Rider raising funds for grass sickness to be joined in marathon by her gelding who survived the disease

  • A rider who is raising money for the Moredun Foundation Equine Grass Sickness Fund (EGSF) by taking part in a virtual marathon will be joined on the final stretch by her gelding who survived the disease.

    Vicky Sinski’s now 11-year-old Welsh section D Alfie was diagnosed with chronic grass sickness in May 2017 and spent six weeks at Hambleton Equine Clinic, North Yorkshire.

    “When the vets said it was grass sickness I thought I was going to lose him. I was told he had a five percent chance of survival,” Vicky told H&H. “It was a case of taking each day at a time, with grass sickness you just have to deal with what’s in front of you each day.

    “Alfie is usually energetic and boisterous so it was horrible to watch him so depressed and losing weight. People say with grass sickness, it’s up to the horse if they want to survive and personality has a lot to do with it – I know Alfie so well having owned him since he was nine months old and I somehow knew he wanted to keep going.”

    Alfie when he was unwell

    During his time in hospital Alfie lost 150kgs. Once he started showing signs of improvement, and an interest in food, he returned home in mid-July.

    “It was really difficult as you don’t like to let yourself get too optimistic,” said Vicky. “At the back of my mind I was constantly worried he would colic, and he still wasn’t drinking. I remember looking at him, amazed, and thinking ‘how on earth are you still alive?’

    “The staff at Hambleton were amazing, they really fell in love with him, and when I got him home, I got so much support from everyone at the yard. I work full-time and when I was working people were always helping, everyone was so invested in him.”

    Vicky said Alfie continued to improve – bar one episode of colic that winter. He returned to ridden work in summer 2018.

    “He has gone from strength to strength. It took almost 18 months for him to put weight back on and he does tend to lose a bit in winter so I don’t ride him much then, but he just loves being back in work,” said Vicky.

    “He can no longer swallow hay or haylage and only wants to eat grass, and it took six months for him to drink out of a bucket again, but with a survivor you learn to deal with the quirks they develop.”

    During Alfie’s illness Vicky sought advice from EGSF, which put her in touch with the team at The Dick Vet Equine Hospital in Edinburgh that specialises in the disease. Last year she contacted the charity about running the London Marathon on its behalf. The marathon was cancelled owing to the coronavirus pandemic and Vicky’s place has been deferred to next year’s event, but a virtual event will take place on 4 October, when participants have 24 hours to complete 26.2 miles.

    “I enjoy running and had always wanted to do the London Marathon so to do be able to run it for EGSF would mean a lot,” she said. “Everyone who had a place in this year’s marathon was offered a place in the virtual event. I had stopped training after it was cancelled but I feel I can confidently run the first half, then the plan is to run and walk the second half.

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    “I’m going to run a route starting from my home in Darlington and friends and family are going to join me for three- to five-mile slots. I’m going to be running past the yard, and Kate Thomson of EGSF suggested doing the final four miles with Alfie. We’ll do it in hand round the grass tracks at the farm and have a finishing line with flags.”

    Vicky hopes to raise £2,000 for EGSF and raise awareness of the charity, and the disease.

    “Still so little is known about grass sickness and I feel bad that before Alfie became ill I wasn’t aware of the charity,” she said. “People need to know about the important work EGSF does and they desperately need the support if we ever want to find a cure or what causes grass sickness, it shouldn’t be the death sentence that it is.”

    To donate visit Vicky’s Virgin Money Giving page. 

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