Yorkshire couple working to stamp out strangles speak at National Equine Forum

The ‘tireless’ work of a Yorkshire couple to raise awareness and change attitudes towards dealing with strangles was recognised at the National Equine Forum.

Andrew and Abigail Turnbull who were asked to speak at the National Equine Forum in front of industry experts and Princess Anne

Andrew and Abigail Turnbull from Richmond Equestrian Centre, were asked to speak at the national event held in London, in front of industry experts and its President HRH Princess Anne.

The couple gave a 20-minute presentation outlining their own experience when they had an outbreak of bacterial strangles on their yard, three weeks before they were due to hold their biggest event of the year.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We had a livery horse on box rest and he just wasn’t right,” Mrs Turnbull said.

“He had a high temperature but no snotty nose, so we isolated him and called the vet to take a blood test never expecting it to be strangles.”

But when the vet called with a diagnosis he confirmed it was the highly contagious infection.

“We listened to his advice and locked down the yard in 10 minutes,” Mrs Turnbull said.

They then shared their situation on social media to explain why the yard was on lock down and to let the 800 entrants to the planned BE competition know it would not be going ahead.

However, when they put the news out Mrs Turnbull said they were taken aback by some of the critical reactions they experienced from people.

“We had quite a bit of negative feedback,” she said.

“People were telling us we shouldn’t have said anything, that we would never re-open and our reputation would be damaged.

“Strangles is not a notifiable disease and they were saying we should have just carried on but that never even crossed our minds, the welfare of our horses is always our priority.”

Cancelling the events and locking down the yard hit the business financially but Mrs Turnbull said dealing with the outbreak in the most efficient and effective way possible was all that mattered to the team.

“We listened to the experts and followed their advice to the letter,” she said.

They found information from charities including the Redwings Horse Sanctuary’s Stamp Out Strangles campaign, The British Horse Society, the Premium Assured Strangle Scheme and other professional organisations was invaluable at what was a very stressful time.

“We had only owned the business for around a year before the outbreak and when we bought it was very rundown,” Mrs Turnbull explained.

“So we had spent all this time renovating, rebuilding and cleaning the place up to be hit with this. It was a very difficult time.”

With the first horse to show symptoms not necessarily being the first horse to contract the disease, the team kept a very close eye on the three livery yards, isolating horses as necessary.

“Bio-security was vitally important and we had footbaths everywhere with clients coming onto the yard just to feed their horses then going. Some work in other yards so we asked them to change their clothes before coming to onto ours. We had to be very strict about enforcing it.”

They also wanted to implement a protocol which would avoid spreading the disease any further.

All the horses were blood tested so they could see which horses were carrying the infection and then put onto a Red, Amber, Green (RAG) isolation system which Mrs Turnbull said was very effective.

All the horses on the yard which had contracted strangles were given a guttural pouch procedure to ensure there were no carriers.

The strangles infection can be carried in the guttural pouch, an air pocket which sits at the back of a horse’s throat, while the horse shows no symptoms, they can still spread the infection to other horses. By carrying out the procedure the vet can find the infection and treat it so the horse is no longer a threat to others.

The Turnbull’s focus and dedication paid off with the yard being given the all-clear less than eight weeks later, with the horses affected all making a full recovery.

Now any new horses coming onto the livery yard has a blood test to see if they are carrying equine flu or strangles.

Since the yard re-opened it has got back on track with the Turnbulls due to take over running the on-site arenas from the current tenants in April.

Their ongoing campaign work around strangles led to the couple’s invitation to speak at the National Equine Forum. They joined a panel of veterinary, equestrian and behavioural change experts discussing how changing human behaviour is the key to improving equine welfare.

“It was a fantastic day and we met some wonderful people all working for the same goal as we are, improved animal welfare,” Mrs Turnbull said.