What You Do Not Know...

The federal government decided to include funding for equine research in the fiscal year 1999 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that passed recently (see Up Front page 9). Those moneys are earmarked for several areas, including research into contagious equine metritis (CEM) and the CEM-like organism that was discovered in California and Kentucky.

"So what?" you might say, ready to flip to the next page. "CEM is a breeding disease. What does that have to do with me? I don't breed any horses."

In some ways, that's true. It's more applicable if you are breeding horses, especially if you breed horses using shipped semen, and more critically if you breed horses in or from Europe. But in this age of state, regional, national, and international shipment of horses, having a disease in your area might curtail your activities--whether the problem involves you directly or not.

Want to take your mare to that AQHA Ride '98 trail ride in a neighboring state? Sorry, since CEM was found in the breeding population upstate of your home, it is possible that no horses from your state will be crossing any borders. Have your regional or national finals in another location? Make sure that you are cleared health-wise to be there. Many states will prohibit you from moving your horses just because of your state of residence and what is going on in a small segment of the horse population there.

CEM, while it has occurred in horses in the United States, is considered an "exotic disease." In other words, it has been brought in from another country when outbreaks have occurred in the past. In just this year, however, at least three times horses have nearly "slipped through" quarantine because of inappropriate testing prior to importation or problems with testing once the horses have reached the United States.

What's scary is that many horses--stallions and mares--can be inapparent carriers of this organism. They look just fine, but unless you specifically test for CEM, you wouldn't know they've got it. And the test for CEM is not an easy one in the laboratory.

In 1978, when CEM was brought into the Thoroughbred breeding population of Kentucky, it shut down the breeding season. The cost to the industry was estimated at $1 million a day. That certainly trickles down to affect anyone living in that part of the country or involved with that breed of horse.

The last three horses brought in which were discovered to be positive for the CEM organism (the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis), however, were warmbloods, not Thoroughbreds. This presents a totally new scenario of potential problems in this country.

Other funding in this bill included the $3.5 million requested for modernization of the Plumb Island, N. Y. facility, which is the ARS foreign animal disease laboratory. Federal funding fell a little short of the $3.4 million requested to fund critical emerging infectious animal disease research, with $3.1 million allocated.

The government did allocate $250,000 for CEM research at the University of Kentucky, where Peter Timoney, FRCVS, PhD, will head a team looking into this disease. There also was $250,000 allocated for determining the impact of the newly found CEM-like disease in California and Kentucky. (For more information on CEM and the CEM-like organism see The Horse of March pages 35 and 40; April pages 7 and 14; and June page 10.)

It is hoped on my part that at least some of the $3.1 million that will go to the study of infectious diseases will be earmarked for vesicular stomatitis (VS) research. That disease has wreaked havoc on many parts of the western United States in the past few years, and caused the rest of the country hardships because of the limitation of shipment of horses. One national show was forced to cancel because of its location, and many other events have been damaged because horses could not come from affected states to participate. (For example, the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government mounted police unit puts on a police horse colloquium here in Kentucky each year, and we have had units the past two years forbidden to come to Kentucky because of VS in their home states.)

While VS has for years been a disease that comes and goes, mainly thought to be brought into this country from Mexico or parts south, there is the concern that it might now have found a home in the United States. If that is true, it could mean major hardships on moving horses, either within a state, between states, or out of the country. VS is considered one of the top "bad" diseases by our partners across the waters, even though animals rarely die of it.

Moments Of Truth

I just had to get in a plug here for one of my side interests in the horse industry. As mentioned above, we have a mounted police unit in Lexington. These men and women not only are trained law enforcement professionals, but do a heck of a job with their horses.

They recently returned from the 15th annual Mounted Police Equestrian Competition, where they faced 33 other agencies from the United States and Canada. There, individual horse-and-officer pairs are judged in a variety of areas, including the obstacle course. For those of you who do trail classes at Western shows, this is the Arnold Schwarzenegger version--on steroids!

Horse and rider have to negotiate an obstacle course that can include clambering over piles of mattresses, dealing with smoke machines and pistol shots, getting through old tires, crossing a narrow foot bridge, encountering blowing plastic police streamers, and so on. In other words, the Stephen King of horse fears is brought into one arena to test the mettle of horse and rider.

I'm proud to say that our team won! Congratulations to officers John Carey on the 21-year-old Quarter Horse Bill (a former Police Horse of the Year), who finished fifth individually; Lisa Rakes on Pete, a 7-year-old Thoroughbred, who finished seventh; and Trent Snyder on Cochise, a 23-year-old North American Racking Horse, who finished ninth. Sgt. Jeff Lewis, who heads our unit, finished in the top 20 in the individual competition aboard Beau, a 13-year-old Quarter Horse.

Don't forget these horses who work for a living when your local equestrian organization is looking to provide a helping hand in your community. These men and women volunteer for these mounted units because they are like us...they just want to be around horses.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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