Nfld. & Labrador

'Devastated' owners of Newfoundland ponies say deaths could have been prevented

Two Newfoundland ponies died suddenly in Winterton last month, and their owners are feeling the loss keenly.

'We didn't know about it,' says George Walker of vaccine to prevent pony deaths due to botulism

Nova and Spirit, the two Newfoundland ponies who died suddenly in Winterton. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

Talk radio plays in the background of a barn, a rooster crows and ducks quack. But the sound of Newfoundland ponies clomping across the floor is gone.

In Winterton, two owners are mourning the sudden loss of their two ponies.

She just went down and she slowly died.- George Walker

Bella the goat is also feeling the loss keenly, according to her owner George Walker.

"Wherever the horses went, she was. If I took mine home in the fall, she'd be bawling her head off out there, following me so far."

George Walker, holding a drawing of Nova and Spirit. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

Walker was the owner of Nova, a female Newfoundland pony who died in June at the age of 19. Her death came just a week after her nine-year-old foal, Spirit, died.

Both deaths were sudden. Walker was the one who discovered the foal's body.

A Winterton owner talks about the loss of two Newfoundland ponies. 8:32

"I came over around 10 o'clock I think it was in the morning, something like that, to give them a couple of carrots. I gave the rabbit a carrot and I came around the corner and … Spirit was dead on the ground. We don't know how long," said Walker.

The barn where Nova and Spirit lived is now without Newfoundland ponies. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

"I found him [Spirit's owner] coming up the road in his backhoe. I told him and he was devastated. Couldn't believe it. Because the night before, she was all right."

'She just dropped down'

When Spirit's mother stopped eating, Walker said he assumed it was grief. He didn't know she was sick too.

"It just happened — she came out of the barn and she just started shaking and then she just dropped down," said Walker.

"The vet told me what to do with her. I tried my best to do what I could with her and she just went down. She [the vet] told me to try to hold her up but I couldn't, she was just too heavy for that. I tried to, but I couldn't. And then she just went down and she slowly died."

Walker said he had no indication that the ponies' deaths could have been prevented.

George Walker says had he known about the risks of botulism, and that there was a vaccine, he would have vaccinated his ponies. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

'We didn't know about it'

The veterinarian believes the ponies ate grass contaminated with botulism.

It should be out there that everyone that has an animal that can get that [vaccine], should have it.- George Walker

According to EquiSearch, a website for horse owners and lovers, botulism can be found in spoiled feeds and contaminated soil and can quickly kill horses.

Too late, Walker learned there was a simple vaccine that could have prevented the ponies' deaths.

"Hindsight now, if we would have known this we would have had it years ago. They would have had it years ago," said Walker.

"Mine was feeding here for 19-and-a-half years, so nothing happened to them."

Numbers from 2015 show there are only around 400 Newfoundland ponies left on the planet.

Walker said his animals have since been vaccinated for botulism, but he wants other owners to know about the risks.

"It should be out there that everyone that has an animal that can get that [vaccine], should have it. We didn't know about it."

The two Newfoundland ponies were fairly well known in Winterton, and could be seen grazing together up on the hill. (Gavin Simms/CBC)