Riding school’s future in jeopardy after ‘catastrophic’ strangles outbreak

The future of a new riding school has been put in jeopardy owing to a “catastrophic” strangles outbreak.

Livery yard Hobby Farm Equestrian, Bridport, Dorset, was awarded its riding school licence after Christmas, achieving four stars, and had been due to open its doors to the public in spring.

Owner Gabby Ray told H&H her 13hh pony Poppy was the first to be diagnosed with strangles on 6 January, having had a high temperature and snotty nose.

“When the vet first saw her, he didn’t think strangles as she didn’t have swollen glands. When we got the call to say she had a positive diagnosis it was a massive blow,” said Gabby.

“A livery’s horse had been ill with a temperature and colic at the vet’s shortly before and we wonder if he became unwell because of strangles, as he subsequently came down with it too.”

Gabby said 11 further horses and ponies have since had a positive diagnosis, the latest being miniature Shetland Tinkerbell who was diagnosed on Friday (31 January).

“I’m just thankful we haven’t lost any,” said Gabby. “The symptoms have been strange, they haven’t been classical. One had an abscess burst in its ear.

“It’s taken a long time to take hold and it’s really dragging out now.”

Gabby said the farm went on lockdown and has been split into three yards.

“We have a yard of the horses infected, a yard of horses who are not affected and a yard we’re unsure about but they have been in contact with those affected and we have separate staff looking after each. Everyone is using disinfectant and the footpath that runs through the farm has been closed by the council.

“We notified everyone in the area and we’ve had lots of support from people. It was a worry because there is the stigma with strangles but the local hunt and other livery yards have been wishing us well.”

Gabby said 12 of her own horses and ponies are due to undergo a guttural pouch wash procedure to ensure they are not carriers of the disease, and vet bills could rise to around £1,000 per horse.

“It’s catastrophic,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. The majority of those affected are our own horses, and I’m glad its my own rather than liveries, but we hadn’t insured them yet. We had been buying horses and ponies for the riding school and I wanted to wait and do everything at once, but in hindsight I wished I’d insured them individually when we bought them,” she said.

“We have three horses we bought for the riding school who turned out not to be suitable and who we need to sell, but they can’t currently go anywhere until we’ve had the procedures completed and had the all-clear.”

Gabby said the worst-case scenario is the plans for the riding school could be stopped.

“We’re a young family and a new business. The livery side pays the staff wages, and we wanted to start the riding school to put some more money in the pot,” she said.

“Potentially we may not open as a riding school if we have to sell the horses and ponies to pay the vets’ bills, it’s a big worry. It’s been really disappointing, there aren’t many riding schools in the area and we wanted to set up a pony club, and do things for the elderly, and autistic children and provide something new for the area.”

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A neighbour of Gabby, Michelle King, suggested she start a crowdfunding page to raise funds for the vet bills.

“In the past for fundraising we’ve done things like holding a tack sale but we can’t do anything like that because we can’t let anyone on the yard,” said Gabby.

“We might look at crowdfunding. I hadn’t thought of it before and I’m not very good at asking people for money but we may have to consider it.”

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