Two days after experienced horse trainer Alicia Harper purchased two bags of equine feed produced at a Chilliwack mill, the nightmare with her beloved animals began.
First was her 10-year-old gelding Topaz who settled down for the night on May 28, 2017 after which he started to thrash violently causing trauma to his front legs.
Topaz had blood coming from his nose, and by the next morning he was dead in his stall.
Then there was Flash, her 12-year-old thoroughbred gelding who, that same day, displayed acute signs of colic and was crashing down the stall door. Harper called an emergency veterinarian before moving Flash to an arena where he collapsed. She encouraged the horse to stand, but it didn’t go well.
“After rising, he staggered across the arena to the fence and crashed through it, falling into the ditch.”
Before Dr. Laren MacLeod determined Flash had to be euthanized that day, the vet observed the horse with cuts on his face and lips, he was behaving violently, his eyes were moving uncontrollably, he began displaying seizure-like behaviour and more.
Then there was Tommy, a 15-year-old American Paint stallion who also died on May 29 and who suffered similar symptoms before succumbing.
All this is included in the civil claim Harper, who runs Hylee Training in Mission, has filed against Hi-Pro Feeds LP, the Chilliwack manufacturer and supplier of animal nutrition feed, and McFli’s Feed Delivery, a marketer and seller of Hi-Pro’s feed in Maple Ridge.
She is seeking between $500,000 and $1 million in costs and damages.
Harper said she provided just one serving of the feed to her horses at her Mission farm, feed that contained ionophores, a substance included in dairy and poultry that can be highly toxic to horses. Harper obtained necropsy reports for Topaz, Flash and Tommy from the Ministry of Agriculture that showed ionophore toxicosis was the likely cause of death.
On June 9, 2017, Hi-Pro Feeds CEO Dean Prevost posted a statement on Facebook about the “isolated situation” on Harper’s farm.
“We took the time to conduct a thorough investigation to confirm the quality and safety of the Hi-Pro products involved,” according to the statement, which has since been deleted.
The statement said a feed sample provided by the horses’ owner and a retained sample from Hi-Pro were sent to an accredited lab for testing. The company also reviewed their own quality control practices.
“Based on the clean lab results and our internal review, we are confident that these products were not the cause of this unfortunate situation.”
After that statement, which included a claim that 11 other horses fed the same feed were fine, Harper found issues with yet more horses. Five of them were tested and found with evidence of suffering heart damage and muscle injury.
Her 14-year-old gelding Benny had to be euthanized. And seven-year-old mare Merritt was pregnant when she consumed the feed.
On March 20, 2018, Merritt suffered a prolapsed rectum from excessive straining giving birth to the foal named Bug. Merritt was euthanized that day.
While the civil suit is important to Harper, she also wants to spread the word to all horse owners about ensuring the safety of feed. On her Facebook page, Harper put a link to a a YouTube video about Bug, who is now six months old, as a warning about potential toxins. It was posted with the hashtag, #knowyourfeed.
In the video she explains that Bug was a blip on an ultrasound machine when his dad died, and his mother only survived eight hours after he was born.
“Bug has a message for all horse owners so this doesn’t happen to any more horses: It only takes an M&M size to kill a full-grown horse. Any feed mill that processes medicated feeds has the potential for contamination.”
By the end of last week, Harper said she only just received a response from the defendants that was being reviewed by her lawyer.
None of the allegations in her civil lawsuit have yet been tested in court.