Get Involved: Terrorism and Horse Ownership

Equids have lived their whole historic, genetic lives with terror as a part of their natural existance. Horses have a normal, immediate reaction to danger that manifests itself as "flight or fight." In their world, safety is being out of the area of danger; either alone or as a herd they avoided serious injury or death by moving. Part of their reaction is because they are animals of prey rather than predators--herbivores rather than carnivores.

Humans, on the other hand, especially in the United States of America, have not been routinely terrorized. Therefore, what happened in this country in September is an unbelievable atrocity, especially to a secure-feeling American public.

We have, as a nation, watched terrorism from afar. We have talked about possibilities in our country, and have gone through the mechanics of setting up programs to counteract those possibilities. We have advocated legislation to provide money for new facilities to monitor disease. However, all we had done and planned became miniscule in a few short hours on Sept. 11, 2001.

To think that bioterrorism is not on the agenda of those humans responsible for inhumane acts would be acting like an ostrich sticking his head in the sand to avoid danger. The episode of naturally occurring foot and mouth disease (FMD) in England gave the world an up-close view of what happens when a very infectious disease is introduced--by whatever method--into a susceptible population of animals. It had an extremely high morbidity rate (number of animals affected), forcing humans to kill the affected animals to prevent it from spreading further.

The economic and emotional devastation was abundantly clear to those who saw pictures or heard the terrible descriptions. Since horses are not affected by foot and mouth disease, we weren't concerned for their health. However, equine diseases endemic in other countries could wreak similar havoc on our horse industry if introduced into this country, affecting a significant part of the United States economy.

So, what do we do as horse owners, horse health care providers, feed producers, and those who just care about the magnificent horse? We can be vigilant.

Monitor your animals if they are traveling. If you are in a position of responsibility or authority at equine gatherings, make sure that all required paperwork is in order--no exceptions.

Be involved in your breed organizations, local horse associations, and if possible, join a group that has the ability to influence regulations and legislation. Proper laws will allow our agricultural and health arms of state and federal governments to provide the protection and leadership that our animals and their owners want and need.

We are a society with open borders, open skies, and freedoms that much of the world has a problem understanding. We must think more globally as far as horses and other animals are concerned. We need to improve our diagnostic abilities ASAP, and heighten our desire to prevent, prevent, prevent!

Discuss with your veterinarian any and all concerns you might have. If unsure of the answer, he or she can certainly find that answer or direct you to someone who has it. Those of you who can, please consider joining the American Horse Council (www. This group is the advocate of the horse in any legislation/regulation that comes before our federal legislators. Also, get involved with your state horse councils.

Again, be vigilant, be cooperative, and get involved.

About the Author

Clyde Johnson, VMD

J. Clyde Johnson, VMD, is a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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