‘The best and worst years of my life’: owner of mare lost to motor neurone disease speaks up to help others

  • The owner of a mare who died from equine motor neurone disease (EMND) is sharing her story to try to help others.

    Jade Wheeler’s time with Jazz was cut short, when ultimately the EMND meant she had to be put down in January, aged 15.

    “Jazz quickly became my whole world, my heart horse, but it all ended in heartbreak,” Jade said.

    She told H&H she took Jazz on full loan when the mare was 10, and it was a year later she started showing signs; she was tucked up, lying down more, and “couldn’t eat properly”, Jade said, quidding when she tried to have hay or grass.

    Having first thought it was colic, the vets then suspected EMND but diagnosed vitamin E deficiency.

    “We started her on a vitamin E supplement and she came back to full health within a couple of weeks,” Jade said. “I had my girl back for two years; long hacks together, learning dressage – we had the best time. Then, last year, she got sycamore poisoning.”

    Jazz was one of the many horses who contracted atypical myopathy last year owing to a bumper crop of sycamore seeds. She spent 10 days in hospital, where she was diagnosed with EMND.

    “It was my worst fear,” Jade said. “My whole world collapsed, again, but I wasn’t giving up on Jazz.”

    EMND is strongly associated with vitamin E deficiency, and by the time the full test results came back, Jazz had been back on a high dose of the supplement, and was “getting stronger every day”.

    Jade moved yards and once vets gave her the green light, started riding Jazz again.

    “She was doing great,” Jade said. “We had three months of rides together, then we had our last one, without knowing.”

    Jazz’s condition gradually deteriorated at first. But despite the fact she was still on the high dose of the supplement and a blood test showed normal vitamin E levels, she went downhill.

    “She stopped eating on the Friday night; a part of me knew then that she was giving up,” Jade said. “On the Saturday she went downhill very fast, she could barely stand longer than a couple of minutes. We got the vet again and we had two options – [put her down or take her to hospital] – but she wouldn’t have survived the journey.

    “It was clear that this was her motor neuron disease progressing quickly and there was nothing more we could do, apart from to make the hardest but kindest decision for Jazz.

    “I had to say goodbye to my best friend. We called her owner, and she crossed the rainbow bridge doing her favourite thing, munching grass in her favourite field.

    “I’ve been researching EMND and it’s extremely rare so I wanted to raise awareness, and if I can help one person have a few more years with their horse, like I did, that would help.

    “She was my heart horse, and it was the best and worst four years of my life.”

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