Monday, 20 September 2010

Horse Killing Bacteria

I lost my horse to clostridia infection just over ten weeks ago. This was a very distressing experience to find him dead in the field with blood streaming from his eyes and nostrils.
He had been checked and was fine the day before trotting up the field to me and eating his dinner, very alert and his usual self I had never heard of this before it happened to me, when I found my beautiful homebred big strong horse dead in the field. I was told after the post mortem by my own vet and by our neighbour also a vet, that he would be dead within a max of four hours of the bacteria entering his body, by either breathing it in, digesting it or it entering via a puncture wound.    

There was nothing I could have done. 

There were three other horses in the field unaffected by it. My horse was apparently unlucky. It is commonly known in sheep (blacks disease, blackwater disease, blackleg) and a vaccine is available in this country for sheep (and for cattle) but not as yet for horses. It is resident in all soil like tetanus but something (?) activates it.
I have since researched this looking for answers to ‘why’ and it appears that it a version of the bacteria is quite common in Kentucky where a vaccination is available and recommended to all foals. Work in this country is also ongoing to link one of the types of the bacteria to grass sickness and the possibility of vaccinating horses where it is likely to occur. I do not know which strain of the bacteria killed my horse but it is unlikely that it was either of the above as the symptoms were quite different..

I’d like to know why a vaccine isn’t available in this country, yet we all vaccinate against tetanus as a matter of course.
I’d also like it to be more widely known about in the horse world as after over 40 years of being involved I had no idea and no-one else I have spoken to has even heard of it.
To try to help raise the profile of this terrible bacteria and campaign for the vaccination to be readily available in this country I have contacted the British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare, Your Horse and Horse and Hound magazines to ask if they can help to campaign for the vaccine. So far Horse and Hound and the BHS have responded positively but nothing has actually happened other than the BHS publishing my letter

I seriously believe that it may be more common than we think but unless a post mortem is performed we put it down to other things, for example initially I thought he’d had a brain haemorrhage.. Not everyone can afford to have a pm done and insurance will not cover the cost of a pm so stats are not readily available as to the occurrence of this indiscriminate killer.

I have written to racing yards to see how often they have seen it and also to the British Equine Veterinary Association to see if any research has been done. I have also written to Countryfile (the tv programme) to see if they could publicise it and also to the insurance companies and drug companies.

I've also approached a number of celebrities with alleged interest in horses and prominent figures in the horse world so far often without even a response

I have been very disappointed in the lack of response from everyone I have written to so far, as if people know about it and want to take the risk so be it but if you don’t know it exists how can you take any measures to prevent it?

All I am trying to do is make people aware that it exists and that we could prevent it if a vaccine was available in this country 

The drug companies won't manufacture the vaccine for horses unless there is a demand and the demand won't be created unless people know of the risk.


This has devastated me as I still have his mother who is 32 and my old pony was 35 when I lost him, so I really believed I had at least 10 years of Quest (he was 19) left to me. We had a really special relationship as he was a twin, his sibling was born dead and I had to stay with him in the stable for the first 48 hours lifting him up to suckle as he was too weak to do so on his own. He then grew into a fabulous strong horse admired by everyone, but four years ago was kicked and had to have an operation on his knee to remove a piece of bone. Through all this he survived and came out sparkling. 

I feel really robbed of his life and that no-one should have to go through what I and my horse did and I do not want him to have died in vain, so if anyone out there thinks they may be able to see a way to offering any support at all in publicising the existence of this terrible terrible killer bacteria, and help to get aa vaccine out there to stop other needless horse deaths I would be very grateful.

Thank you


  1. This is a terrible situation to find yourself in and I will make sure all my horse owning friends are aware of it. Good luck with your campaign.

  2. My letter has been published in the BHS magazine and Your Horse. If you go to the Your Horse magazine website and search on clostridia you will find the vets reply and a reader comment.
    This reader comment typifies what i beleive that this is more common than we think but often undiagnosed.
    With reference to the vets comments i understand that there are many types of the clostridia bacteria but Quests symptoms were the same as the sheep and cattle have for which a vaccine exists but not for horses.
    If I had had the chance to eliminate even one risk for Quest I would have taken it as I beleive many more horse owners would.
    Please support Quests blog so that I can approach the drug companies with more 'clout'
    Thank You

  3. After many knockbacks from drug companies, horse health organisations, and various other contacts I had tried i was about to give up on this campaign. Then I spoke with a lady who lost 16 horses in a week 6 years ago to this dreadful bacteria and I thought again. so maybe I will continue. My last letter was to Princess Anne who suggested that I write to the Animal Health Trust of which she is patron, but after ignoring the evidence which i put before them their response was if i could raise the money for the research they would consider it. This isn't feasible for me so I guess i just have to keep spreading the word and hoping others will do this too.