The worst part about EHV-1 (aka EHM) is that people just DO NOT KNOW if their horses have it or not, even with taking temps 2x a day and having a health certificate. Horses can HAVE and SPREAD the virus without showing signs. They can be contagious for up to 28 days without appearing sick, not even a fever. The virus is spread via contact (horse-horse or horse-human-horse or horse-object-horse) and it’s also airborne. Exposure is so easy to do without even knowing that it happened.
All that has to happen to expose a horse is for someone to track manure on their boots from one stall to another.* The horse in stall #2 goes home, appears healthy, but infects a few others at home. One of those newly infected horses goes to a show the next week – before it or any of the original horses even start showing symptoms. Those original horses have also gone home and maybe even on to another show before anyone knows they are even sick!
Your horses don’t need to be stabled next to a sick one, or even in the same barn, to get sick. Heck, you could keep all of your horses home, but if you go watch the show and get the virus on your person (how many times has a horse sneezed on you?), you could bring it home and infect your own horses.
It is so EASY to spread, very innocently, by people who honestly believe their horses are healthy. People who are doing everything right, checking temps, watching for signs, consulting with their vets… and still, it can be spread. THAT is the scary part to me. It’s not just nose to nose contact, or sharing water buckets or bits. It can be spread by PEOPLE moving around show grounds or moving from barn to barn, not knowing they’ve touched a contagious, seemingly “healthy” horse. Grooms using the same manure fork in multiple stalls. Horses being wiped down with the same towel. Someone petting a horse and then petting another one on the other side of the grounds. The virus gets on your hands and clothes and people can carry it to another horse. That is why the quarantine and bio-security protocols in infected barns are so strict. Bleachwater pans outside every stall door and the entrances to the barns. Separate manure forks and muck buckets. Vets wearing disposable suits when visiting.
Many show facilities and haulers say they will “sanitize” the stalls or their trailer before use. But is this enough? First of all, it is recommended that surfaces be SCRUBBED before sanitizing, and call me over protective (or yes, even cynical), but I just don’t trust anyone to do a proper job preparing a possibly lethally contagious area for MY horse. And secondly, horses sneeze and slobber. That mucous can go anywhere, including places that can’t or won’t be scrubbed. Places horses can get into, because horses are clever creatures who like to find ways to kill themselves. The little bolts and clamps holding portable stall panels together. The wrinkles in welds. The tops of stall walls or divider panels, where horses love to play with each other. Will all of these areas be properly scrubbed and then sanitized? I don’t know… but personally, I won’t take the chance.
Yes, staying home from a show or canceling a show is a VERY hard decision for everyone involved. Trainer’s livelihoods depend on going to shows. Owners want to show. Many of us are chasing high point awards or trying to qualify for Louisville. Shows are out a ton of money if they cancel. But the only way to really be sure horses aren’t spreading anything, or contracting anything, is to stay home. There is no vaccine that prevents the neurological form of the disease. There is no cure. And for those trainers out there who also breed – it can cause mares to abort. You do not want to bring it home!
I applaud all of the show managers who make the very difficult decision to cancel their event, and the trainers and exhibitors who decide to stay home. Kudos to all of you, and may others follow your examples.
*No – manure itself does not contain the virus. But if the infected horse is a heavy viral shedder, the virus is in the air all around them, on their body, and can easily be transferred to anything that touches them. It is recommended that barns use separate pitchforks and muck buckets for infected horses, and not spread their manure on fields that will be used for horses. For more information, please visit the Equine Veterinary Services Facebook page.
Latest posts by Tiffani Frey (see all)
- Fixing the One-Sided Horse – March 28, 2016
- Running Martingales, Draw Reins and German Martingales – A Physics Lesson – November 23, 2015
- What to Do in the Off Season – October 14, 2015