Born: April 8, 2014. Died: August 10, 2016.
Lily’s birth here at the rescue centre came as such a surprise to us. It really was something of a miracle that she was born healthy, although very small.
Just a month earlier, we had rescued 14 horses from an illegal horse dealer in Callosa de Segura. These horses were kept in the most appalling conditions – chained to a concrete wall 24 hours a day with very limited access to food and water, they were all literally starving. (Their owner was later criminally convicted of animal abuse. Read their full rescue story here.)
We knew Lily’s mother Liberty was in foal, but our equine vet thought she was only about seven months along because her baby was so small.
To our astonishment, we came out one morning to find Liberty had given birth right there in our fields. Little Lily was tiny, malnourished just like her mother, but she quickly flourished in our cosy stables with plenty of good food and water.
But just six weeks later, on the morning of May 26, 2014, we found Liberty collapsed in her stable in severe pain. We rushed her to the Alicante horse hospital in a desperate bid to save her life.
An ultrasound quickly revealed the problem, an internal intestinal hernia. Liberty was rushed into surgery to try and repair a strangulating lesion of the small intestine, caused by an old tear in the intestine wall.
It’s is a very rare occurrence but rescued horses that have been abused can come with all sorts of problems, as we have found many times in the past.
Veterinarians cut the intestine wall in two more places and sucked out several litres of fluid that had slowly leached out from the intestinal tear. Despite the gruelling surgery, Liberty began to improve and her veterinary team felt encouraged by her progress.
On June 1, 2014, things took a turn for the worse. Liberty was rushed back into surgery but nothing could be done to save her life.
Little Lilly was left an orphan – but there is a happy ending to this sad story. Another mare named Rosie, who had been chained next to Liberty before their rescue from the squalid Callosa de Segura property, immediately took on the role of surrogate mother.
From then on, Lily and Rosie spent every minute together. It was just so beautiful to watch this relationship form, as Rosie had been Liberty’s best friend, and the two horses were inseparable. Now Rosie had little Lilly to love and care for.
The pair lived peacefully in our fields for two years, until one morning in July 2016 we discovered Lily in her stable with a high fever.
X-rays revealed Lily was suffering from fractured vertebrae, which we believe was caused by a severe impact to her neck one night while she was in her stable. We could not rule out foul play, as our centre had suffered a string of break-ins in the months before her accident.
Things only went from bad to worse.
Blood tests revealed Lily was suffering from tick fever (piroplasmosis) and she then contracted an infection (called myonecrosis) in her neck muscles caused by the injections for tick fever.
Despite treatment, she continued to deteriorate and was rushed to the Hospital Veterinario San Vicente (Alicante horse hospital) on July 22, 2016. There, veterinarians discovered a mysterious lung infection. Cultures were taken to try determine exactly what was going on, but sadly we lost Lily before the results came back.
We believe the shock of the blow to Lily’s neck triggered a chain of reactions in her that ultimately led to her death.
An autopsy later revealed Lily had hard mineral lumps like stones in her neck, heart and lungs. No one had ever seen or heard of anything like this in Spain and veterinarians suspected it could be systemic calcinosis and calciphylaxis – an extremely rare disease that is so far very little understood. We preserved Lily’s stones in formaldehyde to be sent to Cordoba University, who are equipped to do specialist analysis and later confirmed the diagnosis.
Veterinarians believe this was caused by poor foetal development, which makes perfect sense. We were obviously extremely sad to learn that Liberty's terrible treatment before her rescue led to her foal's life being cut short far too soon, yet it was relief to finally know for sure what happened.
We were also so glad that, the previous day, we had decided to take Rosie to the horse hospital to be with Lily. We had hoped that the presence of her adopted mum would help lift Lily spirits. We are so glad that she did not die alone.
Lily’s passing is a reminder to us all that while many of our horses seem to be fine from the outside, they have been exposed to all sorts of unknown circumstances and situations that often leave a terrible mark on the inside. Sometimes it takes years for these effects to become known.
We were devastated to lose this beautiful young member of our rescue centre family, especially after the loss of her mother only two years earlier. But we are so happy that she enjoyed a happy life of freedom and love in the short time she had.