In the midst of a pandemic, nobody wants to think about a second quarantine.

But New Hope Stables is locking down and not for the coronavirus.

Several horses at the North Carolina boarding and lesson stable have succumbed to what veterinarians initially suspected to be an infectious disease. Now, they’re not so sure.

On the morning of Sept. 23, staff found the stable’s 18-year-old rescue horse Treasure on the ground, exhibiting symptoms that imitated colic. When the vet arrived to treat the mare, however, colic was ruled out as the source of the gastrointestinal irritation, albeit a symptom.

The next morning, Treasure was found on the ground in distress again and was admitted to Woodside Equine Clinic in Richmond. When she spiked a fever, veterinarians suspected a viral disease as the probable cause. Her condition rapidly declined, and two days later the difficult decision was made to euthanize.

Amidst grieving their longtime lesson horse, still worst fears were realized on Sept. 28th when several of the horses stabled at the farm were found in distress. Another horse exhibited a similar pattern of symptoms as Treasure and was sent to the emergency clinic. The majority of the 15 remaining horses were running some degree of a fever. The decision was made to quarantine the stable for at least 30 days, or until a clear conclusion for the bout of illness is found.

Thursday, Carla Bundy, the owner and operator of New Hope Stables, and organizer of the GoFundMe: Help New Hope Stables Save the Herd, updated the page with devastating news. The farm lost three more horses.

“Tonight I find myself struggling to find the words to write this update. Today has been an extremely sad day at New Hope Stables. Heaven has gained three more beautiful horses today,” she wrote.

“As this day comes to an end we still have no answers. What we do have is a army of people from numerous places looking for the answers.”

Spearheading that charge is attending veterinarian Shanna Edwards, who has been aggressively treating the horses and has called on the opinions of colleagues and specialists all the way from Cornell to UC Davis.

“I’ve sent every drop of paperwork and am sharing every piece of information I have because we need some help,” said Dr. Edwards.

Bundy originally created the GoFundMe page to mitigate the monumental costs of Treasure’s veterinary care, initially estimated at $5,000 to $10,000. Now, the financial burden has swelled. In addition to countless emergency farm calls, three more horses are currently receiving care at the emergency clinic.

“I want to stress, this is a bunch of little girls who are heartbroken about their ponies. Money is a big concern right now, but still they’ve done everything right. They haven’t waited a moment to treat the horses,” said Dr. Edwards.

At the time of publication, the GoFundMe page has reached nearly $20,000 of its $50,000 goal.

NC State’s Infectious Disease Center performed a full necropsy on one of the horses but found nothing conclusive. To date, symptoms include diarrhea, fever, lethargy, bloating and colic. The Department of Agriculture has also sent specialists to the stable to search for answers.

“What we first thought could be an infectious disease I now think could be toxins in the grain, the hay, or the water…I’m leaning that way because in my 15-years as a veterinarian I’ve never had an infectious disease affect every horse in the barn,” said Dr. Edwards

The horses at New Hope Stables are turned out individually and have minimal contact with each other, which makes an infectious disease seem all the more improbable.

As of now, four horses have died, and about half of the stables’ horses are on IV fluids. Currently, the barn has ceased using well water and brought in new grain and hay. The horses that are unwilling to eat are on IV fluids; those that are partially eating are being tubed once or twice a day.

To date, New Hope hasn’t lost a horse since Wednesday. The team is hopeful they are heading in the right direction.

Read more about the situation at New Hope Stables and contribute to their fundraising efforts at GoFundMe: Help New Hope Stables Save the Herd.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that all the horses at New Hope Stables spiked a fever. It has been updated to indicate that most of the horses exhibited some degree of fever.

Feature image: ©New Hope Farm