A STABLES in Garston is struggling to stay afloat after a devastating virus ruined its reputation, despite being given the all-clear months ago.

Julie Blake, who runs the stables at Fairways Farm, off Bucknalls Lane, Garston, said: "It would break my heart to pack up, but we hope to turn it around."

She looks after 20 horses and ponies, hiring them out to riders, but is battling a catastrophic loss of business since the virus, which causes a breathing disease in horses, known as strangles, struck in August.

Brought in by a rescued abandoned pony, it soon spread to 16 of her other animals, three of which were seriously ill.

But, through isolation of the infected animals and a Herculean effort to disinfect everything in the yard, all the horses survived and all signs of the disease had disappeared by the end of October.

Vets insist on a six-week quarantine period but Mrs Blake added an extra fortnight, taking her horses out for the first time just before Christmas.

However, very few of her customers have returned, fearing they could somehow pass the virus on to other animals - which Mrs Blake says is completely impossible.

She said: "I spoke to the vets every few days, and the RSPCA checked every single horse and said they were perfectly happy with the yard.

"It has been horrible - I used to cry in the mornings and at night."

With her income drastically reduced, she is struggling to pay her feed bills and rent, and is relying on patience from her suppliers and landlord.

Mrs Blake, of Fairfield Close, Radlett, can't even find anyone to take her horses' manure, normally used as fertiliser by farmers, and a huge pile has accumulated in the yard.

She said: "We just need to get the horses working again."

Mrs Blake can be contacted on 07958 179237.