GRAVEL HILL, UK. In a freak occurrence, an 18-year-old Thoroughbred mare became unhinged, bolting at the sight of a red hot air balloon just as the pilot was firing up the burners to gain altitude. The timing could not have been worse – the pilot of the balloon had just aborted a landing at the Henley Rugby Club on the evening of August 17 and was flying low. Della, the Thoroughbred mare, and seven other horses in surrounding paddocks all began to spook and bolt from the roar of the burners and the balloon gliding overhead.
Della spooked so severely that she lost her footing and went down hard. She was already ill and this episode proved deadly for her. She was unable to rise. Her owner, Liz Jones, 52, was with Della when she bolted and fell. When the horse was unable to get back to her feet, Jones called a veterinarian from Aylesbury. Jones had owned Della for over eight years.
The mare could not be saved and Della had to be euthanized where she had fallen.
Jones discussed the massive roar of the burners and flames as the pilot turned them on. She criticized that action saying,
The recommended minimum height is 500 ft around livestock but this was hovering at about two or three times the height of the town hall when it came over the field. It had been even lower than that beforehand.
Horses are flight animals — such a sight and sound will immediately put them into a panic. It is pure instinct.
The owner of the Friar Park Stables, Ruth Lovejoy, was in front of the TV when she saw the balloon flying past her window. It was really low. Lovejoy ran outside to have a better look and to check on the horses, especially Della who had a central nervous system disorder and was unstable on her legs.
Lovejoy said, “The balloon was much lower than it should have been and the burners made a hell of a loud noise. The horses were just going round and round frightened to death.”
A spokesperson for Virgin Balloons said that one of their balloons left with 16 passengers and headed east over the Chiltern Hills. A landing was planned at the Henley Rugby Club. Due to wind speed safety reasons, the pilot aborted the landing and continued on to Park Place estate. Legally, the hot air balloon could fly below 1000 ft as “it was on approach to landing.”
The stables location will now be marked “sensitive” to make balloon pilots closely aware.
Source: Henley Standard
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