I am a farmer’s daughter and my father had shown me how to walk safely through fields of livestock, to ensure we didn’t frighten or startle them, not to get between a mother and its young, to walk around the herd not straight through, to ensure that dogs are properly trained not to worry livestock and that all gates are securely closed.
When we joined a local walking group I was known as the “cow whisperer”, whenever we encountered fields of cattle I would guide the other nervous walkers around safely and when we were approached by curious bullocks or headstrong colts I would put my arms out (to increase my size as the stock looked at me) and say “back” in a deep firm voice – this worked beautifully and the cattle or horses would retreat. On some of these walks we were joined by walkers with dogs and we met no problems.
When we were asked to house and dog sit for a cousin in Herefordshire we looked forward to visiting the beautiful section of the much hailed Offa’s Dyke National Walking Trail. We had a few days getting used to the dog and him getting used to us, then we set off together. We started off across open fields and were treated to wonderful views when we got to the top of the hill and the dog was well behaved. We came to a field containing cattle, they were a mixed herd that I did not recognise, but I knew there were older calves and a bull in the field. We assessed the situation at the field gate and reasoned that it was a national trail, so the cattle should be used to walkers and their dogs, we could see the stile at the other side, it wasn’t far and it wasn’t surrounded by cattle, so we went through. We got halfway across, I was in front, my husband was behind me with the dog on a short lead and suddenly I was surrounded by a group of cows, they had fenced me off from my husband and the dog – and they were looking at me! I did what I normally did – arms out, deep calm voice – but they charged at me, one headbutted me to the ground, I struggled up and they knocked me down time after time. I could hear my husband shouting, but couldn’t see him. I knew my face was badly damaged and I was feeling dizzy and eventually I lay on the ground, looking up at several cattle all intent on trampling me – I rolled into a ball and thought “that’s it; I’m not going to survive this.” I passed out.
My husband had tried to get to me, but the cows kept butting him away and then turned back to trample me, the cattle did not seem interested in my husband or the dog and luckily my husband did not let the dog off the lead as it would have run away. When the dog realised I was down its training sprang into play (it was brought up on a cattle farm and was trained in rounding up cattle) it started to nip at the heels of the cattle and began to drive them away so my husband could get to me. He thought I was dead, he’d seen cattle trampling all over me. My husband lifted me up and with the aid of the dog keeping the cattle at bay behind him (they were pushing him in his back all the time) he got me to the stile and somehow carried me over it; I do not know how he did that! Once we were on the other side the cattle were threatening to push through the fence to get to us, so he kept walking through another field. I came around and couldn’t remember the attack – I thought we’d had a car accident, I was walking with wobbly legs and wanted to sit down and my husband was desperately walking and trying to get a phone signal. Finally he got through and rang 999 and the air ambulance was summoned. I lay on the grass and watched the helicopter arrive thinking – this isn’t real – I’ll wake up in a bit and all will be well.
I was airlifted to hospital where I was treated for multiple broken ribs, a collapsed lung and bleeding in both sides of the chest, these injuries required bilateral chest drains to be inserted. I also suffered a broken jaw and several of my teeth were loose. I had split top and bottom lips and extensive bruising all over my body. The doctors in resus wanted me to go to ITU, but there wasn’t a bed free, I needed maxillo-facial team assessment, but they were in another hospital and I wasn’t well enough to be moved. I spent 10 days in hospital, and then was discharged home where it took a long time for us both to be well enough to walk again. I required counselling for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), multiple physio and osteopath appointments and extensive dentistry to remove 3 teeth and get my mouth fit for purpose again. My husband also suffered PTSD and hurt his back, as a result of that attack.
This happened 3 years ago and I still bear the scars on my face, I have deep bruising on my thighs and left upper arm that still pain me and several of my teeth feel a little painful if I jiggle them, but I am lucky – I am a survivor and I do not want anyone else to go through what we have gone through. We found out that the herd that attacked us were a mix of Limousin, Simmental and Charolais breeds – there are other stories of attacks by these breeds, but we don’t know if this was the main factor. It may be that they had a bad experience with a previous dog walker – we don’t know, but please tell everyone – cattle are not predictable and they certainly cannot be considered to be safe.