Poppy – the one I will never forget By Vicky Place


I started work as the ILPH Grass Sickness Nurse at the ‘Dick’ Vet as a placement year from an Equine Sports Science degree at the beginning of July. I am originally from Nottingham where Grass Sickness is seldom heard of. I will work at the hospital until the end of June 2007, and then will go back to Nottingham to finish my degree.

The ‘Dick’ Vet saw a busy summer, with 11 cases of grass sickness admitted to the hospital between July and October. Out of those seven were chronic and five eventually returned home. Being the Grass Sickness nurse has many highs and lows, it can be emotionally and physically draining, but at the same time when a horse finally makes it home the rewards both personally and professionally are quite overwhelming.

Poppy, an eighteen month Clydesdale mare arrived at the ‘Dick’ Vet on the 14th of June; little did anyone know the battle that lay before her. I didn’t meet Poppy until I arrived to start my placement on the 3rd of July, by which time she had lost almost half her body weight; she was dull, depressed and weak. The first battle was to find something irresistible for her to eat, and after many weeks of intensive nursing she started to slowly eat small handfuls of mare’s milk replacer. Over the next couple of weeks I managed to get her eating approximately 1 kilo of feed every 24 hours. Things had started to look up, but she needed to eat much more high energy food, and fast, if she was to survive. By this time she weighed only 372kg, under half of her original bodyweight.


On the 23rd of July I got a phone call in the early hours of the morning to tell me that Poppy had got down in the night and was too weak to get back up. It was such a disappointment because she had really picked up, and now she was on the floor, her mouth was cut and bleeding, and she was covered in sweat. It seemed as though this was the end of the road for her. Poppy’s owner, Jenny, was called and she decided to make the long journey from Cromarty to see her for what seemed to be the last time. Poppy was kept comfortable and we waited for Jenny to arrive. Half an hour before she arrived, Poppy made one last attempt to get up; she had now been down for at least eight hours. This time she managed to scramble to her feet, and ten minutes later her owner arrived. She had managed to get back up but was very weak and the next few days would be critical. Three and a half months of intensive nursing saw Poppy slowly recover; she gained weight (52 kilos in total) before the decision was made for her to return home.


Nursing Poppy was an absolute pleasure and one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have never seen such fight in a horse. She just refused to give up. Recently, I went to visit her on the Black Isle, and it was fantastic to see her back on the farm where she had been born. She had also grown and had gained more weight. As I watched her trotting around her field I felt such a sense of pride and it reminded me why intensive nursing is so very important. I will never forget Poppy; she taught me and many others that horses can, and do, recover even when it looks like they have reached the end of the road. (31/10/06)

Since this article was written Jenny has emailed to say that Poppy is very lively and is eating everything that is put in front of her. She is almost back to her original weight and Jenny hopes to show her again in the future.

Watch this space!


The picture above was taken on 22 November 2006