Acid attack pony Cinders, who was nursed back to health by North Yorkshire vets using fish skins, wins national award

A pony found with horrific acid burns to her face and mouth has been named 2020’s Rescue Animal of the Year at a national award ceremony.

Surgeons at the North Yorkshire Equine Clinic worked with the specialist burns team at Pinderfields Hospital and used fish skins to help her skin regrow.

Cinders, as she was named by the North Yorkshire vets who carried out her life-saving surgery and rehabilitation, was given the accolade at the Daily Mirror Animal Hero awards.

In 2018, Cinders was found as an eight-month-old foal in Chesterfield, the victim of a suspected acid attack. The RSPCA referred her to the Rainbow Equine Hospital in Malton, an equine hospital they work closely with, where equine surgeon Jonathan Anderson took on her care.

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“When she came to us it was pretty awful stuff to see,” Jonathan said.

“She was emaciated with very neglected feet and the terrible burns.

“It was heart-rending to see her. We have had lots of horses here with injuries but nothing as terrible as that.”

And despite her injuries Jonathan said her endearing character shone through.

“Even in that state with the skin on her face hanging off she was such a sweet little horse with a lovely character, she was and still is, so endearing.”

The core team looking after Cinders which comprised of Jonathan along with medics Dave Rendle and Sarah Gough started looking at how they could treat her.

But they also had to think about whether it was possible.

“From the outset we had to think seriously about whether we would be able to save her.

“The burns were also on her mouth and tongue so we said if she stopped eating we would draw the line, we took it very much day by day.”

The nature of the injuries were also a challenge. “We know the horse’s head very well but we are not used to dealing with chemical burns of this magnitude,” Jonathan, an American specialist in equine surgery, explained.

He contacted a former colleague from the University of California Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Jamie Peyton, who had been using a pioneering treatment to help animals burnt in wildfires.

“I had read about fish skins being used on the paws of bears burnt in fires to help the skin recover, so I contacted Jamie and asked if she could help.”

Jamie’s response was “absolutely” and initially she was going to send the fish skins over but the university said it would sponsor Jamie to come over in person to treat Cinders and demonstrate the procedure.

Jonathan said from a surgical perspective they needed to debride the damaged skin so it could regrow and the fish skins which had a cooling effect, would also act as a bandage.

“We cut the skins to fit the burns and afterwards she looked as if she was wearing a silver mask. We needed to keep everything cool, clean so the new skin could grow and the fish grafts really helped.”

The team at Rainbow also consulted with burns specialists from Wakefield’s Pinderfields Hospital which has a world-leading burns unit. “They were fantastic. We had a plastics specialists, a burns specialist and registrar who came out in their own time to see Cinders.”

The team carried out two more grafting surgeries and tension release surgery when the damaged skin started to contract.

Jonathan said Cinder’s eyes were a concern and also her mouth and tongue as it could affect her eating. But with the help of the team from Pinderfields who gave their time and expertise for free to help with facial reconstruction and equipment lent by a medical company the team were able to bring her through.

“Everyone wanted the same thing, which was to see her come through and throughout it all she was amazing,” Jonathan said.

Cinders, short for Cinderella, was at Rainbow Equine Hospital for three months and Jonathan said they all got really attached to her. “We had some very big ups and some very big downs, but she did it, she is such a fighter,” he said.

A fundraising campaign to pay for Cinders’ treatment had received donations from all around the country raising around £17,000.

“People were so generous and one elderly couple really stick in my mind. Every week for four weeks they made the one-and-a-half hour journey to Rainbow to drop off £100 and that was typical of so many.

“So many people have been so kind and overwhelmingly generous in response to that one act of cruelty.”

Cinders moved to her new home in Ryedale and her new owner said it was love at first sight, describing her as “a joy” to look after.

“She now has a wonderful life and when you look at her face there is just some slight scaring on her lips and pink on her muzzle but you wouldn’t know what had happened to her. She is really special,” Jonathan said.