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Top eventing stallion back from the brink and happy in work after life-threatening illness

“It’s been worth all the struggle”, said Tom Carlile, to see his top stallion Upsilon happy in work, some 21 months after he suffered a life-threatening illness.

The double Barbury winner was taken critically ill last spring with a form of encephalitis, which affected his nervous system.

Tom told H&H the stallion came home from intensive care in July 2019, but “in quite a bad state”, and that the vets still did not know the cause of his condition. Upsilon’s stable at the time was big, about 20 square metres, which allowed him room to move and be comfortable, but it was not until the end of August that year he was able to leave it.

“We felt he was comfortable enough to start walking out in hand, but it wasn’t easy,” Tom said. “It took about four days just to get him to walk out of the stable on to the path.”

Tom explained that, it has since been determined, the stallion had contracted a bacterial infection, which had settled in his nervous system and caused neurological damage. This was proven when he had another fever last October, but a course of antibiotics cured it.

This meant months of rehab, as the stallion, who Tom said had always been very sure-footed, tripped and fell and regained his feet, as he learned to walk, and judge his surroundings again.

“We’re talking about a horse who had been at team training one day, with no sign of anything wrong,” Tom said. “The next day, he was off his feed, and by that evening, he was in intensive care.

“It must have been the tiniest scratch; we’re not talking a septic wound or anything, just one germ that happened to settle in the nervous system.”

Throughout last autumn, the stallion was walked in hand. After a month, he was walking for about 10-15 minutes before he started to tire.

Gradually, his balance and perception improved, and he became fitter.

“He’d have a little jog, and then a longer one, then one day, he did a whole circle,” said Tom.

“It’s been a very long time for him but we did it very gradually. By about a year after his initial illness, in February, he was trotting and cantering, and going over poles, on the lunge, and going out in the field.”

“Having researched, we knew neurological damage could heal, it would just take a long time,” Tom added. “And he wasn’t suffering; he wasn’t in pain and always kept a good attitude, for life and food, and horses around him.

“He always had a bright eye, and gave me signs that he had the will to live, and the more time and stimulation you gave him, the more he improved. Our one hope was that we could get him to live a happy, horse’s life out in the field.”

Then, in October, Tom’s girlfriend Camille was lunging Upsilon, and thought he looked bored.

“So she put a saddle on him, got on and trotted round the arena,” Tom said. “She’s done it all.

“I know him so well and didn’t want to put any pressure on him, but she’s done a super job and I’m very happy.”

The stallion struggled with balance at first under saddle, but is now “back to how he was”, said Tom — but he is unlikely to event again.

“He’s got nothing to prove,” he said. “If he keeps improving the way he is, he’ll probably jump some showjumping courses, for his happiness, but I don’t know if he needs to event again.

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“I think the next stage is to see if he’s still a fertile breeding stallion — and he has been hotter with the mares, which the vets say is a very good sign — so we’ll find out next spring.

“But he’s very happy with his way of life. If not, he can be hacking and schooling; he’s always got his ears forward and you can tell there’s a smile on his face.

“If he can’t be a breeding stallion, he can just keep doing what he does. We owe him a lot and he owes us nothing.

“It’s nice to see him happy again; it was worth all the struggle. The reason I’m in horses is because I love them, and if he can live nice days with us, I’ll be happy.”

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