BBC Landward has drawn attention to the plight of HM The Queen’s ponies at Balmoral, where five ponies were lost to equine grass sickness over the course of a few months. In the episode, screening this week, Sylvia Ormiston, stud manager at Balmoral, describes the distressing events, and pledges her support to help revitalise research into this mystery disease.
Following the events at Balmoral, a nationwide biobank to gather vital samples for research into the devastating disease Equine Grass Sickness (EGS) was launched in March this year by The Moredun Foundation and The Equine Grass Sickness Fund (EGSF), with support from The British Horse Society (BHS). The response from UK vets and horse owners has been incredible with samples coming in from all over the UK.
EGS is a devastating disease of horses, which has an 80 percent fatality rate in affected horses. Despite the disease being known about for over 100 years, the causes have remained elusive and there are no treatments or vaccines available.
Research progress to elucidate causal agents has been hindered by a lack of suitable samples from EGS cases and co-grazers, but horse owners and vets are now playing a crucial role by submitting samples from affected horses and field controls, along with samples from the horses’ environment, to the new biobank. It is highly likely that the key to the disease lies within these samples if we can only ask the right questions. So we are teaming up with expert scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, so that we can keep asking different questions in different ways in order to make a breakthrough.
A suspected case of EGS is not only a highly distressing experience for horse owners, but there is also a very small window of opportunity to act. Therefore, the organisations involved are urging owners to be prepared in advance with the knowledge about how to submit samples and help prevent it from happening to other horses.
Although EGS cases can occur at any time of the year, it has been found to be most prevalent between April-June, so now is a critical time to collect the important samples. By donating samples and completing case questionnaires, horse owners and vets can provide valuable information helping researchers understand the risk factors and protect future generations of horses and their owners from the terrible effects of this disease.
Dr Kathy Geyer, EGS Research Fellow, reported, “Despite its very recent launch, with the great support from vets and owners, 21 case reports have already been completed and we have already received submissions from 15 cases accounting for a total of 121 stored samples.”
Kate Thomson of the Equine Grass Sickness Fund said “We are missing our usual opportunities to speak to vets and owners at shows, so we really need a concerted effort to help raise awareness. Every case that we collect samples from is a valuable source of intelligence, and every case that we miss is lost forever. Please, please take five minutes to download the forms and tell all your friends, so that we can start to answer the burning questions about this disease.”
Details on how horse owners can report an EGS case and submit samples can be found online.
The EGSF have also set up the “Grass Sickness Biobank” Facebook group, to help provide further information for horse owners.