The heartbroken owners of three horses who died in mysterious circumstances within 36 hours say they will not rest until they have found out the reason for the deaths.
Cobs Freddie and Phantom died despite vets’ best efforts, two weeks ago, while Shetland Mr Ed had to be put down. Another Shetland, Tiny, who had been kept in the same field was showing similar symptoms this week (Wednesday).
Four dogs walked on a bridleway bordering the horses’ field, in Lincolnshire, have been ill and needed veterinary treatment, while the owners have found dead rabbits in the field, and one of their dogs has also been ill. Police are investigating the incident.
“I’ve had my dreams ripped away,” said Emma*, who owned six-year-old Phantom and the field in which he lived.
Emma told H&H 13-year-old Freddie, who belonged to her friend Sarah*, was the first to show symptoms, on 25 April.
“He was a bit lethargic but he was super laid back anyway; it wasn’t unusual for him to eat his breakfast lying down, so we thought he was just chilling,” Emma said.
“He got up and was absolutely perfect when she rode him – but he didn’t poo at all.
“The next morning, he was down again.”
Freddie refused his breakfast, which rang alarm bells, and there were no gut sounds audible. The vet believed him to be colicking, but thought this was a secondary condition to something else.
Bloods showed nothing of concern except “extremely high” glucose levels.
“The vet came back and pumped him full of liquid paraffin,” Emma said. “He said he was very jaundiced, and we noticed the tissue round his eyes was going blue, like he’d been punched in the face, but the vet said not to worry as it might take a while with a bad impaction.
“By that evening, he was standing but sweating, and cold – and I could hear his heart beating from about two metres away. The vet said to keep checking him so Sarah stayed in a campervan in the field and checked him every hour, and he looked ok.
“We think she must have fallen asleep at about 3am and when I got there at 6am, he’d gone.
“We lost him and we thought it was tragic but that it was just colic.”
But two hours after Freddie’s body was taken away, Phantom and Mr Ed started showing similar symptoms.
“The vet said ‘I don’t like this’,” Emma said. “Phantom was stretching his neck in a really weird way, and lying on his back with all four legs pointing straight up; I’ve never seen anything like it.
“We sent them to an equine hospital, which was brilliant, and after 24 hours, they said Phantom was showing slight signs of improvement, and Mr Ed they wouldn’t have known anything was wrong.
“That was about 4pm on the Tuesday [28 April] and I wasn’t confident but it was a glimmer of hope – then at 3am on Wednesday morning, we got a call to say Phantom had just laid down, shut his eyes and gone.”
Mr Ed was still alive but deteriorating, and Emma made the decision to have him put down.
“We found out later his stomach had already ruptured – and Phantom’s had too,” she said.
Emma said the vets at the hospital believe the horses may have been suffering from grass sickness, but neither she nor her own vet agrees.
“Their stomachs can rupture with grass sickness but my vet said he didn’t think it was that for a second,” she said. “They didn’t show any other signs of it, and dogs and rabbits don’t get affected by that. It doesn’t add up to me.”
Emma asked for tissue and blood samples to be taken from Phantom and she is going to have them tested.
“If I’m wrong, I’ll say I’m wrong, but if there’s something to find out, I’m going to find it out,” she said.
‘We are now seriously limited by not knowing what has killed our horses, and could kill more’
The social media sensation suffered a mystery illness
“Phantom meant the world to me. He and Freddie were best friends so it’s some comfort they’re together but I’m not going to give up until I find out what’s happened.”
Martin Green, rural, heritage and wildlife officer for Lincolnshire Police, told H&H he was sending two of the dead rabbits for analysis, and that warning notices have been put up in the area affected.
“We just don’t know what’s caused this, that’s the worrying thing,” he said. “It would be a shame to point fingers, but if anyone’s done anything wrong, they’ll have to pay the penalty.
“I’ve never come across anything like this in 20 years on the job.”
We continue to publish Horse & Hound magazine weekly during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as keeping horseandhound.co.uk up to date with all the breaking news, features and more. Click here for info about magazine subscriptions (six issues for £6) and access to our premium H&H Plus content online.