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Baz's Early Years
When Baz was two in 2004 someone reported his then owner to the RSPCA because he was in such a neglected state - very thin and missing lots of hair on his back due to rainscald. The RSPCA called in World Horse Welfare (or ILPH as it was) to take Baz into care, and the owner was prosecuted.
Baz went to Penny Farm, Blackpool and was brought back to good health and given basic training ready for rehoming. In 2006 I was lucky enough to be allowed to have Baz on permanent loan, with regular checks from the World Horse Welfare Field Officer to ensure he is being treated corrrectly.
Baz's Ridden Career Starts in 2007
We backed Baz early in 2007, and he took to being ridden very well. He is such a nosey horse and was very keen to get out and about exploring. By 2008, when Baz was six, we had started to do some short endurance rides, and by 2010 we completed our first 50 mile / 80 km ride. It was a bit of a struggle as Baz wasn't keen to eat or drink at the half way point, so "hit the wall" at about 40 miles / 64 km. We did make it round though and passed the final vetting with no problem.
Disaster Strikes at the end of July 2010!
Baz became unwell a few days after completing a 30 mile / 54 km endurance ride. It was clear that something serious was afoot and we were referred to Liverpool University's Leahurst Equine Hospital. Baz was diagnosed with Chronic Grass Sickness, and the prognosis was not good as some estimates suggest less than 10% of sufferers survive.
I didn't know very much about Grass Sickness but soon found all I could through World Horse Welfare and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund. There are some fantastically dedicated people working to help improve treatment for unfortunate horses that fall ill with this disease.
Equine Grass Sickness
Equine Grass Sickness is a disease that causes damage to parts of the nervous system that control involuntary functions. Most acute cases can't even swallow and are invariably euthanased within a few hours of diagnosis. Gut paralysis is very common, causing varying levels of colic. There is very little treatment possible and often the most that can be done is just intensive nursing. The horses get depressed and lose interest in life, so need to be stimulated and gently coaxed to do things that might help them survive, like walking out to nibble grass. The cause of Grass Sickness is still not certain, which is why more research is so important. There is a current train of thought that it might be a form of botulism from bacteria in the soil (Clostridium botulinum type C) and research is progressing to see if a vaccination might be possible. Grass sickness is widespread and can affect any type of horse or pony, of any age, although it is most common in younger horses. Some areas of the UK have many more cases than others, and in certain areas it is estimated to effect 1 in 200 horses.
Baz spent 4 long weeks at Leahurst and ate very, very little during that time. He was obviously in some discomfort so was given painkillers, and became very clingy to his stable, refusing to go out for a walk to grass at times. We tried to tempt him with every type of food imaginable, but initially he just wasn't interested. I visited before and after work each day to try to encourage him to eat a little, even resorting to syringing porridge into his mouth. Eventually, with the help of the marvellous staff and students, Baz did start to pick up and begin to eat again. Once he was able to pass droppings and urine he was allowed to come home for recuperation. By this time he looked skeletal and I was really worried about travelling him home to North Wales as he looked as though he would he would keel over with the slightest knock.
The Road to Recovery
Since coming home in September 2010 Baz has very gradually regained his weight and his health has improved dramatically. You can see from the photos how good he looks!
We have had several setbacks, with bladder infections being the main problem. However, Baz's immune system seems to be getting stronger and the time between problems getting longer. It is difficult to keep Baz's fluid intake up during winter months, so I feed him moist mashes and usually soak his hay.
Currently he is having short walks in hand to try to build up muscle tone and I have been able to ride once or twice for very short outings. I do get a little dis-heartened when I see poor Baz in discomfort again and he has to have more treatment, but then it is fantastic to see him improve and go charging around the paddock and kicking up his heels! I'm sure he will beat it fully one day.
How Can You Help?
I wanted to do something to raise funds to help research equine diseases like Grass Sickness and that's why I have entered the Liverpool Marathon in Octoberl 2012. I am not a natural runner so I have been training for this marathon for over a year - in fact I had planned to run in an earlier event, but a riding accident laid me low for several weeks and put my schedule back. I bought a treadmill so I could practise in privacy, and ventured out on a 10km run locally, followed some months later by a half marathon! All I need to do now is just keep plugging away and extending the distance bit by bit through the summer. Doesn't sound hard, does it?
I will definitely complete the marathon, even if I have to walk around, as I am determined to raise as much money as I can for this fantastic good cause.
I would be very grateful for any donation you feel able to make, however large or small. I know that the Equine Grass Sickness Fund will put it all to good use to help other horses just like Baz - and more research might even end up with better treatment or even vaccination possibilities.
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