A COUPLE whose equestrian centre was devastated after a killer disease struck are calling on horse owners and professionals to back a campaign to change behaviour and protect the animals.

Andrew and Abigail Turnbull’s business at Richmond Equestrian Centre was turned upside down in August last year when a horse belonging to one of their livery clients was found to have bacterial Strangles two weeks before they were due to host their biggest event of the year.

“We knew Strangles was an awful, serious, respiratory infection which could cause death,." said Abigail.

"We had a bit of what we considered wrong advice – people telling us to keep quiet, stay open and run our event, as well as competitions and hire outs,”

But the couple decided instead to cancel everything and shut down the centre until the disease had been completely eradicated seven-and-a-half weeks later.

As well as building their business back up they got behind a campaign to change behaviour and reduce the stigma of Strangles and last week they addressed the National Equine Forum in front of Princess Anne.

Abigail added: “We experienced a fair amount of abuse for the way we reacted, but we were intent on taking our responsibility to the health of the equine herd exceptionally seriously.

"We wanted to implement a protocol that avoided spreading the disease any further.”

Jude Matthews chief executive of British Eventing told the conference: “The unavoidable cancellation of the Richmond Equestrian Centre event together with the loss of other events had a devastating impact and resulted in a massive loss of income.

“With Andrew and Abigail’s tireless work and strict biosecurity the centre was able to reopen – just five out of the 30 horses on the yard were affected and all made a full recovery.

"Andrew and Abigail continue to use this campaign to turn an unwanted situation into an opportunity for positive change.”

The couple are working with the Redwings Sanctuary Stamp Out Strangles campaign and through Strangles Awareness Week from May 4 to 10 promoting pledges for horse owners and professionals. Visit www.redwings.org.uk/strangles/make-pledge.

“We wanted to speak out because horses cannot,” added Abigail.