“From the minute she was born, I’ve been with her,” she said, “She was a one-in-a-million horse.”
Ms Spiers and her husband, Brendan McKay, are waiting for the results of Lady Muck’s autopsy, including a toxicology report.
She said: “We picked up chocolate wrappers and people were feeding them carrots.
“If 20 or 30 people are feeding them something, it’s a lot for them on their system.
“It can cause colic which is often fatal.”
Clydesdale horses, which originate from Lanarkshire, are considered a vulnerable rare breed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
Lady Muck, said Ms Spiers, was one of less than 800 breeding females in the UK.
“It’s not just two lives lost, it’s a possible bloodline adding to the gene pool of a very rare breed,” she said.
Ms Spiers and her husband would take Lady Muck to exhibitions, including the Highland Show, where she was well-known among Clydesdale breeders.
“I had known her her whole life. She just stood next to you and you felt calm. She was just amazing.”Jennifer Spiers
She said: “She was such an unassuming mare. You wouldn’t have thought she’d won lots of prizes.
“I had known her her whole life. She just stood next to you and you felt calm. She was just amazing. I don’t think we’ll breed anything as good as she was.”
During lockdown, the family said the numbers of people going for walks in the countryside surged with as many as 200 passers-by a day.
Ms Spiers believes people do not understand the harm they can cause by feeding the animals and is pleading for the public to take heed.
She said: “Sometimes it needs to be the shock factor with people. We are looking at signs to say ‘your kindness can kill, a horse has died here’.”