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Pony’s zebra haircut aims to raise awareness of rare condition

A rider with Ehler-Danlos syndrome (EDS) has published a picture of her horse clipped in a zebra pattern to raise awareness of the rare condition.

Portrait artist Caitlin Padgett, 23, posted the picture of her mare Candy on social media, saying the clip had been inspired by the “awareness mantra of people with my illness”.

Caitlin explained that doctors are taught “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses” — advising them to think of the most common explanation for symptoms first.

She said that people with rare illnesses often refer to themselves as “medical zebras” — something more unusual than a horse — as a result.

“I am trying to bring awareness and show there are people with EDS who can ride. Some people don’t like to broadcast their condition if they’ve got a good handle on it but other people are really affected and like it to be understood,” she said.

“It’s a rare disease and people don’t know a lot about it.”

Caitlin helps run a track-system livery yard in Barnsley, South Yorkshire for horses prone to laminitis as well as taking on occasional portrait work.

Recently she has been unable to ride because of her illness — which causes weakness in connective tissue, leading to hypermobility and a range of problems, including issues with her internal organs. Caitlin is also affected by the associated conditions gastropareisis (paralysis of the stomach) and POTS, which affects heart rate and temperature control.

She has to battle regular medical challenges, including three months ago when she had to be tube-fed when her stomach stopped working.

“I have an unstable bone in my back pressing on a nerve and I can’t feel my legs when I ride, so I haven’t been able to get on for a while,” Caitlin said. “But now my physio has said to me ‘why wait?’ and my doctors are happy for me to ride as long as I understand the risks of falling off.

“I know Candy very well as I have had her five years and she understands what I want even though my legs aren’t really there at the moment.”

Caitlin added that there was also some science behind the clip, and that she had left Candy with the zebra pattern as it would be useful to her when her EDS meant she could only ride intermittently.

“Spreading the clip out in stripes rather than shaving off a big patch should keep her temperature consistent throughout her body, which is great for helping to warm the muscles up on a cold day and it also helps air circulate under her lightweight rug, which has been keeping it nice and dry in the rain and she’s not been too cold or too hot,” Caitlin said.

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Her previous unusual clipping efforts have included a skeleton clip, which she said was a “bit more involved” than the zebra.

“I have a 30-year-old pony called Prince who has Cushings and he has to be clipped every six weeks or so, so I get plenty of practice in,” Caitlin said.

“It’s been great to raise some awareness and give my pony a cool haircut in the process!”

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