‘He saved me, now I want to save others’: heartbroken owner speaks out on fatal atypical myopathy

  • The devastated owner of a horse who died from atypical myopathy is sharing her story in the hope her much-loved Bertie’s death will not have been in vain.

    Kate Dawson had owned her coloured gelding for 14 years – but “that was all taken away in 24 hours”, she told H&H.

    The 19-year-old gelding, who Kate credits for saving her life when she had anorexia, died on 16 October.

    “He saved me from anorexia because he gave me a reason to get out of bed in the mornings,” Kate said. “Now I need to try to save others.”

    Kate had a lesson on Bertie at her livery yard on Saturday (15 October). The pair had done a bit of everything in their 14 years together, including qualifying for the 2023 Northern Lights Championship in the working hunter class at their last event.

    Picture by Michael Dawson

    Kate said 14hh Bertie seemed as normal when she was grooming and tacking him up, but when she got on board, she thought he did not feel quite right.

    “My trainer said he looked a bit stiff behind,” she said. “I stopped and he tried to go down and roll with me on him, and that’s not him at all. I untacked him and he looked really tucked up, and then he just went down.”

    Kate called the vet, and mentioned the possibility of atypical myopathy, a condition also known as sycamore poisoning, and often fatal.

    “The vet said they weren’t classic atypical myopathy symptoms and he thought it was colic,” Kate said. “He told me to walk him, which I did, but at about 8pm, he went down and I couldn’t get him up.”

    Bertie was taken to Leahurst Equine Hospital, where vets agreed he was not showing classic signs of atypical myopathy, but ran the tests the next morning, confirming the diagnosis.

    “We went to see him about 3pm and he perked up a bit, he had his head on my shoulder,” Kate said. “We stayed about an hour and a half, and I said to him ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’.

    “Half an hour into the journey home, they rang and said he’d gone down. The vet said they couldn’t wait for us to come back as he’d be gone, they had no choice, so I didn’t get to see him again.”

    Kate has shared her heartbreak on Facebook in hopes of raising awareness of the condition. There are no sycamore trees in Bertie’s field but the seeds that have been seen in it could have blown in.

    “I need to save others in Bertie’s name,” Kate said. “The seeds can drift for miles, but so many people have messaged me who didn’t know it was a thing. We’ve heard of 14 horses who have died from it this last week.

    “Everyone cared for Bertie; everyone who met him, loved him, and I need to make a difference, turn this into something positive and save other horses, as if not, he’s died in vain.”

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