Sudden Death of Horses
The Science World Baffled By Rising Numbers
(Update 3)

In March 2019 Charity Needs Foundation wrote an article about the death of 9 horses followed by 2 updates, the first a couple of weeks later in the same month where three more horses were lost bringing the total to 13 at that time. We put out another update in November 2019 that covered the findings of the reports which came back as inconclusive. By now, however, January 2021, we were expecting to bring you some enlightenment on this saga, but all we can do is deepen the intrigue. Since our last update 6 more horses have died and the Italian parliament is involved.
This story has now got political.

Article written by Hazel Arnold.

Patrizia Prestipino (PD) Minister Hon. Patrizia Prestipino (PD)
Picture by:
The Italian Horse Protection has had some improved traction with this sudden death of horses myth because a minister, Hon. Patrizia Prestipino (PD), has picked up the story and presented it to the Health and Environment Ministries. The Hon. Patrizia Prestipino has asked if they would commit to setting up a filter search table.
This would be a collection of data to closely study and compare all that has been recorded so far from the local authorities and experts that have been involved. The purpose of this would make it easier to access all the information in one place which may help to find a cause.

Towards the end of 2019 we contacted many organisations worldwide in the fields of toxicology and veterinary science as well as some big charities that support animal welfare to see if they would get involved. Karyn Bischoff Toxicologist Karyn Bischoff at work in her lab coat
Picture by:
We had one response, a toxicologist from Cornell University, New York, USA, named Karyn Bischoff, who specializes in heavy metals and trace mineral imbalances.
Karyn has kindly been giving her time and support since October 2019 to help shed some light on the situation and has put forward a tremendous amount of data that has been eye opening and instrumental to following up new leads.

After a long wait and a second attempt early this year 2021, we received a reply from the World Horse Welfare (WHW) who said they had been aware of the situation in 2019 as the president of IHP, Sonny Ricichi, had contacted them.
IHP Worker — Benjamin Benjamin who has worked with IHP for two years
Picture by: IHP (
Jessica Stark, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for WHW, said, “Sonny contacted us after the first and then second outbreaks, and we consulted some of our international network of veterinarians, but they had no answers”, Jessica did go on to say, “Sonny is of course welcome to contact us at any time to discuss this extremely unfortunate state of affairs” and Jessica also apologised for the delay in WHW’s reply.

We felt communication with ProMed, an Internet service which was started in 1984 to become the largest public system to identify unusual health events related to emerging infectious diseases as well as toxins affecting humans, animals and plants, would be pivotal. It has over 80,000 subscribers and is widely used by physicians, veterinarians, researchers, journalists and the general public, even though we made several attempts to contact them, we had no response to any of our emails asking whether or not they could be involved or offer any information. We have since contacted their leadership listed at this web address and as of the time of writing have still had no reply, but we are awaiting that welcomed response.

It was in April of 2020 that IHP lost another three horses bringing the total at that time to 16. The horses, who were healthy, literally died within a few minutes witnessed by Sonny Richichi along with some of the volunteers.
The emotional effect within the organisation has been devastating.
Betiz Betiz one of three horses that died in April 2020
Picture by: IHP (

Italy was the first country to be hit hard by the world pandemic COVID-19 and at this time were in a complete lockdown. The rescue centre, located at Tignano (Volterra), hit breaking point and came within a hair's breadth of closing its doors. Thankfully with lots of discussions and new supporters coming on board they managed to avoid closure, but the task force investigating the deaths of the horses unfortunately fell apart.

After regrouping, a new vet, Silvia Munchini, updated the report detailing the findings from the previous reports with the three horses that died in April 2020. Karyn Bisschoff has given her opinion that although she can't say either selenium or phalaris grass are causing the problem both could be a contributing factor. Appropriate testing would be the only way to rule out selenium, however, this could be costly. To rule out phalaris would mean looking for evidence of ingestion and appropriate clinical signs or lesions.

According to the Kentucky Equine Research from a published article in 2014 selenium was first identified as a toxin back in the 1930s which caused alkali disease of horses and cattle. Although it is a requirement for the development of the immune system the exact requirement in horses is unknown as age, sex, antigens and the environment all play apart in the amount required. This is why testing is so very important, yet sudden death in horses has, in the past, been attributed to selenium deficiency.

Gilda Gilda who died suddenly in April 2020
Picture by: IHP (
We also contacted Animal Poisons Australia who responded with detailed articles on the subject as phalaris grass is common there as well as in parts of Europe. Phalaris coerulescens (blue canary grass) and Phalaris paradoxa (paradoxa canary grass) have both been associated with the cause of death in horses. Even though some metabolites have shown up in plants at the IHP centre, it has not shown up from the appropriate tests done on the horses that have died. Also, areas surrounding the centre have not had a problem with the sudden loss of animals in this way.

The autumn brought the loss of yet another two horses, Ola on the 17th October 2020 and a month later Sugar departed just like that; we have included a video which could be upsetting but necessary for the equine world to understand what the IHP are up against.
The footage was taken by the surveillance camera.
Caught On Camera
Out of nowhere and for no apparent reason the horse, Ola, collapses and dies where she stands.
Video by: IHP (

In December 2020 Lady Agata was the last horse to die suddenly and her death brings the current total to 19. The post mortem was done by Professor Carlo Cantile, a specialist in Veterinary Pathological Anatomy, vice Director of the department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Pisa. The results have once again been inconclusive which still leaves the question of whether the cause of these deaths are down to environment or malicious poisoning. The answer to this question needs to come up sooner rather than later as without having this information the IHP and the other horses in their care are extremely vulnerable, leaving the IHP in a high state of alert and emergency stretching back now for the last two years.

Charity Needs aim is to inform not only the equine community to the IHPs dire situation, but anyone throughout unrelated industries in relevant expert fields of toxicology, veterinary or agriculture sciences to rise to the challenge of finding a solution or answers.
We welcome your input and encourage you to join the experts that are already on board.
See our footnotes for contacts and links to the backstory.

This is a CNF Feature Article

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Opening Image Info:

Head/Cover picture by: IHP (
Head/Cover image description: IHP horses out in the fields of their rescue centre

Article Details:

Article written by: Hazel Arnold
Article edited by: Jonathan Fleming
Article Length: Words count is 1181 from 7082 characters
Released — 23rd-February-2021 at 7:50
Modified — Never

Closing Credits from CNF:

  • Thank You to IHP:
    CNF would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to IHP for being so diligent and forthcoming with your reports and information flow during this awful storm orm of a time they are going through.
  • Thank You to Karyn Bischoff:
    CNF have taken great strides forward in its reporting with the expert advice of Toxicologist, Karyn Bischoff, and we continue to be supported by her input, so thank you very much Karyn.
    Let's hope we can stir up some conclusive answers on this occasion or at least a lot of expert thought and interest.


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