On the 19th of August, I had the farrier booked in for first thing in the morning. I opened the gate for the 3 horses getting trimmed to come up. My 7 year old and 3 year old, Pinot and Trebbie came straight up but Mal, my 5 yr old was a bit slow in coming up the hill. I got the other 2 sorted in their stables and then went back out to look for him. He was walking up the hill with his head down and when he turned to the side, I knew he was ill. He looked so tucked up. I popped him into his stable to get a better look at him. He looked awful and my gut told me I was dealing with grass sickness. The farrier arrived and I took him in to see Mal. I knew by his face that he thought the same as me. The vet was on their way. He wasn’t interested in hay, feed, and water and was standing all tucked up, head hanging with his feet almost touching under his body. The vet was out twice that day and his heart rate was up above 60 and his temperature was 2⁰F higher than normal. He was covered in sweat and the only thing he would eat was small amounts of grass.
The following morning, a different vet came out to see him. He took his temperature again, heart rate and carried out a rectal exam. He then carried out the “eye lash test” which confirmed EGS. He advised that the outcome may be difficult and asked that if there was any change in him, to contact him at any time. He had given him a couple of injections to try and increase appetite and replace the vitamins that he wasn’t getting through lack of eating.
The next 2 weeks was basically nursing him by syringing 40ml continually of Veteran vitality, corn oil and supplements till he told you he had enough into him every hour. I called the feed companies to ask for support from them in the way of samples as I had bought a few recommended feed types but he was uninterested. Within 3 days, I had a 20KG bag full of samples from Baileys. I opened the samples and let him smell them and when I opened the Baileys No 17, he showed a lot of interest and to my surprise ate it. They had thankfully sent me 2 bags of this and he ate the 2nd bag also. I called my local feed stores and although none of them stocked it, they could get it for me in a couple of days. That was really the turning point for him. From the day my feed store got in Baileys No 17, he ate. Sometimes it was a bit slow and he needed encouragement but I found that he had become so reliant on the syringe over the past couple of weeks; he was still looking for this. I would make up baileys No 1 which he also loved made with warm water. He would take a mouthful of food and then turn his head to you as if to say, “I’m ready for my syringe”. If he showed no interest in feed on the odd day, after 5-6 syringes of No 1, he would start eating the No 17. He obviously thought it was easier making the effort himself than me syringing him every hour. The days where he didn’t want to eat were so difficult to deal with after the days of good eating. It felt like it was 2 days of up and one day of feeling down. A constant feeling for me of improvement, followed by a low as the bad days really did upset me.
Once he got the taste for eating, around week 3-4 he was off. He was eating on average 7.8kg of Baileys No 17 a day. The vet was out every 3 days at the start checking up on him and he advised that he needed to be consuming more fibre. This was a similar mission to the hard feed but he eventually decided on Dengie Healthy Tummy. A bag of this would last about 3 days mixed in with the No 17 and water. He also got his corn oil daily and I bought seaweed, pink powder, probiotics, yeasaac, revitalize, airways plus and added gastri-aid to his feed to try and prevent any ulcers starting in his gut with the lack of fibre going into him.
I bought my own stethoscope so I could monitor the gut noise easier as well as take his heart rate daily. Although I had bred him, and knew him insides out, we really did communicate in a different manner during his illness. He would tell me his feed wasn’t wet enough or he wanted something different. I really had to listen to what he was wanting. He would stand and nod his head to try and tell me that he wanted something different. He liked his feed soggy but this changed throughout the illness, at one point he changed altogether and wanted it dry but the majority of the time he was asking for a sprinkle of mix on the top. Once he got that, he would tuck in. He made it clear throughout the illness though that he wasn’t ready to give up and you always got a welcome and he would try to speak to the other horses, even though his whinny had almost disappeared. He made it clear within the first couple of weeks that he didn’t want to see me throughout the night. He would grump if I disturbed him. Rest was obviously just as important as feed so he got his last feed about 11.30 and I was back up about 6.30 to give him breakfast. I bought CCTV and would watch him throughout the night on the camera (my poor husband had to sleep with the TV on all night).
When I was given the option by the vet that first week to try and nurse him, I didn’t realize how much it would take out of me both emotionally and physically. I didn’t realize that I could cry quite as much as I did. I am not normally an emotional person. I couldn’t have got through it without the support of my husband and some really good friends, Douglas the vet, an understanding boss as well as a lot of genuine people on the FB EGS awareness page who gave me loads of advice and encouragement and off course Baileys horse feeds. It was extremely hard work but to see him now, it has been so rewarding and worth all that worry, lack of sleep and the financial cost of it all, in 12 weeks he has cost £3000+ in feed, bedding and vet bills. (Worth every penny)!
I had another 5 horses at the time, his mum, dad, full sister, half sister and her mum. 4 of them went on the vaccine trial with no ill effects. If we can find a preventative for this disease, it will save a lot of heart ache and waste of our beloved friends. Mal had been out grazing a couple of weeks before diagnosis and when shouted down to the gate, he had been digging with his nose up by the water trough and his nose was covered in mud. I firmly believe that was the day he was affected. He was always the nosey one of the bunch and his nose was always going to get him into bother. I didn’t think it would be quite as much bother as it ended up!
He was still one of the lucky ones; he is still alive to tell the tale. The amount of horses I have heard/read about since his illness that haven’t been as fortunate has been devastating and everyone who has been through this, feels the emotion for every single person facing it having been there before them.