A Redwings vet who had to put two ponies to sleep due to fireworks says she is still affected by the experience, which happened during one awful 24 hour-period in 2016.

Dawn Trayhorn, who is based at the Redwings Horse Hospital, has spoken about the traumatic incidents for a special edition of Redwings’ Field Notes podcast about the risk fireworks pose to horses, which is available to listen to from today (Monday 31st October).

The UK’s biggest horse charity is asking supporters to listen and share the episode to encourage more people to think about the dangers, and take action to help, as we head towards Bonfire Night.

Dawn was the on-call vet on the night of Saturday 5th November 2016, when 19-year-old Welsh pony Sprite was found distressed and suffering from suspected colic; he was lying down, covered in sweat and breathing heavily. The field where he and his herd-mates lived was churned up, showing how the normally sedate group had been running for a prolonged period in distress.

Dawn said: “One of the members of the nights team rang me at about half past six in the evening.

“Sprite was in a lot of distress; he was lying down and they couldn’t get him to stand up.

“Luckily, I only live about five minutes away, so I was there quickly.

“It was dark and there was a fireworks display happening less than half a mile away which was still going on and there were a lot of bright lights and loud bangs.

“All the signs pointed to colic, which can be brought on by stress.

“Despite trying to give him a generous amount of pain relief I couldn’t get him to stand, he was evidently in pain, and I had to make the decision to put him to sleep.”

Sprite’s field was checked to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the remaining ponies.

Dawn said: “I could tell that the group were quite alarmed. Our ponies are kept in groups of small herds. They were a stable group of older ponies used to living out happily and they would normally be very sedate. At that time of night, it would be their down time and they’d be sleeping or calmly eating forage.”

Dawn received another call at 7.30am when Percy – a 25-year-old Palomino pony from the same group – was found non-weight-bearing lame on his right front leg and in a lot of pain.

Percy was given emergency pain relief and brought by trailer into the stables for further examination and X-ray. No fracture was found but there was massive swelling and despite the team’s best efforts, he could not be made comfortable, and they had no choice but to end his suffering.

Dawn said: “Percy’s injury may have been caused while he was running around the field at high speed. He may have either had a fall or simply damaged his leg while charging about, or possibly even been kicked by another pony in their distress. None of this  would be typical behaviour.

“During all my years of working at Redwings, I have never had to put two ponies to sleep in one evening in the same field as a result of an emergency situation. It was a devastating loss to the team and to the Sanctuary”.

And of the lasting impact the events of that night had on her, almost six years later, she told Field Notes: “I used to be quite a fan of a fireworks display, but I don’t really like to go anymore. I find it makes me feel anxious because I think back to what happened.”

The fireworks special is the fourth episode of the second series Field Notes – sister to the Sounds of the Sanctuary podcast – which launched earlier this month. The new series has had over 4,000 downloads so far.

The episode also features Helen Whitelegg, Redwings’ Policy Officer, who shares developments in Scottish legislation around fireworks, and an encouraging example of how social demand from consumers has led at least one retailer to halt their sale in 2022. Carrie Stones, Campaigns Manager at the RSPCA, also provides an update on the work of their #BangOutOfOrder campaign – supported by Redwings – to make fireworks less frightening for animals. 

The podcast is available to listen to on all major podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Advice on how to help your horses during fireworks season is available here –

Additional staff care is needed during the Bonfire Night season to make extra safety checks on the charity’s horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. If you’d like to support Redwings during this challenging time of year you can do so here –

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