There is a quote that goes 'You do not need to know all the answers, as no one is smart enough to ask all the questions.'

Contrary to that, those of us lucky enough to attend the recent Moredun Foundation's 'Working together to tackle equine grass sickness' conference left thinking that all the questions are being asked and we are getting nearer to knowing.

Yet the one answer – how we end, or prevent this miserable disease – still eludes us. However, the effort is immense, impressive and humbling.

The full house of delegates, comprising scientists, horse owners, vets, fundraisers, academics (from many institutions), came together to ask what we can do next and what aren’t we doing but should in the massive effort to combat this destructive and devastating disease which has an 80% fatality rate.

It appears suddenly and can affect the horse in three forms: acute, sub-acute and chronic. The Biobank project – currently in its third year and funded by the British Horse Society has shown that equine grass sickness (EGS) is much more widespread than previously thought.

Since it started, this project has collected more than 1500 biological and environmental samples with the help of a network of veterinary practices and horse owners throughout the UK.

Biological samples include saliva, blood, faeces, urine, post-mortem ileum, and ganglia. Up to now, samples from 62 horses have been donated to the Biobank, including tissue samples from 43 individual animals.

The environmental samples comprise mainly soil and pasture are stored in the Scottish Soil Archive at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, and the answer to the questions undoubtedly lies in these samples.

Last year, a crucible event – where they locked all manner of scientists in a room and didn’t let them out until the most obvious direction of travel was decided on – put the spotlight on the gut microbiome, environmental factors, in vitro systems, immunology, and proteomics – so the answer is thought to definitely lie in an external trigger.

Whether that be the environment, stress, weather – who knows? The Biobank project also allows owner victims to become EGS detectives – the project provides a case report questionnaire for owners, with full ethical approval, to allow analysis of the critical risk factors leading to disease, allowing some good in the form of assisting the quest, to come out of the trauma of suffering.

Random obstacles that lay people know about EGS include until you have seen, suffered, or lost (any equine) from grass sickness, it’s hard to understand the distinctive random and abrupt catastrophic nature of an attack, the way it can go in clusters, the loss of an individual horse or pony or whole group.

The fact is that EGS goes in seasons, or runs in fields and is periodic. Sometimes there feels like there has been less disease (or is it still undiagnosed?) then the conditions conspire and multiple horrors can occur all at once.

It affects every generation of human, from precious child’s pony to working horse or even famous racehorses (Dubai Millennium). It can carry a stigma and the fear it can ruin a business. All of this still happens and nobody knows why this distinctive, historically significant disease is still eluding such a massive effort.

This conference gave hope as great scientists like Prof Elspeth Milne, Prof Ian Poxton, vets Bruce McGorum and Scott Pirie laid out all the current and long sought avenues of investigation and new science including lab-based platforms that can recreate a 3-D cellular gut or the investigation of 'omics' that can help challenge equine grass sickness – we do feel we are close to a breakthrough.

We need more and continued funding, but the conference collective hope to work together to keep the pressure on the enemy.

The BHS-funded the biobank because as the UK's largest equine membership organisation and a welfare charity, caring about every equine and their owners, we are fully invested in a solution along with everyone at that memorable conference.