Online show launched in memory of much-loved Clydesdale – with TV celebrity judge

  • A late Clydesdale who became an ambassador for grass sickness research and gained international fans is being remembered with an online charity show raising money to help fight the disease.

    Aberdeenshire-based Lorraine Saunders’ Clydesdale gelding Mitchelhill Scott (Scottie) became unwell in January 2016, and after a referral to an equine hospital he was eventually diagnosed with grass sickness. When Scottie, who was 18 and had been with Lorraine since he was four, did not show signs of improvement it was suggested that he should be put down.

    “It took some time to agree that it was grass sickness, it was January, and he was older, so he didn’t fit with the usual risk factors,” Lorraine told H&H.

    “I remember arriving at the hospital to say goodbye, and Scottie heard me and whinnied. The vets said that was the most they’d heard from him. After not eating anything since he first became unwell, he then took a mint, and I said ‘We’re not putting him to sleep’.”

    Scottie later returned home, and with help and advice from vets and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund (EGSF), he was nursed back to health.

    “It took about eight weeks before he could swallow properly, and he used to have six tiny soupy feeds a day, but things got better,” said Lorraine.

    “There were always little signs afterwards, for example his poos were never as big as they used to be, and his energy levels were never quite the same, but I tried to retire him three times and he was having none of it. From there on I used to just let him choose the pace, sometimes we’d tootle along on a hack, and other times he’d see an open gate to the field and we’d have a blast.”

    Over the years Scottie remained healthy, and Lorraine stayed in touch with the EGSF team, attending grass sickness conferences, fundraising for the charity, and helping raise awareness of the disease.

    In 2022 Scottie led the EGSF grass sickness survivors’ parade at the Royal Highland Show, and later that year he attended the World Clydesdale Show as an ambassador to raise awareness about the disease. It was the first time in history the show had been held in the UK, and it was here Scottie gained international fans – and formed a friendship with British Horse Society president Martin Clunes.

    “At the Royal Highland and the World Clydesdale Show we had so many people come up to meet Scottie and ask about grass sickness. There’s still so many people that haven’t heard of it or think it’s just a northeast Scotland problem, but we’re seeing more cases pop up in places it hasn’t been before,” said Lorraine.

    “When Martin met Scottie it was brilliant and he took such an interest in him and in learning about grass sickness. He returned a few more times to see Scottie and brought his wife Phillipa to meet him.”

    Last April, two months before his 24th birthday, Scottie became unwell and was attended to by a vet, but he died suddenly. Although it was not possible to confirm the cause, it was suspected that there could have been links to his having had grass sickness.

    “I had been checking on him every 20 minutes through the night had popped inside, then I heard a loud noise and he was gone. The one thing that sticks in my head is that I wasn’t there in that very moment, but people have said he probably waited until I was gone because he’d have known how upset I would have been,” said Lorraine.

    Lorraine is running an online show in memory of Scottie and raising money for EGSF. The Mitchelhill Scott show has a range of classes, including heavy horse, veterans, and breed-specific sections, novelty classes and a grass sickness survivor class.

    The show is open to all and will be judged via photographs. Entries close on 30 June, and the results will be announced no later than 7 July.

    “We have some brilliant judges from as far as the USA and Australia, and Martin Clunes has agreed to judge the heavy horses and the overall championship,” said Lorraine.

    “We have managed to get sponsors for all the classes who have paid for the rosettes, which means every single penny will go to EGSF. The more entries we can get the better.”

    Lorraine added that it means a lot to raise money and support for EGSF, and to host the show in memory of Scottie.

    “The people at EGSF have become friends, even though it was eight years ago that Scottie had grass sickness. It is such an awful disease and nothing is too much trouble for them, they give so much support to people – and we all want the same goal,” she said.

    “Whether we will find a cure for grass sickness or not I don’t know, but we need to keep plugging away. Scottie was perfect, he was the kindest person, a huge gentle boy, and even though he’s not here anymore I’m trying to do our bit and give something back in his memory.”

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