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Collaboration is the way forward for equine grass sickness research

Despite many years of research, and much more now being known about the disease, the cause remains elusive

18 February 2021, at 3:00pm

“The idea is to get all the scientists together and really thrash this out, using information from horse owners and the experience of expert scientists in every field”

Equine grass sickness is a scourge which strikes fear into the hearts of every horse and pony owner. Despite many years of research, and much more now being known about the disease, the cause remains elusive. Once a horse or pony develops the disease there are few options for treatment, and in 75 percent of cases the prognosis is hopeless.

In this week’s On Farm podcast, horse owners, who all have had experience of the disease, discuss their experiences from different angles - the stud farm manager, the fundraiser and the scientist. Listen to them explain why they are so passionate about turning this story around, and are taking up the fight against the disease, each in their own way.

Sylvia Ormiston of Balmoral Highland Pony Stud, who lost five valuable breeding ponies within a 12 month period, and round whose kitchen table this idea was born, commented: “I’m just so excited to be actually involved with this and be a part of it”.

Yvonne Maclean, who nursed her 17.2hh homebred Hanovarian through the disease, encourages everyone to take part, saying: “Grass sickness takes away everyone’s control. As horse owners we can take back control by fighting it as best we can”

Beth Wells, a scientist at The Moredun Foundation, and herself a highland pony enthusiast, explains; “We will be listening to horse owners and gathering that gold dust information in the run up to cases, and it will be our job to collect that data and analyse it in the hope we will see common risks and potential causes coming out”

The Moredun Foundation and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund have embarked on an ambitious five year plan to crack open the mysteries of this deadly disease. The pressure will be kept up on the existing suspects, including mycotoxins and clostridium botulinum, but also be reviewing all the research done to date, to see what might have been missed, or what new angles or techniques might be able to uncover. For the first time several research projects will be ongoing simultaneously, bringing scientists, vets and horse owners together in an unprecedented collaboration to discover the cause.

Anne Logan, Chair of the Equine Grass Sickness Fund said, “As an equine vet I am all too familiar with the devastating consequences of the disease. Over the next five years we are driving the research along different paths, in order to break new ground. We hope that we can bring scientists and horse owners together in a mission to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.”