Mare Atria Dies From Infection

Atria, an 8 year old wild mare of the Abaco wild horse herd, did not have to die.

An escalating series of events, all preventable, ended with her tortured, excruciatingly painful death sometime during the dark, early morning hours of Saturday, March 3. Even if the necessary things had been done and she still went down, she should not have been alone to die in unbearable pain.

Because the horses still are not on a preserve where they can be observed on a daily basis, her deteriorating condition wasn't discovered until it was well advanced. Atria stayed with the stallion Aldebaran. Atria and Aldebaran tended to stay in one general area, but it had some very rough places and the pair often were not seen for weeks at a time.

What happened to Atria?

The horses, due to fires and other dangers, have over the last two years avoided the forest and have stayed on the citrus farm. The ground is softer, unlike the crusty floor of the forest. Their hooves have begun to grow unnaturally long. The long hooves are prone to cracks; sand, bits of gravel and debris get in the cracks. Infections form, invisible under the hoof wall.
Unless each horse's hooves are picked up and inspected, nothing is seen until the horse either starts limping or shows signs of infection.

In Atria's case, multiple cracks had opened up in all four of her hooves. The infections ran up the sensitive insides of her feet, breaking out in wounds around the tops of her hooves. Flies settled and began to lay eggs inside her hooves.

Drive splinters under your toe nails. Now walk. Drive splinters under all your finger nails. Now eat and drink.

Excerpts from field notes:(the attempts to save Atria included successful use of the portable corral.).

Friday, Feb. 2

Aldebaran and Atria both look very good from a distance. Got within 60 feet of them. Atria has a wound on left side of face, sun spot? She has big hollow on either side, in front of hips where usually rounded. Strange. (The infection was starting to become apparent, but we couldn't get close to her to look further, and then the pair disappeared.)

Tuesday, Feb. 20

Finally spotted again. Atria looks gaunt, moving badly, grazing, but not good. Looks weak, can’t stand up well. Still hollow at top of hips.

Vet suggests laminitis (Founder) which is a result of eating too much grain. The wild horses never get grain. However, some bags of pig feed had broken open under a shed and several people claimed to have seen the horses eating the feed. Vet said to start painkillers.

Was able to shoot from around a tree so she never saw me blow the dart. It took about an hour to retrieve the dart. She was in such pain she couldn't move much but she was terrified of hands, and so didn’t use hands, took a lot of time to gently get next to her, leaned on her. Scratched rump, working to chest, she threatened to bite, pain and fear intense. Pulled dart. Flies around front feet, trickle of ooze from coronet, left foot, right foot similar, covered with flies. Her right eye is red, and has a cloudy layer over, somewhat yellowed. This and spot on face result of too much sun. Horses need to be back in shelter of forest.

Thursday, Feb. 22
To farm yesterday, Spent two hours with vet yesterday looking for Atria, no sign of her. After vet left spent four more hours looking.

Today found Aldebaran, her stallion, went after him hoping he’d lead me to her, but he headed north and looked very weak in the hind end. (To date, he seems better, must be watched)

Friday, Feb. 23

Pat Stoddard, Jillian Stacey, Linda Husak, Jack Happy and Madelein Hili joined me to search the area in which Atria was last seen, row by overgrown vine entangled row. After two hours didn't know what to do next. David Knowles, Marsh Harbour Agricultural Officer found her nearly a mile away. How on earth did she get there with her hooves in such bad condition?

We pulled the portable corral to her. While I got the painkiller and antibiotics ready for the blow pipe the volunteers built the corral and urged Atria into it. We all feel tremendous relief. She's in, we can watch her, we can treat her.

Water buckets were set up, I was cleared to camp next to her overnight. I went back to Marsh Harbour to take care of some details, by the time I got back to her corral she had kicked over the buckets. It was now dark. She was trampling the buckets, desperate for water. I set off to try to find water. In the dark, a bungie cord wrapped around the rear axle of my motorbike and threw my drive chain, bent up the chain guard. I got the chain back on. Got back to my camp. What to do? Afraid to raise a ruckus where workers live because then everybody would know she was there. Just falling asleep when help arrived. Gene Hazelieff, who has helped with the horses in the past, came to see Atria. He set up a pump, flooded the corral, she drank and drank and drank. Filled the buckets. She showed signs of life, excreted normally. Injected pain killer and antibiotic. Stayed Saturday night as well.

Sunday, Feb. 25,

Dr. Dorset on hand, completely sedated her at 11 am. Gene clipped and rasped all four feet, they were in very bad shape. Could see the multiple vertical cracks running up the insides of her hooves. Could see inflammation. Didn’t give penicillin or Banamine, on top of sedative. Both fore feet packed with medication and wrapped. Got her up at noon. I went back to MH, then back to camp to stay over night with her.

