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A hunter that was “assumed stolen” after going missing for 10 days and sparking a nationwide search last year, has died after contracting strangles.

Josh, a 17.2hh 29-year-old bay gelding who was enjoying semi-retirement when he shot to fame last May, started showing signs of the disease on Friday, 1 April. He had to be put down on Monday (18 April).

Lottie Bostock, who has been looking after Josh since he stopped hunting regularly, said: “It is unbelievably sad, he was such a tough horse, but this just got the better of him in the end.

He managed to survive 10 days in a thicket, but he couldn’t fight his way out of this. It was such a cruel end to what has been a wonderful life.

“We have no idea how he contracted the disease. He is in a field with three others and there isn’t a footpath in their field and they haven’t been off our land.”

Lottie believes that if strangles was notifiable to Defra, it would be easier to track where outbreaks are, enabling owners to protect their horses more effectively.

“The problem with this disease is that it isn’t notifiable,” she said. “It’s terrible for the horses and horrible to deal with on a daily basis so if more information about its whereabouts was shared, then this could perhaps be avoided in the future.”

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How Josh shot to fame

There was no sign of Josh for 10 days after he went missing from his field in Sherston, near Malmesbury, Wilts on Wednesday, 20 May 2015.

News of Josh’s disappearance went viral on social media websites across the country, amid fears he had been stolen and may be offered for sale.

Despite endless searches by people in the local area and beyond — including members of the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt where Josh had enjoyed his hunting career with his owner Nigel Maidment — the chances of his recovery were beginning to look slim.

However he was found with barely a mark on him on Saturday, 30 May in a steep, almost-impossible-to-access and thickly overgrown area on the side of a bank by local farmer’s wife Hayley Godwin.