‘Don’t give up hope’ says owner of grass sickness survivor

  • An owner whose pony survived a severe bout of grass sickness wants to inspire others in a similar situation not to give up hope.

    Amber Smalley’s seven-year-old 14hh cob Joey, who she has owned since he was three, was diagnosed with grass sickness on 11 May.

    Grass sickness is an often fatal condition that typically occurs in grazing horses. It was first recognised in eastern Scotland in 1907, yet relatively little is known about the condition.

    Amber told H&H: “It came on suddenly. Joey had came in from field and we thought he had colic, there was nothing to say running up to that day anything was going to happen.

    “My vet came out and made the grass sickness diagnosis because his heart rate was so high.”

    Joey was taken to Leahurst Equine Practice in Liverpool where he had a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

    The vet said he probably wouldn’t survive, the results of the biopsy were quite severe. I was given the option to put him down then or see how he got on – every day I thought he was going to go,” said Amber.

    “After a week the vet said I could take him home and try to nurse him. He had to be fed every hour by syringe, it took all of my time but I had a lot of help from friends going to the yard to feed him for me.”

    In mid-July Joey dropped to his lowest weight of 260kg from his original weight of 420kg.

    “I had a little bit of doubt about his future but you could see he still wanted to live and he was still managing to eat. He wasn’t having any organ failure so we carried on,” said Amber. “He’s quite a cheeky pony, he stayed bright through most of it but did have some days he didn’t want to walk out.”

    Amber said she was “very grateful” for the quick diagnosis by the vets and that Joey has since made a full recovery.

    “He has just had another check-up and he now weighs 345kg. He still has weight to put back on but I’ve been told we can start riding again. I hope one day we can get back out showing,” said Amber.

    “You hear so many sad cases of grass sickness but I want people to hear a positive story. Don’t give up hope, even if they eat anything, that’s a good result.”

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