Monday, Feb. 26,

Down to Marsh Harbour, back to camp at 5:30, Atria looked awful. She would not eat any of the grass in the corral. She would take a mouthful of grass from me, then no more. She started to stagger around in circles, and then went down. Gave Banamine and penicillin. Gene said never saw such a bad case of cracks, called sand gravel. Whenever the Banamine wore off she was in terrible pain. Also, she was a wild animal, suddenly penned up, with three humans all over her at various times. We decided to let her out of the corral. We urged her out at 11:30 pm. She began to graze immediately. We figured she’d been on her feet all day in pain, no Banamine yesterday (after the sedation), she got weak. Her appetite was a good sign.

Tuesday, Feb. 27

Found her a surprising distance from the corral, lying down. Decided to let her rest, regain strength from the night's grazing. Later found her deep in the uncultivated trees, up and eating. Went back to Marsh Harbour, intending to come back at night to stay with her.

Bike threw chain again, it fell over, got it up. Tire low, filled. Tire blew out near Leisure Lee. Got ride into town. Tire fixed. Ran errands, headed back to farm. Another blow out. Couldn’t get to farm. Spent night in office. Telephoned farm but Gene could not find her.

Wednesday, Feb. 28
Looking for Atria. No sign of her traveling anywhere. Looked all over. Did not go into nearby forest, ground very rough, could not imagine her traveling there. Spent about five hours looking. Quit at dark

Thursday, March 1
Trying to arrange for plane to do fly over. Bruce McDaniels of Dolphin Beach Resort offered to do a fly over on Friday. (He has suggested a plan for making aerial reconnaissance feasible in the future).

Friday, March 2
Fly over went as planned but did not find Atria. Though I couldn't imagine her moving through the forest, I decided to look at a water hole not far from where I'd last seen her even though I saw no signs of a trail. In retrospect, I suppose I should have looked there first but I could not imagine any animal moving over that ground in such a weakened and violently painful condition.

But she did, and it's probably what finished her. She had water, she had food, but the pain got so intense you could see where she went down. She couldn't drink or eat any more. Somehow, she managed to get up again, only to collapse a few feet away. She began to thrash from the pain. She died only a few hours before I got to her. If only we'd had her, and all the horses, in a safe place where they could be monitored. If only they were back in the forest. If only we had access to a plane sooner. If only we had a well stocked clinic so she could have been put on IV fluids if she couldn't eat. If only we had a sonogram or X-ray machine to see how bad her feet were inside, if only I could have found her sooner and at least have eased the pain . . . if only, if only, if only.

The next day Dr. Derrick Bailey did an autopsy. She was dry inside, badly dehydrated. There was little solid fecal matter. She was starving after all. She was not pregnant. All along her intestines were signs of hemorrhaging blood vessels, signs of colic. She had generalized gastroenteritis in the small and large intestines. From the pain, from the rolling, who knows what came first, what caused the rest? She couldn't eat, she couldn't drink, the stress of pain, of traveling, of contact with people all added up and she couldn't go any more.

That she went on as long as she did is a tribute to incredible stamina and an indomitable will to live. When, in pain and delirium she could have broken my arm, she only snapped, she warned me. She had incredible heart.

We've saved eight horses so far. We've lost Vega, Enif, Acrux and now Atria in the last two years, Kochab, Shaula, Polaris, Suhail, Avior, Bellatrix I, Antares and unnamed others before. How many more are we going to lose just because we don't have a few simple things like a preserve, a small clinic? A simple thing like permission to go ahead with an emergency breeding program? A simple thing like letting us begin to take action, rather than only react to disasters already far advanced?

There are no mysteries here. This horse, and so many others, could be alive today if only . . .
This death could have been avoided if:

-The horses were on their own preserve where each horse could be easily located and inspected closely daily. Anything less than this is not a serious commitment to saving these horses. Twenty four hour guard would not be too much.

-It will take time to set up the preserve. Steps to establish it should occur immediately. Time is running out for these animals.

-Free roaming dogs must be controlled. Though they had no part in this death, they remain a constant threat to adults and all foals which may be born in the future.

-An aggressive, preventive health care program is being initiated so that problems may be solved before they become acute. Under present conditions, it will be a difficult program to administer since locating each horse on a regular basis is just about impossible. Arkwildhas arranged for funds, vet and permission from the farm to start the program within a short time. The program will include sedation of each horse, inspection of hooves and repair and treatment as needed, dental inspection and work as needed; blood test, parasite tests, DNA samples from last two horses.

-Rapid establishment of a sperm/ova bank is critical. Research being done as to how best implement.

-We are down to 17 animals, 9 mares, 8 stallions. The tragedies surrounding these horses are appearing on a world stage. We are 90% certain they are of pure, Columbian era Spanish blood. We will soon have final confirmation. They are irreplaceable. They are unique in the world. They qualify to be their own breed. They need to be declared National Treasures immediately, and treated accordingly.

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