In 2001, following my move to a new research job in Cambridge, we moved our small family run stud from a Wiltshire farm surrounded by cattle and sheep farming, to Norfolk, on the edge of Thetford Forest, surrounded by arable farming. In all the years we lived in Wiltshire, our horses were overall healthy with veterinary call-outs very few. But all that was about to change. Our first set-back occurred within a few months of moving to Norfolk. Our Welsh Sec D mare Abi suffered from impaction colic and had to be rushed to Newmarket for surgery. Once there, she was opened up and a full bucket of SAND was removed from her large intestines. It turned out that in our move from a clay-based soil in Wiltshire to a very sandy-based soil in Norfolk, Abi was unable to clear the sand building up in her gut each time she grazed in the paddocks, and eventually it led to impaction colic. Back in 2001, that was my first introduction to using herbal products.
There were (and still are) no veterinary drugs available to treat or prevent sand colic. Determined to save Abi suffering this fate again (and not wishing to have the expense of moving again) I researched and found out about Psyllium Husk, which is used in sandy places such as Australia and parts of America to help keep the horse’s gut clear of sand. From there, I researched with my own little herd of horses and found ways to enable the Psyllium husk to work more effectively by including other herbs, botanicals and products from the beehive, to help soothe and support the gut membranes and help with moving the sand particles out.
Over the next few years, other problems started to occur with our small herd of horses including persistent mane and tail rubbing, ventral midline dermatitis (itching under the belly), summer COPD, allergies, runny eyes and noses, infertility and then bang! We had major problems.
In 2007 we had two mares develop acute laminitis requiring remedial farrier work. A couple of other horses developed foot soreness, despite already being on poor grazing. Feed and exercise regimes hadn’t changed over the years, the horses carried ‘summer condition’ as usual but were not obese, so the sudden onslaught of lamintis was most peculiar. Why had we gone from a position of never having had laminitis in over 70 years, to suddenly having 4 mares afflicted with it?
Then Harlequin, our 16.2hh ex-eventer Welsh Cob gelding who had never been overweight, began to drastically lose condition and developed laminitis in all four feet, with pedal bone rotation. This proved to be the beginning of a number of findings and life changing events that came our way over the following two years…..and led to the formation, in 2009, of a family run business – Thunderbrook Equestrian and Equine Pure Essential horse feeds.
Dr Deborah Carley
Dr Deborah Carley BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, PhD Biological & Nutritional Sciences, is the proprietor of Thunderbrook Equestrian. Her specialist areas are equine nutrition, feeding the metabolic syndrome horse, feeding horses with ulcers or compromised digestion.
Professional track record
Dr Carley gained a first degree in Biochemistry from Sheffield University. She then went on to study for a PhD and post-doctoral research at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on ‘Molecular Analysis of Plant Cell Wall Hydrolases of Bacterial Origin’. This work involved the detailed genetics, molecular and cell biology of enzymes which break down cellulose and xylan – components of the grasses and grains that horses eat. Dr Carley then widened her research perspective working for a medical research charity, running the facilities to support genomics research and facilitating many high level international biomedical research conferences, training courses and workshops on areas such as diabetes, other metabolic diseases, plant genomics, genomics of common diseases, etc.
Throughout most of this time, Dr Carley has kept a stable herd of a dozen or so horses, with little change in ownership. Applying her research principles to the practical and day-to-day care and maintenance of these horses has led to a new way of feeding – a programme designed to follow the way nature intended, but taking into account the changing environment of the 21st century.