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Updated: May 4

A MumsHaynet Exclusive

Mark Hambleton and the horse that was struck by lightning
FEARLESS FRIEND: Mark and his horse Ellie made a formidable team

Showing star Mark Hambleton has told how his beloved mare saved his life when the pair were struck by lightning, though tragically it cost the horse her own.

Bay Hanoverian Ellie took the brunt of the lethal 300 million volts of electricity which surged through her body and into Mark.

The 15.3 event horse died instantly, but incredibly Mark and a pony he was also leading survived the massive bolt.

Equestrian Mark, from Caistor, Lincolnshire, was rushed to hospital where doctors were astounded by his miracle escape.

“If it wasn’t for Ellie I wouldn’t be standing here today. She saved my life,” he told MumsHaynet. 

“Ellie took the full force of the lightning strike and heartbreakingly died on the spot.”


Mark,46, who is Head of Sixth Form at a specialist school, told how he raced to get the 13-year-old mare and a retired pony in from their field after ominous black clouds gathered overhead.

“I saw this huge dark cloud in the sky and knew I had to get the horses in to their stables. We had just reached the gate when there was a sudden blinding flash of light and these weird high pitched screeching noises.

“I was flung to the ground. My body was completely paralysed and I couldn’t move. It was like someone had dropped a huge, heavy item on top of me.

“I was completely dazed and just lay there trying to comprehend what had happened.

“My mum was standing nearby and witnessed the whole thing. She raced over utterly terrified at what she’d seen.

“Ellie was lying motionless on the ground. My pony Wispa was tearing around the field scared witless.

“Very gradually I began to feel some sensation in my legs, but my arms lay limply either side of me. I couldn’t move them. I was numb from the waist up.”

Mark Hambleton was saved from a lightning bolt by his horse
MARE IN A MILLION: Ellie took the full force of the lightning bolt

Mum Sylivia managed to bundle her stricken son into a car and race him to the nearest A&E department.

Medics cut off Mark’s clothes and hooked him up to an ECG machine to monitor his heart, it was more than an hour before full sensation crept back into his body.

Former Young Riders Champ Mark, whose horses have won at top shows across the country including HOYS, Windsor and The Royal International, said, “There were wavy red burn marks down the left side of my body where the lightning hit me. They looked like the sides of a Christmas tree.

“The bolt left my body through my left big toe leaving a black mark the size of a five pence piece.

“They told me I was extremely lucky to be alive with such relatively minor injuries.

“I was still in shock at what had happened, but physically well enough to be discharged the same day.”


Vets examined tragic Ellie and told devastated Mark she had died almost instantly after the massive electric surge scorched the inside of her body.

National newspapers, TV journalists and even the Horse and Hound magazine contacted Mark and his family for interviews, but they were too upset to talk about the tragedy.

Now, speaking for the first time about cheating death, Mark said, “I was only 19 when it happened, but I remember it all like it was yesterday.

“Ellie was my first horse after coming off ponies, so she was special. We had started eventing together and she was really talented.

“She was shod and the metal shoes acted as a conductor for the electricity. I was wearing leather shoes and the pony was barefoot.

“There was an electric fence nearby which was blown to smithereens. The flash of light blinded me momentarily, the brightness of it is hard to describe as it was so powerful.

“The noises I heard were like high pitched screeches, they reminded me of whales communicating with each other under water.”

Ellie is buried at the family farm, where Mark still lives, alongside 14.2 Wispa who died several years later.

“Even after all these years I still get nervous in storms and will hurry inside the nearest building. I am sensitive to changes in the weather and can sense when an electric storm is coming,” said Mark.

“I know I’m lucky to be alive and I’ll always be thankful to Ellie for that, she was a lovely mare and that is her legacy”

Mark Hambleton was saved by his horse in lightning strike
PRIZE HORSES: Mark (right) has enjoyed success at HOYS, Windsor and The Royal International

There is a one in 1.2million chance of getting struck by lightning indoors or outdoors in the UK. Around 60 people get hit by a bolt each year, an average of three are fatal.

Worldwide an estimated 24,000 people are killed by lightning strikes annually.

The voltage in a lightning bolt is so high that it will strike and surge through just about any material.

Most people who die from lightning strikes are killed instantly from cardiac arrest, as the bolt's massive electrical voltage short-circuits the heart's natural rhythm. Humans hit by lightning may also have their eardrums blown out by the incoming pressure wave, their respiratory system paralysed, or suffer secondary burns as their hair or clothing catches fire.

Although cases of horses being hit by lightning are rare, when severe thunderstorms are predicted it is obviously a worry for owners. As well as the dangers of a direct strike, there is also a risk that frightened horses will bolt and injure themselves.


Horses are very sensitive to electricity, particularly lightning, and the British Horse Society’s official advice is to stable animals during a thunderstorm.

While some horses don’t seem bothered by wild storms, others can become nervous and unsettled.

A horses’ natural herding instinct during a thunderstorm can also increase the risk of injury or death from a lightning strike. Often, they will group together for protection from the elements and, if the storm includes heavy rainfall, will shelter beneath a large tree — often targets for a lightning strike.

If this also happens to be near a water trough or wire fence, the combination of a tall tree, good electrical conductors and rain-sodden ground can be fatal for horses. The risk is heightened for horses wearing steel shoes.


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