Phelan owners concerned about sick horses

Alyssa Langel feeds Cinco a three-year-old horse, still recovering after eating bad alfalfa in July. Cinco still has large patches of skin exposed and is being kept in a shaded stall to prevent sunburn.  (James Quigg, Daily Press)Hesperia Star

PHELAN — Equine owners in Phelan are still dealing with sick animals and remain unsure what caused many horses to manifest swollen eyes and lips, as well as blisters on their muzzles.

Speculation as to the source of the sickness has run from an equine virus and weeds, to high levels of protein or chemicals in a batch of feed.

According to Chuck Burt of Diamond B Hay and Feed, the medical condition may have been brought on by feed that was sold at his store at the end of July, and is “isolated to one load of alfalfa, just at the Phelan location.”  

Burt said the University of California, Davis tested the hay, which came back clean. The university also believes that the sickness could be an anomaly that was caused by the drought, he said.

“There was no weed, noxious or otherwise in the alfalfa. The hay was free of any foreign substance that would cause photosensitivity,” said Burt in an alfalfa update posted on Facebook on Friday.

“According to Dr. Puschner from UC Davis and Dr. Wayne Marteney (Palmdale), there are numerous outbreaks every year with the cause unknown other than it’s alfalfa related,” Burt said. “Dr. Puschner stated there has never been a test completed to find out what causes the photodermatitis.”

Photodermatitis is an abnormal skin reaction to sunlight, or more specifically to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Several factors can make the skin sensitive to UV rays, including having an inherited tendency to photosensitivity, taking certain medications, or being exposed to certain plants.

Burt said there is speculation that the sickness could be a virus, and that a similar outbreak has been reported in Texas and Colorado.

“There are other individuals who’ve claimed outbreaks of the symptoms while feeding their horses a different alfalfa or Bermuda grass,” Burt said. “If this is true, the alfalfa in question becomes a bigger mystery.”

Pamela Johnson, who posted a photo of her injured horse on Facebook, said some people are speculating that the sickness may have come from a certain weed that was consumed by the horses.

“I’m no expert, but I believe that when the dust settles and the scientists come back with the results, I think we’re going to be looking at feed that has a high content of protein,” said Deborah Jasper, whose five horses are recovering. “My horses ate feed on July 27th, the day after we purchased the feed.”

Jasper said four of her horses showed burns on their muzzles, and one horse had no visible signs, but had high levels of protein in the liver, which may lead to organ damage.

“My hay was only tested for toxic weed, not tested for chemicals,” Jasper said. “The hay was also not tested for high protein content. First cutting hay has a lot of protein and is usually fed to cattle. Our horse could have gotten into the first cutting hay.”

Jasper said the feed store has done a good job trying to find the source of the sickness and helping the horse community.

“This has been a nightmare to deal with,” Jasper said. “We just need to find out what was in the hay that caused this. Everyone is speculating that it’s not the hay, but my horses do not have access to weeds in my yard and the only change in their diet was that batch of hay.”

According to the feed store, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is conducting its own tests, which will be posted at the feed store when the results are available.

“Ultimately, it all goes back to the grower and that could be anybody,” said Alicia Madole, whose stud colt was affected by the feed. “UCD may not find anything, but I think it’s high protein level in the hay.”

Madole and Jasper said they heard of a similar outbreak affecting other horse communities in California.

“I think the one thing that this mystery taught us is that we need to be aware of what our horses are eating,” Jasper said. “It’s definitely brought the community together.”

Diamond C Hay and Feed will host a fundraiser for the affected horses dealing with the photosensitive outbreak  from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The fundraiser includes a tack and bake sale, with the feed store contributing 5 percent of its sales over the weekend.

Diamond C Hay and Feed is at 10750 Sheep Creek Road, Phelan. Contributions also can be dropped off at Diamond B Hesperia, 16489 Yucca St.; Diamond B Lucerne Valley, 10525 Barstow Road.

Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa or on Twitter@DP_ReneDeLaCruz.

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One thought on “Phelan owners concerned about sick horses

  1. Do a test for radiation exposure from Fukushima and see if the horses have radiation compounds in their system.

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