‘Worth every single penny’: pony who fought off grass sickness makes winning return to the ring

  • A Welsh cob who would probably have been put down had his diagnosis of grass sickness been made sooner is back to winning ways in the show ring.

    Katie Nuttall’s Welsh section C Llanidan Dunkirk was four when he came down with the chronic form of the disease, in late 2019. On 6 March this year, he won the mountain and moorland large breeds class at the Northern Counties Pony Association Spring Spectacular.

    “It’s incredible he survived,” Katie told H&H. “He didn’t have a poo for five weeks; it’s unbelievable he’s still here.”

    Katie bought “Kirk” as a three-year-old and he had been backed and turned away by autumn 2019.

    “One day he looked amazing, the next, he had no weight at all and wouldn’t eat,” Katie said. “He came down with it in November but I had to get a second vet’s opinion and he wasn’t diagnosed till December. If I’d known earlier, I’d probably have had him put to sleep but by the time we found out, we’d kept him alive that long; we had to give him the chance.”

    Katie did not think Kirk would make it, owing to the severity of his illness.

    “He would just stand in his stable shivering, and the sound of his breathing — it was awful,’ she said. “But when he had that first poo, I thought ‘this is it’.”

    It was a long slow haul to recovery for Kirk, but by October 2020 he was well enough to be gelded. A year later, he was brought back into work, and he has gone from strength to strength.

    “He struggled with eating if the food wasn’t wet enough; you’d hear him squealing, but touch wood, he’s back to normal now,” Katie said. “When people hear what happened, they say ‘How did you keep him alive, and how is he looking so good?’

    “The pony he is; you could put a five-year-old on him and he’d be good, then put a professional on him and he’d go into show mode. You can do anything with him.”

    Katie is now aiming for Horse of the Year Show and Royal International Horse Show qualification, with Ella Hodgkinson on board for the junior ridden classes and Rachael Nesbitt for the novice working hunters.

    And Katie hopes Dirk’s story might help other owners in a similar situation.

    “If the vet had said it was grass sickness straight away, I’d have had him put to sleep; I’m so glad I didn’t,” she said. “If you see the pony he is today, it’s unbelievable.

    “It wasn’t easy and it cost me a fortune — but it was worth every single penny.”

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