'Don't feed my horses' - Plea after walkers' treats make animals sick

A horse sitting down.

"These animals are like children to us," Stephanie Kirk said. - Credit: Stephanie Kirk

Walkers are being urged not to feed horses while on country rambles after several were left with serious illnesses - and their owners with huge vet's bills.

With more people going on walks through the countryside during the various lockdowns, there has been a rise in people stopping to feed livestock.

That has prompted local horse owners to urge the public not to feed the animals after several animals fell ill.

Great Yarmouth-based horse owner, Stephanie Kirk, described the past year as "absolutely awful" for the horses.

"So many people have been leaning over fences and feeding the horses apples and carrots.

A sign instructing people not feed horses.

A new campaign led by the British Horse Society informs people that their 'kindness may kill.' - Credit: British Horse Society

"These foods can seem normal, but horses have dietary requirements.

"We all have restrictions - it's the same for animals," said Ms Kirk.

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One other horse owner, who did not wish to be identified, said that her horse now had "severe" stomach issues as a result of passers-by misfeeding her horse.

"The vet was out every two days for three weeks.

"Our horse was prescribed steroids and antibiotics for the pain. 

"We thought she was going to die," Ms Kirk added.

The owner now has to pay a veterinarian bill of over £1,000.

Another horse from the local area has been stabled for three weeks with diarrhoea.

A horse with diarrhoea on its hind legs.

One of the horses in Great Yarmouth has suffered with severe diarrhoea as a result of the public feeding it. - Credit: Stephanie Kirk

"I just don't understand why people do it," Ms Kirk said.

Recently, the online campaign, #dontfeedthehorses, has seen a massive increase in posts.

Dr Mark Kennedy, horse welfare expert at the RSPCA, said: “It is essential we get the message out to the general public that they should never feed a horse without the owner’s permission. 

“Horses may be on specialist diets to control issues such as laminitis or obesity, and food that might seem innocent to the general public can be highly dangerous to horses.

"Even foods which are safe for horses can be lethal if they are not prepared properly as they can cause obstructions in the horse’s oesophagus, which can result in them choking to death.

A sign from the British Horse Society instructing people not to feed horses.

""We have signs up, but people still do it." A sign instructing people to avoid feeding the horses. - Credit: Stephanie Kirk

Ms Kirk said: "These animals are like children to us.

"We spend money to make sure they're happy and we're left with bills because of other people's ignorance.

"I wouldn't feed someone else's dogs or kids, so please don't feed my horses." 

If you have concerns that a horse is not being fed by their owner, please report it to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.