(REDDINGTON) - In just a week's time, Vickey Oliphant and her family lost all five of their horses to an outbreak of suspected botulism from an unknown food source.
She has sent out samples of hay for testing and is awaiting the results - not to lay blame, she says - but to make more people aware of the situation. She says her farm may not be the only one affected.
Dr. Bob Gillespie, a longtime veterinarian from Brownstown, said in his 45 years of practice, he has never had a case of botulism. He did not treat any of Oliphant's horses.
"It's not very common," he said of the illness.
He also said it's not usually transmitted through hay but in the bones or meat of dead animals. The outlook for a horse or any animal with botulism is not good, he added, they usually die.
The illness also has sickened five horses from Reins To Recovery Therapeutic Riding Center, which were being stabled at VJ Farms. Oliphant and her family own the small horse farm located on the Jackson-Jennings County line in Reddington, northeast of Seymour.
Calli Johnson, executive director of Reins, said their horses are "still sick, and not out of the woods, by any means."
The therapy horses did not have as much exposure to the hay as Oliphant's horses and were moved early on.
The situation has caused Reins to temporarily suspend their lessons and delay their relocation from Jennings County to VJ Farms to a later date.
The last of Oliphant heard died Saturday.
When the horses started to get sick earlier this month, Oliphant said it was "devastating" to watch them suffer. She says the disease affects their muscles, they can't chew, drink or swallow, so they literally starve to death.
Oliphant said farmers should be on the lookout for similar symptoms in their herds.
However, she added, the botulism does not affect cattle.
Reins To Recovery is not letting the setback deter its commitment to its clients and its continued growth.
By relocating to VJ Farms, Johnson said Reins will "triple in growth over the next year."
But to support that growth, more volunteers are needed, she added.
"We are always looking for volunteers to help," she said.
They are also accepting monetary donations for the horses' continued medical care.
For information on Reins to Recovery Therapeutic Riding Center, call Calli Johnson at (812) 350-4864 or visit www.reinstorecovery.org.
Donations may be sent to Reins To Recovery at P.O. Box 1492, Columbus, IN 47202.
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