Syam the horse

When Mohamed came to collect his horse Syam one morning, he got a big shock – his normally energetic horse was acting strangely and was unable to move the muscles in his face. Syam couldn’t drink, eat or even blink and Mohamed knew that if he didn’t act fast, his trusted animal would surely die.

Tunisian farmer Mohamed Ben Slimen depends on his six year old horse Syam to help him plough the fields and collect crops. He treats his faithful companion as gently as possible, only working him moderately for three to four hours during the coolest parts of the day. This work earns Mohamed just enough to support his wife and three children.

But one morning, when Mohamed came down to the stables to feed Syam and get him ready for his morning’s work, he noticed something was terribly wrong. The usually plucky horse was sedate, his head hanging low. Upon closer inspection, Mohamed noticed that Syam’s face seemed frozen in place – his ear, eyelid and lip drooping unevenly on one side. When Mohamed touched his horse, he realised that half of Syam’s face was paralyzed – this was clearly an emergency.

Mohamed instantly knew where he could find help and loaded a shaky and disorientated Syam in to the back of a truck, driving through the early morning to reach the SPANA Kebili refuge.

There, the staff took one look at Syam’s facial paralysis and deduced that poor Syam had been kicked by Mohamed’s other horse, a mare who Syam had gotten too close to.

As a result of that injury, the nerve running down Syam’s face which controls chewing, swallowing, tongue movement and blinking had been damaged. Without medical intervention, horses with this type of injury starve to death or die of dehydration before their injuries can repair themselves, especially in the hot North African climate.

Vets weren’t sure whether Syam’s neurological injury was permanent or not, but the only way to find out was to keep Syam hydrated and comfortable while the team observed his recovery. The vets administered daily multivitamin intravenous fluids along with anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling. They gently treated Syam’s swollen eye with antibiotics to keep it from drying out while the horse was unable to blink. Unfortunately, for horses that don’t heal naturally, the prognosis is bleak as the animal is unable to perform basic functions.

After an anxious few days of waiting, vets and Mohamed were relieved to find that Syam was one of the lucky ones. Every day, the damage lessoned and little by little, he regained full control of his facial muscles and was able to eat and drink on his own. Within time, he was able to blink normally and the swelling around his eye reduced. He was on the road to recovery and thanks to the SPANA team, he had weathered the worst without succumbing to dehydration or starvation or losing his sight.

Mohamed was excited to bring his animal home and arrived early at the centre to see how his treasured horse was doing. The SPANA vets gave him advice on how to continue looking after Syam’s recovery, showing Mohamed what nutrient rich feed would help Syam to heal and advising him to avoid working Syam for more than three hours at a time. Find out about the very specific diet of horses, with our horse feeding guide: What do horses eat?

Without our presence here, Syam’s condition would have quickly deteriorated and he might have suffered needless pain and distress before succumbing to dehydration. But with SPANA’s help, Syam’s future is bright. With a promise to bring Syam in for a check up in future, Mohamed and Syam headed home to recover in the peace and quiet of their farm.

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