“It’s very probably down to him that I still have Ganja alive and no one was injured or worse”
A horse whose life hung in the balance after he contracted tetanus – and who is nicknamed the Ribena Kid as that was used to help cure him – has come back to shine at the Bolesworth Young Horse Championships.
The Brendon Stud’s Regal Warratino finished fourth in the four-year-old final on 13 August, some 15 months after he was found lying stiff and unable to swallow at home.
The stud’s Shirley Light told H&H she thought “Zellow” would have to be put down that day.
“I wasn’t there but they rang me to say he was lying down and looked really weird,” she said. “I said ‘Touch his ears’, and he said ‘Oh god, they’re solid’. I thought it sounded like tetanus and asked if he could open his mouth. He said no, and that his eyes had rolled back into his head. I said ‘That’s tetanus’.”
Shirley called the vet and went straight back, to find Zellow “effectively blowing bubbles” as he was unable to swallow, and only able to walk about 10 strides at a time. Vet Ed Lyall, from Sussex Equine, arrived and confirmed it was tetanus.
“Then Ed put the stethoscope on him and said ‘I don’t know how but his heart rate is normal’,” Shirley said. “He’d walked 60 yards and looked like he’d done the Grand National, he was blowing that much, but his heart rate wasn’t up. Ed made some phone calls and said ‘I think we should give this horse a chance’. I’ll always give them a chance; all the time they’re fighting, I’ll fight with them.”
Zellow was given huge doses of anti-tetanus medication and antibiotics, and walked back to the yard, taking about two hours and 40 minutes to cover the 700-metre distance.
Once he was in, Shirley and her team hung a ladder horizontally in his barn, suspending feed and water buckets at different heights, so however his neck was positioned, he could eat and drink.
“He could move his jaw left to right but not open and close it,” Shirley said. “We fed him four times a day and it was almost like an old horse quidding, but he kept eating, and he didn’t go down.”
For the next nine days, Zellow stayed on his medication, with daily vet visits, while Shirley rang everyone she could think of to see if anyone knew of a horse who had survived tetanus.
“I couldn’t find one,” she said. “A few said they’d had them live for four or five days, one had one live nine days, but they’d all died.
“His heart rate and temperature were normal, which is really bizarre, but everywhere was solid, from head to tail, like he was filled with concrete.
“Then, at about 4am one night, I was watching a random vet programme on a random channel, about a vet in the Australian outback who had a cat come in with tetanus, and my ears pricked up. She didn’t know what to do so rang her dad, a retired vet, and he said ‘Bring the cat to me’, and she did and he fixed it. I googled her, contacted her and said ‘What did your dad do?’”
The vet replied to say her father had used dried nettle, magnesium and boswellia.
“Boswellia is anti-inflammatory but dig deeper and it’s frankincense,” Shirley said. “Those three wise men must have known something! It’s a natural antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, and the vet said the magic ingredient was Ribena. I said ‘Ok, you’ve got me with that’, but it’s the vitamin C.”
Shirley fed Zellow the ingredients as advised, including half a litre of Ribena a day, for about two months.
“I sent my mother out shopping,” she said. “Once we knew he’d eat the Ribena, we were buying six to 10 big bottles at a time. We kept him on it, then on day 62, he was bucking round his pen, free and fresh and fixed.”
Zellow had gradually increased the amount he was eating rather than dropping, but it was that day he was found playing in the straw that Shirley knew he had turned the corner. He was soon able to go out, and he was moving and jumping as well as ever not too long afterwards.
“He came back in at Christmas and was backed, then he won the four-year-olds here with Ruby [Light, Shirley’s niece], and came fourth with Nicole Pavitt at Bolesworth.” she said. “It was unbelievable. I sent Ed the video and he said it was amazing and sent it to their internal medicine specialist, who was thrilled. They’d never heard of a horse surviving tetanus.”
Shirley added that the long-term ramifications are unknown, but more than a year on, the only sign Zellow shows is a tiny bit of membrane still across one eye. He suffered a badly cut heel this spring, which she said was worrying, but healed with no issues.
“And the rest, as they say, is history,” she said. “He’s the Ribena Kid now, and next spring I’m keeping him wrapped up in cotton wool!”
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Credit: Karen Coumbe
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