A single horse has caused training center quarantines in (so far) two states on the east coast of the United States this week. When equine herpes virus (EHV) was discovered to be at the root of the horse’s illness, animal health officials in Florida and Virginia went into action.
On Monday,a private Florida veterinarian reported that a racehorse at Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Facility, in Indiantown, Florida, was exhibiting neurological symptoms. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the horse subsequently tested positive for the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), neurotrophic strain. According to the most recent report, the horse was in stable condition and was being treated in a separate isolation facility.
Florida’s Division of Animal Industry went into action to investigate the horse’s movements and the facility where it was housed and trained. A Florida-based “Incident Command Team” is in charge of a quarantine of some or all of the 400-acre Payson Park facility, which can be home to close to 500 horses at its peak, including runners trained by Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, and Christophe Clement.
By late Tuesday morning, both of Florida’s racetracks—Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs–had announced a ban on horses from Payson Park being allowed through their gates. Depending on the terms of the quarantine, the ban against the Payson Park racehorses could last for at least 21 days.
But as the Florida government and racing officials responded to the news of an active virus case in their state, another part of the investigation was unraveling the background on the sick horse. As is often the case, the horse had recently shipped in.
A second alert and quarantine went into effect at the horse’s point of origin, which turned out to be Virginia’s Fauquier County. On February 22, the index horse had been shipped from a Thoroughbred training facility there to Payson Park. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), all exposed horses at the Virginia facility are being monitored twice daily for fever (temperature over 101.50 F) and other clinical signs. To date, no exposed horses in Virginia have shown clinical signs of disease.
As is often the case with racehorses, one horse that was housed with the index horse was identified as having left the facility. Horses regularly leave their home barns for the day to go to race, or go for therapy or veterinary treatments; others leave to go to sales or be bred and don’t return. Unfortunately, when they leave, they may mix with other horses or use equipment that could become contaminated with virus-infected saliva. Trailers and vans are used to haul different horses, often on the same day. The trail twists and turns.
The index horse didn’t travel alone from Virginia to Florida. Horses traveling with it left the van in South Carolina, so the state veterinarian there was notified, as well.
Florida officials noted on Tuesday that additional movement requirements or restrictions had not been imposed by Florida or any other states. “We are advising horse owners and trainers to contact the venue of destination for any additional requirements prior to travel,” they added cautiously.
Soon the mass reverse migration will begin, as the show circuit moves on from Florida to other cities, and dressage and polo horses return to their regular homes in the northern and midwestern states. An entry ban against horses that have been in Florida would be very inconvenient for show horse owners and trainers who want to get on the road. Sick horses would be even worse.
Top photo courtesy of Visit Florida by Jacqui Janetzko.