A Dead Cert : Experiment 4
4. Horses killed to study grass sickness
Animal Health Trust (Newmarket)
Researchers at the Animal Health Trust used 24 horses to study grass sickness. Fourteen suffered from the condition, while the other ten horses were used for comparative purposes.
It is unclear whether the sick animals were made experimentally ill, or whether they were referred clinical cases. Although the study was conducted on their body tissues after death, the authors do not state whether any of the horses died from the disease, or if some or all were intentionally killed.
This omission is particularly relevant to the ten ‘control’ horses that did not suffer from grass sickness.
The study was performed at the Animal Health Trust and part-funded by a clinical training scholarship provided by the Home of Rest for Horses (now renamed The Horse Trust). Originally established in 1886 as a retirement home for working horses, donkeys and ponies, the Trust - in addition to catering for the needs of retired equines – now awards grants to UK veterinarians and scientific institutions for disease research.
Comment: Grass sickness is not commonly found among racehorses as they tend to be stabled up most of the time and not out at pasture. However, the high profile stallion and former racehorse Dubai Millenium died from grass sickness, prompting his owner Sheikh Mohammed to set up the Dubai Millenium Research Foundation, specifically to study this condition. The Sheikh currently holds the position of honorary vice president of the Animal Health Trust.
Wales AD, Whitwell KE. The Veterinary Record2006; 158:372-377. Potential role of multiple rectal biopsies in the diagnosis of equine grass sickness.