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Princess Anne opens up about 'devastating impact' of deadly illness on Queen's beloved horses

The Princess Royal appeared on the OnFarm podcast

Emily Nash

Princess Anne has spoken about the "devastating impact" of a mysterious disease which killed five of the Queen's beloved horses.

The Princess appeared on the OnFarm podcast to launch a new fellowship for research into Equine Grass Sickness, which is almost always fatal to horses.

It comes after the Balmoral Estate lost five Highland ponies to the deadly illness between June 2017 and May 2018.

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WATCH: Princess Anne speaks about devastating impact of disease on beloved horses

Asked whether she had encountered EGS, Anne told presenter Ross Montague: "Yes. More so recently at Balmoral where they've had quite a lot of losses sadly. And that's - you know, particularly when you're breeding Highland Ponies and you lose two really nice colts in one go. That's a pretty devastating impact, as well as the fact that they are working ponies, it's important to keep those gene pools relevant."

In a previous episode of the food and farming podcast, Sylvia Ormiston, who manages Her Majesty's Balmoral Highland Pony Stud, described how the Queen made a final visit to one of the horses, a stallion named Hercules in the hours before his death in May 2018, which came two weeks after another stallion, Lord, was put down with the illness.

Their deaths followed those of Friendly, a two-year-old filly, and her mother Clunie within 24 hours of each other and that of a male called Omar, in 2017.

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The Queen riding in the grounds of Balmoral in 1982

Sylvia told OnFarm: "He [Hercules] started to show signs of being sick on the Friday evening. The Queen came to see him on the Saturday.... It was enough time that the Queen could come to see him, to actually say goodbye - because there was nothing we could do. 

"It just shows you that no matter who you are, no matter who the animal belongs to, you still can't save them."

EGS is thought to be caused by toxins which attack the animal's nervous system, eventually leading to gut paralysis.

Sylvia said of its effect on horses: "They are doomed, there is no return, they are dead on the inside... and it's so devastating because you are standing there wishing you could do something for what looks like a perfectly healthy animal."

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Anne is patron of the Moredun Foundation and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund

A new, three-year fellowship has now been launched at The Moredun Research Institute, which was set up by Scottish farmers to tackle livestock disease in 1920.

Backed by the Moredun Foundation and the Equine Grass Sickness Fund, it will bring together horse owners and scientists to try to understand more about the illness, which is linked to Scotland and the East Coast of England.

The Princess, who is patron of both organisations, said: "It is still a seriously difficult disease to get a grip of.  And I hope this new Research Fellowship will encourage people to understand just how important it still is."

HELLO! understands the Queen took a personal interest in the new research post and the Balmoral stud is often her first port of call when she visits her Scottish home.

She names each foal born there as part of a breeding programme aimed at protecting the Highland breed, which is now considered vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

To hear more, visit: www.on-farm.co.uk or visit www.grasssickness.org.uk.

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