Yard where four ponies died in ‘devastating’ strangles outbreak speaks out to save others

  • The owner of a pony who was one of four to die during a “devastating” outbreak of strangles at a livery yard has spoken up in hopes of preventing others from going through the same ordeal.

    Alisha Bailey’s two-year-old daughter’s pony Fifi, who was also two, had to be put down despite vets’ best efforts. Three others also died.

    Alesha, along with High Moor Livery yard owner Lisa Hewitt and other liveries, appears in a video released by the organisations behind the annual strangles awareness week, which this year runs from 1 to 7 May. They are urging owners to take part in the “temp check challenge”, a key aim of the campaign, which was set up as a “global, collaborative effort to prevent and manage strangles”.

    “We were locked down for about eight months in total,” Alisha told H&H. “It’s such an awful thing to hit your yard.”

    Alisha said the first sign of the outbreak was one horse, who had recently returned to the yard, developing a runny nose.

    “The yard owner handled the situation the best way she possibly could,” Alisha said. “We were locked down, there was no movement of horses; that horse and another one that had symptoms were tested and they were positive for strangles, so biosecurity measures were put in place.”

    This included every livery having to buy a thermometer and do twice-daily temperature checks. This is part of the awareness campaign as a high temperature can be an early sign of illness, and in strangles, usually comes two to three days before horses shed the disease and can affect other animals.

    “Getting to know your horse’s ‘normal’ temperature and checking regularly – especially if they move and mix with others – could give owners and yards the chance to prevent disease spreading and be the difference between one infected horse and many,” said a spokesman for Redwings, which organises the awareness week.

    Alisha said the yard also had a traffic light system of zones; green for horses with no clinical signs and who had had no contact with affected horses, through to red for those showing symptoms or who had tested positive. Movement between the zones was strictly controlled and liveries had to change and disinfect clothing and boots to prevent spread of the disease.

    In total, 27 of the 64 horses at the yard developed the disease, one of the first of whom was Fifi.

    “We lost two others before her; a 13-year-old girl’s pony who bled out as he had an abscess that must have burst a main blood vessel, and Lord Eric, whose owner was a seven-year-old girl just starting her first ridden journey,” Alisha said. “He and Fifi were taken into the vets; the vet was really good and wanted to give them every opportunity.

    “They were there about 48 hours and they found that Eric had an abscess that was trapping his epiglottis [a flap that closes the windpipe while eating]. The vet did all he could to free it but because of how long it had been trapped, it had nerve damage and didn’t work.”

    Not long before Lord Eric died, Fifi’s condition deteriorated.

    “She’d lost every ounce of weight she had; because of where her abscess was, it was causing colic,” Alisha said. “She had antibiotics, steroids and pain relief but on her final day she could hardly stand and we had to make the sad decision.”

    Another horse also had to be put down before the outbreak was over.

    “It was heartbreaking to have to tell my daughter,” Alisha said. “I told her Fifi had gone up in the sky and was with Lord Eric again. She didn’t fully understand but she knows Fifi isn’t there. It’s hard; Lord Eric’s owner is seven and she struggles to understand why he was taken away in the way he was.”

    Alisha added that she and many at the yard did not truly understand the impact strangles can have before their experience.

    “They look back now and say they knew nothing about it then,” she said. “I’d like everyone to familiarise themselves with the symptoms, and what can happen. The temperature checking is massive. I think a lot of people are scared to admit their yard has it – but spread the word, not the disease. Then other people can put measures in place to prevent them going through what we did.”

    Owners who take part in the temperature check challenge can win yard tours with Piggy March or Richard and Joe Davison, and Redwings is offering free strangles awareness week packs including thermometers, online.

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