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‘The best feeling’: pony who faced death with grass sickness returns to show ring

The owner of a pony whose weight dropped to 260kg as she nursed him through grass sickness said she never thought he would return to the show ring.

Amber Smalley’s now-eight-year-old 14hh cob Joey was diagnosed with the disease in May 2018.

“Joey had a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and I was asked if I wanted him put down but I said no. He was my first horse and I didn’t want to let him go without trying,” Amber told H&H.

“He spent a week in hospital and when I got him home he had to be fed every hour by syringe. I was going to the yard four times a day, as well as friends going to help feed him.”

Over six months Joey’s condition improved and by November his weight had increased to 345kg.

“He was doing well but after new year, he got an infection and became very poorly again; discharge was coming out of his nose and he had a high temperature. We aren’t sure what caused it but he was given a course of antibiotics and after a few weeks he improved.

“I started riding him again in February and it was the best feeling I could ever have. When he was diagnosed I’d packed all my tack away and never expected to take it out again.”

Amber spent the summer working on Joey’s fitness and on 18 August they returned to competition at a Rochdale & District Riding Club show.

“I didn’t think we would be out again,” she said. “We did ridden cob, novice show cob and in-hand cob which he was fourth in. We weren’t placed in the ridden class but the judge said in six months’ time he’ll be winning classes.

“On 20 October we did the annual North West Championships show and made it through to the evening performance of the traditional ridden cob class. I’m so proud of him, I never thought we’d be doing anything like this again.”

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Amber said Joey will need six-monthly vet check-ups but she is looking forward to a full show season next year and hopes to compete in dressage in the future.

“He is still quite lean and the vet said he might always look a bit underweight after what he went through. He needs to have sloppy feeds as he still struggles with swallowing but he is back to his cheeky self,” she said.

“During his illness I had times where I didn’t think he would make it but it feels like we’ve been given a fresh start. Nursing wasn’t an easy route and you’ve got to make sure it’s the right decision for the horse but I’m so glad we got through it. I hadn’t heard of grass sickness before he was diagnosed so I’m hoping to raise some more awareness of the disease and do some charity rides in the future for the Equine Grass Sickness fund.”

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