Desperate appeal for help after nine horses’ mystery deaths

A charity that has lost nine horses to a mystery condition that kills within minutes is making a desperate appeal for help in understanding the cause of the problem.

Italian welfare organisation Italian Horse Protection Onlus has contacted vets, scientists and authorities since the deaths, of horses who had previously been in good health, but no answers have yet been found.

President Sonny Richichi told H&H the charity, which has been running for about 10 years, had needed more space, so moved 58 horses to land donated by supporters in Volterra, Tuscany, on the 28 and 29 December.

The first horse died two days later.

“At first it looked like something natural, a heart attack or aneurysm or something, that’s what the vet thought,” Sonny said.

“But the next day, two horses died. They’d been checked two hours before and were perfectly fine but they were found dead, with no signs of suffering.”

There was no disturbance to the ground, as might be expected if the horses had colicked, nor any other signs of the cause of death.

The next day another horse died, in front of a volunteer, and the day after that, four more succumbed. All had appeared normal, before they fell to the floor and were dead within minutes.

After the second death, charity staff “started to panic”. Suspecting poisoning from something the horses had eaten or drunk, they arranged for the fields to be checked, sent some of the bodies and samples of others for autopsies and lab tests but have had no answers.

Police and authorities have been alerted, and a working group has had a meeting, with the Italian health minister keeping an eye on the situation, but no action has been taken.

In total now, nine horses have died. The survivors are being kept in barns at night and two small fields during the day, but Sonny says they are stressed as they are used to living out full time, and the space is not large enough.

The charity is still waiting for some toxicology results.

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“This is a surreal and very tough situation,” Sonny said.

“We decided to tell our story because we need to know what’s happened, and we need that as soon as possible.

“Tests have ruled out viral or bacterial causes and there are two probably hypotheses: one is that that the horses have eaten or drunk something; maybe something coming from the ground as the plants and trees have been examined by experts. The other is that it’s deliberate poisoning but we haven’t had any threats, and I can’t imagine anyone would do that.

“It’s a nightmare that we need to get out of as soon as possible.”

The charity is asking for any vets or scientists, or anyone else with relevant knowledge or experience, who may be able to help them understand, to get in touch and is also welcoming any funds that could help with all the varied costs incurred.

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