A TOP horse breeder has warned against “acts of self-centred sentimentality” littering of the countryside, after a young horse was killed by a balloon.

Jennifer Birtwhistle of Harrogate says people who let off lanterns and balloons to mark weddings or deaths can have no idea of the damage they are doing to the countryside

She was speaking after the death of Espoiro, a three-year-old chestnut mare from an impressive show-jumping dynasty, which died an agonising death after swallowing the string from a balloon.

Her heartbroken owner said: “These are self-centred acts of sentimentality with no true purpose which are littering the countryside with helium balloons and lanterns.

“Aside from the mess and inconvenience people in the countryside face it has now cost the life of a beautiful horse which died the most agonising death imaginable.”

Mrs Birtwhistle, 77, a British Showjumping Association judge was devastated by the death of the horse.

She and her family nicknamed the £15,000 animal Feisty. Mrs Birtwhistle said a pink helium balloon dropped into the field and as the string lay in the grass, Feisty swallowed it and began choking. The horse bolted across the field and through two gates in a panic, breaking two legs and her neck.

Balloon or lantern releases at weddings and after family deaths are “a fad”, but if people know the damage caused they would be much less popular, Mrs Birtwhistle added. Local vet John Millar backed Mrs Birtwhistle’s warnings. He said: “People think these balloons and lanterns are just a bit of fun but they can cause devastation. When horses are panicked they will run through anything.”