As of Wednesday morning I had a column all written about the Canter for the Cure which is a really fun adjunct to the upcoming festivities that occur right around the Preakness. But all that has changed.
Canter for the Cure has been canceled because of an outbreak of EHV-1, the handy name for Herpesvirus which is highly contagious among horses and can cause a variety of ailments in equids, including rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease usually found in young horses), abortion in broodmares, and myeloencephalopathy (the neurologic form). In many horses, fever is the only sign of EHV-1 infection, which can go undetected.
In addition to fever, other common signs of EHV-1 infection in young horses include cough, decreased appetite, depression, and a nasal discharge. Pregnant mares typically show no signs of infection before they abort, and abortions usually occur late in gestation (around eight months), but can be earlier. Abortions can occur anywhere from two weeks to several months following infection with EHV-1.
Horses with the neurologic form usually have a fever at the onset of the disease and might show signs of a respiratory infection. A few days later, neurological signs such as incoordination, weakness or paralysis of the fore and hind limbs, urine retention and dribbling, loss of tail tone, and inability to rise develop.
The disease is spread through direct or indirect contact with infected horses which means that show operators should review their biosecurity plans and minimize the opportunity for horses to have direct or indirect contact with each other. Indirect contact includes the use of shared water and feed sources, as well as the use of shared equipment.
This outbreak has caused a horse farm in Howard County to post a quarantine notice on its website which says: "A horse with atypical neurological symptoms tested positive for EHV-1. As a result, the farm has been placed on a strict 30-day quarantine as recommended by the MD state veterinarian. Horses are being closely monitored."
There has recently been a report of a horse with EHV-1 at a farm in Bedford County, Pa. The farm is fairly isolated and the horses and mules don't travel off the farm or commingle with other equines. In December of 2015 there was a case which involved a horse farm in Bucks County that experienced an EHV-1 outbreak. Several horses became ill and recovered, but five horses succumbed to the disease. The quarantine on the main barn and riding rings was recently lifted, but there are still several horses in isolation because tests show that those horses are still shedding the virus four months later.
Biosecurity measures owners should take at their own operations include requiring individuals to wash their hands before and after contact with each horse, disinfecting boots and changing clothes that come into contact with horses other than their own.
If possible, horse owners should avoid contact with other people's horses, and isolate horses returning from shows or exhibitions for three to four weeks. Owners who will be showing or trail riding their horses in company should also consider contacting their veterinarian to discuss their horses' current vaccination status and weigh the benefits of vaccination.
It is easy to think that Pimlico, MD has little in common with private farms in PA and in Howard County, MD but that would not be the truth. Today horses travel. A horse may go through a sale in one state and then on to a farm and then to a show in less time than it takes to incubate a disease. As it is coming down with whatever it has been exposed to it is in enclosed horse vans with other horses that are going to different places.
A horse may get into a van with no other horses in it and be exposed to the effluvia left from an infected horse and start the whole process again in different areas.
Pimlico is taking intelligent precautions by canceling its charity ride day because if EHV-1 is in Maryland and Pennsylvania you can lay odds that it is pretty much everywhere in between.
Not all of the horses at any large track are Triple Crown quality. There are lesser races and lesser horses to fill them. The barns for the best horses are still on the same property even though they may be at a distance and have a great deal of security around them.
We are looking at the three most prestigious horse races in this country with the best and most expensive young horses in them. The price on a horse of the quality that can run in the Triple Crown races must be multiplied by its value not only to racing and potential winning but also by its value at stud later after its career is through.