One Owner’s Tragedy

It was early in May 1994 when Mike Dingwall set off from his home in Aberdeenshire, along with partner Catriona Cruickshank and his pair of Fell ponies. He had been selected to compete in the International Driving Grand Prix at Royal Windsor Horse Show, but travelled first to Brighton Horse Driving Trials as a warm up event.

The ponies themselves were 7y.o. Tebay Comet, always 100% reliable and trustworthy; and 6 y.o. Midtown Jasper (known as Laird), who had previously been Mike’s stock stallion and had turned out to be the real powerhouse in the pair. They proved their fitness by winning the marathon in extremely heavy going – quite a feat for Fell ponies! – and finished second overall.

Thereafter they moved on to Royal Windsor. The ponies again produced an excellent performance. In the team event Mike won the Duke of Edinburgh cup, along with single pony driver Mrs Anne Gilbert and the Duke of Edinburgh himself.

They finally returned home triumphantly late on the Tuesday evening, fully 2 weeks after leaving home.

The following morning Catriona was looking forward to turning out the ponies for a well earned rest, but noticed that Laird was slightly off colour – disinterested in food, and just generally dull. The vet arrived later that day, and delivered the terrible news that the symptoms were classic of the onset of grass sickness.

It became clear over the next few days that Laird was suffering from sub-acute grass sickness. His condition deteriorated dramatically from being his usual wonderfully proud self in absolute peak fitness, to resembling some sort of pathetic cruelty case with every rib showing.

Although the vet probably knew from day one that there was no hope, he understood that Mike wanted to try every treatment possible. By the following Sunday however, Mike accepted that the fight was over, it was time to end the suffering, and at midday Laird was shot – precisely one week after Mike had been presented by H.M. The Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh Cup. The complete turnaround of emotions was incredibly difficult to cope with.

Tragically this was only the beginning of a summer which turned into a living hell. A further 7 cases of grass sickness followed, 5 of which resulted in the animals’ destruction. A 3 y.o. son and a yearling daughter of Lairds, a 6 y.o. in-foal Dutch Gelderlander, a 10y.o. Hanoverian X mare, and another 3 y.o. Fell gelding all fell victim to this dreadful disease. Each and every case caused all concerned a great deal of soul searching together with a feeling of utter uselessness. Happily two 6 y.o.’s, a Fell mare and a Hanoverian X gelding survived and did make excellent recoveries.

The agony continued however, when the following February “old-faithful” Comet was also struck down. Mike, totally devastated by this stage, decided he could no longer keep the remaining horses and ponies – if he didn’t have them he wouldn’t have to watch them die. New homes were found for all, except Boxer – being Laird’s only remaining son, he was kept to carry on the line.

In May 1996, Boxer only in his third year also died of grass sickness – the final kick in teeth.