Heartbreak as rescued mare who had learned to trust again lost to ragwort poisoning

  • A mare who was rescued emaciated, wounded and petrified of people survived long enough to see her foal through for weaning, and enjoy a happy last few months.

    Bronwen, who was rescued with her filly Seren by the Horse Trust last year, had to be put down owing to liver failure, caused by ragwort poisoning. The charity said she must have eaten the toxic plant before her arrival, when she was “abandoned and scrabbling for enough to eat to keep herself and her baby alive”.

    A spokesman for the trust said 10hh Bronwen was rescued from the streets of Swansea last summer.

    “When she came to us she was in an absolutely appalling state,” he said. “She was so deathly thin she only had a body condition score of one out of five.

    “She appeared to have old hobbling wounds on her legs as well as carrying a very heavy worm burden. Most noticeably, however, her skin was in just horrific condition. Both skin and hair was missing in some places and was quite literally hanging off her body in others.

    “The damage was so bad she was not allowed out in direct sunlight until her skin had repaired itself. She gave all the energy she had to nurse her months-old foal, which just shows what a dedicated mother she was.”

    Bronwen and Seren were monitored round the clock until both were putting on weight safely and recovering.

    “Even after her years of neglect and abuse, Bronwen was a complete joy to work with,” the spokesman said. “She was absolutely petrified of people when she first arrived with us, but our behavioural team were so patient with her while they worked to build up her confidence.”

    Bronwen developed a strong bond with her lead behaviourist Esther, to the point where she would approach her in the field. Esther had to support the mare to have her feet picked out, as her lack of muscle meant she struggled to stand on three legs.

    The mare learned basic commands and to wear a headcollar, after which she was unstoppable, the spokesman said, adding: “She used to march around the field like she was always on a mission, probably to find the treats! The team used scratches as a reward-based mechanism during their training with her, and Bronwen enjoyed them so much she would regularly sidle up to her handlers for some extra love.

    “Whilst she was quiet and gentle with her handlers, she was quite the boss lady with other horses and would regularly pull faces to tell off the bigger military and police boys if they bothered her from over the fence – nobody was telling Bronwen she was just a little Welsh pony! Although she was always very excited about food, after she finished her breakfast, she would often go back to the gate and wait to be let back into her field — she was very good at knowing her routine, and such a polite lady.”

    Picture courtesy of the Horse Trust

    Bronwen was seen this month by the Horse Trust vet as she had lost some weight. Blood tests showed she had liver failure, and treatment was started but within days, she was showing neurological signs, common in liver disease, and “the kindest thing we could do was let her go”.

    “After obtaining the [liver] biopsy results it was determined that the liver failure was due to ragwort poisoning,” the spokesman said. “Bronwen must have ingested the ragwort prior to arriving at the Horse Trust, as she was abandoned and scrabbling for enough to eat to keep herself and her baby alive. Ragwort poisoning usually takes six to 12 months to cause enough damage to the liver to see clinical signs.”

    Seren will also be blood-tested to ensure there are no signs of liver disease, although this is very unlikely.

    Horse Trust CEO Jeanette Allen said: “We are immeasurably sad to lose Bronwen, having got to know the incredibly sweet pony she was, young and full of promise.

    “It’s a tragedy that having been abandoned with a young foal caused her to ingest probably a variety of toxic plants to survive and to allow her to feed little Seren. Whilst the effects of this on her skin were horrific when she arrived, we managed to pull her through so it feels extra cruel to lose her to the longer-term effects of what was most likely ragwort poisoning.

    “The only silver lining in this sad story is that she lived a happy, healthy and loved life since she came to us, and made it through to safely weaning Seren. A true mum and a sweetheart, a hugely sad death ultimately as a result of the actions of inhumane treatment at the hands of those who should have cared for her.”

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    Seren has been paired up with a new friend, Phoenix.

    “They have already formed a really close bond and Seren is nudging her like she used to her mum Bronwen,” the spokesman said.

    “Due to the love, care and dedication of the Horse Trust’s team, Bronwen was completely transformed from the listless, malnourished and poorly pony who arrived with us last June, right at the heart of the pandemic.

    “We all have such fond memories of our brave little soldier that we will treasure for ever. A one-of-a-kind golden girl with a heart bigger than we have ever known. You will be missed more than we can put into words.”

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