Mare recovers from grass sickness to give birth to ‘miracle’ foal

  • A mare who developed grass sickness when she was eight months’ pregnant has recovered to give birth to a “miracle” foal.

    At the end of 2021 Welsh mare Bluehaven Rock Goddess, known as Bambi, was found looking lethargic and unwell by her owners and breeders Julie and Carl Costello of Bluehaven Stud. The couple contacted their vet and following an examination Bambi was referred to Rainbow Equine Clinic.

    Carl told H&H initially it was suspected that Bambi had colic, but vets carried out an eyelash test and Bambi – who was eight months pregnant – was diagnosed with chronic grass sickness. One of the clinical signs of grass sickness is ptosis, the drooping of the upper eyelids, and to test this eyedrops are used in one eye. In a horse suffering with grass sickness, the eyelashes will assume a different angle in the eye that has received the drops.

    “It took a while to establish what was wrong with her. We were watching her go downhill as we were looking at her,” Carl said.

    “At one stage the vets said the foal should be aborted because Bambi wasn’t eating a lot, and anything she was eating was going into the foal. Juliet and I discussed it and agreed we wanted to try and save the foal, but we said if at any point Bambi became in danger we would have to abort her.”

    Bambi spent more than three weeks being in hospital and Carl said she began to “pick up”.

    “We were trying to stimulate her to eat by trying chopped-up carrots, corn, slops – anything to try and help her,” he said.

    “Then she just began to turn a corner. She got stronger and stronger and we were able to bring her home to continue nursing ourselves. At one stage a haynet would have taken her weeks to empty, but now she’s eating well.”

    On 8 March Bambi gave birth to a filly, named Bluehaven Roxanne. Carl said maiden mare Bambi’s mother instincts “kicked in” but during the first few hours she had become very “foal-proud”, where a mare can become overly protective, and the foal initially struggled to suckle.

    “We were concerned at first she wasn’t getting the colostrum she needed, but after some time they were fine. The foal is now bouncing around and doing well. Bambi is very proud of her, and we’re very proud of Bambi. We hope with time she will return to her former glory in the show ring and we’ll show the pair of them. She’s not 100% back to herself yet, but she’s a good 97%.”

    Carl and Juliet have been in touch with the Equine Grass Sickness Fund and have provided tissue samples from Bambi to the charity’s biobank. The biobank was established last year with the aim of collecting vital samples from horses and soil to help with future research into the disease. For more information on providing samples visit www.grasssickness.org.uk.

    “We’ve sent all the samples we can so hopefully they can learn something from them, as we have learned from the charity,” said Carl.

    “We know grass sickness survivors are rare, and Bambi then giving birth to a healthy foal was even rarer. The disease takes no prisoners, and we’ve been extremely fortunate.”

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