WIN! a portable barbecue
When Dawn’s miniature Shetland pony needed a hero, huge Stanley didn’t say neigh... We drained six litres of blood
Broken bones, babies on the way – there’s never a dull moment at the hospital where I work. But then, it isn’t your average hospital. I’m a vet at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, the largest equine rescue centre in the UK.
‘Io’s face is all puffed up,’ one of the stable hands radioed me, first thing one morning in November 2017.
Sweet little Io – I was so fond of her. A miniature Shetland pony, just 2ft tall, she’d arrived at Redwings around the time I’d started there, 13 years earlier.
She was one of a herd of 43 semi-feral neglected Shetlands, all suffering from worms, lice and overgrown feet.
But she was a good-natured little thing, always up for a chat and a cuddle when I walked past her field.
A puffed-up face could simply mean Io was trapping food in her cheeks, hamster-style.
She’d suffered with diarrhoea over the past fortnight, though, so, ‘Bring her in,’ I said.
Better safe than sorry...
‘Oh dear,’ I frowned when the tiny pony trotted into the treatment
centre half an hour later.
Her whole head was puffed up, as if there was a balloon inside her skin, inflating it.
Tests showed that levels of albumin – a protein – in her blood were very low, causing excess fluid in her head and making the tissues swell.
She needed a plasma transfusion and as fast as possible, or she might deteriorate quickly...
‘Make her comfortable in an in-patient stable,’ I told the vet nurses.
The equine equivalent of a hospital bed...
Then I marched around the 36 in-patient stables, looking for a suitable blood donor – if we could find one, we could move fast.
I needed a healthy horse who wasn’t on any medication.
‘Ah, Stanley!’ I said, spotting one of our two huge Suffolk Punches, nosing at me over his stable door.
Should have kept your head down, Stanley…
He was as fit as a fiddle, only in the hospital as company for his best horsie mate, Wilf, who was being treated for lameness.
Standing 5ft 8in tall – almost three times the height of Io – he had plenty of blood to donate.
There was just one problem. Stanley’s bad-boy reputation meant that he’d probably need sedation for the procedure.
He and Wilf had arrived in 2014 as welfare cases.
Their previous owner had simply kept them in a barn for a year, with no access to the outside world.
Wilf’s mane had fallen out, and the two neglected horses’ hooves were in a terrible state.
But, when we’d tried to get close to put head collars on and rescue them, they’d led us a merry dance.
And, when we finally moved them to Redwings, they kicked out if we tried to help with their hooves or vaccinate them.
They just weren’t used to human contact...
‘They need to go straight to the behaviour centre,’ we’d agreed. A sort of borstal for naughty horses.
Amazingly, Stanley and Wilf were rehabilitated to the extent that, two years later, they moved to our Aylsham centre, where members of the public come to visit.
They weren’t up for cuddles and still kicked out occasionally but, dashingly handsome, people loved photographing them in their field.
‘Will you donate blood and save Io’s life?’ I asked Stanley now. ‘There’s a carrot in it for you.’ The bribe worked. Stanley stood still as a statue as we drained six litres of blood from him – not one kick – and didn’t require any sedation. ‘You’re a star,’ I smiled. Then, in a three-hour process, we pumped the protein-packed plasma from Stanley’s blood into Io, through an intravenous line in her jugular vein.
She was absolutely unfazed, munching contentedly on hay.
Over the following days, Io’s swelling subsided and her protein levels rose, recuperating with apples and the occasional Polo mint.
A fortnight later, Io was discharged. Before she was reunited with her pals, though, there was someone we had to visit.
‘Thank Stanley for saving your life,’ I nudged Io, and she lifted her head in greeting.
Of course, she couldn’t reach, so Stanley lowered his huge head over the stable door, nuzzling her.
‘You’re a reformed character, Stanley,’ I laughed.
From hoodlum to hero, there’s only good blood in that boy now.
We’re all as proud as Suffolk Punch of Stanley.
Little and large! The two friends horse around Hero Stanley (left) with pal Wilf
Patient Io having her transfusion