ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) –  In a matter of weeks, 24 horses at HunterCreek Farms fell ill and died from a mysterious illness and it was a race against time before it spread to the rest of the farm. Now, the owner of the farm says she is left with a lot of unanswered questions as to what may have triggered the outbreak.

“They would first present with a runny nose and then there would be a little bit of blood in that and then they would start drooling and then they would die,” said HunterCreek Farms Owner, Susan Hunter.

Hunter says the horses started showing signs of sickness and within a matter of hours they would die. So she was determined to get to the root of the problem. “We did a self-quarantine after the third case and we kept that in place. It was horrible, we tried treating them with all kinds…we tried so many different medications on this and nothing seemed to help at all,” said Hunter.


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Hunter says she was able to narrow the illness down to four pens containing the 24 horses and contacted several vets and virologists to run tests but still couldn’t find answers. “The horses were dying of an overwhelming blood-borne bacterial septicemia and multiple different cultures were obtained but the most common isolate was the bacteria known as Actinobacillus Equuli,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Medical Officer, David Orton.

Orton says the isolated bacteria, Actinobacillus Equuli, is common amongst horses and is usually found in foodborne toxins. “Our theory is that the toxin that was extremely potent just completely obliterated their immune system, their white cell counts. They all had zero white cell counts, which was a consistent finding.” Orton added.

Hunter says she still has questions about what the illness could be and still does not know what could be the source of the toxin. “We tested every bale of hay on my place, we tested every bag of grain, we tested supplements, grass, dirt, water for toxins, tested everything and nothing came back with any kind of an answer,” said Hunter.

Hunter says there have been no more cases amongst the horses and that the equine quarantine is just in time for breeding season. Close to 100 horses have also died from a mysterious illness in Colorado, but David Orton with the U.S. The Department of Agriculture says, while there are some similarities to the illnesses in Roswell, not enough is known at this time to connect the two outbreaks.