A HORSE owner from Gravesend was "crushed" after a break-in left her pony, Smurf, close to death.
Emma Warran, 29, of West Street, visited her animals in Darenth Country Park on November 1 to discover thieves had smashed through the locks the day before, letting her horses loose on unprepared food.
One of them, a Welsh Cross pony, had swallowed sugar beet - which should not be eaten raw - and it swelled to five times its original size inside his stomach.
Smurf developed life-threatening complications and was forced to endure a 12-hour operation to avoid suffocation.
The mum-of-one was devastated at the sight which awaited her following the break in.
She said: "The horses were staggering about, looking really ill.
"I was crushed. I tried to stay strong for the children like my three-year-old daughter Jane but when I came home I cried.
"Smurf’s pipes were blocked with a condition called choke, which meant he was struggling to breathe or swallow.
"I called the vet out but after two painful hours they gave up, we could not get a tube in to his stomach.
"The sugar beet had swelled five times its original size in his stomach so we had to rush him to the Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic in Maidstone. Every second of the drive was worrying."
After facing 12 hours on the operating table, the pony still faces an uncertain future.
He still has scar tissue in his throat which means he could get pneumonia.
Ms Warran is livid that the thieves endangered an animal's life for so little.
The full-time mum said: "Horses love their food, so while the thugs only managed to get their hands on a few things they knocked over food which was unprepared.
"I am so frustrated - we feel invaded.
"There is a hidden cost of break-ins that only owners have to deal with.
"I could lose the one pony that is like no other - I don't care about what they stole."
The vets were also concerned by the incident.
Belle Equine Veterinary Surgery director Karen Coumbe said: “Smurf was very poorly but we’re delighted he’s such a good recovery.
“It does highlight the need to be careful with these animals. Ponies eat a lot, they are like stomachs on legs.”
A Kent Police spokesman said: "We were called after 8.15am on November 1 to a reported burglary in Dartford.
"It was reported some items were missing from stables at Darenth Park in Gore Road, including rugs, head collars, lead ropes, a pink wheelbarrow and feed pins.
"The burglary is believed to have taken place between 4pm on 31 October and 8.15am the following day."