It’s been a month of heartbreak and stress for New Hope Stables. The North Carolina farm lost four horses and has been caring around the clock for more than a dozen others that suddenly fell sick on Sept. 23 to an unexplained illness.

No more horses have been lost. However, the cause of the devastation remains a mystery.

Dr. Shanna Edwards is New Hope’s Nancy Drew. So far, the investigation has unearthed more questions than answers. Infectious disease panels on the horses have all come back negative, shifting their focus to toxins. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture tested the grain, shavings, hay and water but have yet to identify a culprit.

Now, New Hope is faced with the very real possibility that an answer may not be found.

“A couple of the horses who got sick in the very beginning still don’t look good…the ones I started tubing with water and oil before they really got truly ill have recovered the fastest. Whether that’s related, we don’t know, but everyday we continue to collaborate with all of the specialists,” said Dr. Edwards.

While they’re not out of the woods yet, the horses that have recovered signal they’re on the right path.

“Originally I thought there was a possibility that there was an infectious process occurring, and I just don’t think so anymore…we tested every horse in the barn for everything. So we’re really leaning on the possibility it’s a toxin,” said Dr. Edwards.

New Bolton Center toxicologists are testing the liver of a necropsied horse, Fancy. The team is also awaiting the results for additional feed tests.

The confronting concern now is how to move forward without knowing what is safe. “The really disturbing part is what do you do now? Do we feed the hay and the grain? Can we use the well water?” said Dr. Edwards.

Barn owner Carla Bundy updated the Go Fund Me page October 9th, which has raised over $43,000 in donations toward their now $100,000 goal. She expressed being overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support, but also fatigue for the ongoing situation.

“It is with heavy heart that I write this update. Unfortunately we still do not know what has made our babies sick. Almost all known infectious diseases have been ruled out. Sadly we have shifted our focus to poison,” wrote Bundy.

She wrote about the realization that normal barn life won’t happen for New Hope Stables for many months, as they deal with both the medical and financial repercussions.

“It’s really worn us all down. The adrenaline of the sick horses, and overwhelmingness, really kept us going in the beginning,” said Dr. Edwards. “Money is still a real concern, so we have to think realistically how much more we can spend on testing.”

Bundy updated the Fundraiser page again on October 24th, writing that the horses are now enjoying a few hours of turn out, but two of the horses, Rippy and Stormy, are struggling with a heavy cough. Others remain under observation.

“I don’t think a lot of us had time to actually mourn because it’s been such a fast and shocking nightmare. As for me, I’m still at a loss when it comes to what day it is and how long this has been going on,” wrote Bundy.

New Hope may not have answers. But they haven’t given up the fight.

For ongoing updates and to make donations, visit New Hope Stables Go Fund Me page.