Welfare. Regulation. Legislation. Disease prevention. These are the issues facing horse owners at all levels, and these are the issues that the American Horse Council tackled at its annual convention. These items not only affect horse owners on local and state levels, but nationally and internationally as well, whether you realize it or not.

When vesicular stomatitis (VS) reared its head again this year, it not only affected horse owners in Colorado and New Mexico, where cases have been reported, but anyone who wants to ship horses across state lines from those states (or surrounding states), or out of the country. VS can affect many types of livestock, including cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. (For complete information on the current VS outbreak, see page 8.)

The Health and Regulatory Committee, chaired by former AAEP president Marvin Beeman, DVM, of Littleton, Colo., is responsible for keeping track of the "hot" issues under its committee, and VS was one of those topics. There was some thought that states were "over-reacting" to VS by placing burdensome restrictions on transportation of horses out of affected areas. Peter Timoney, FRCVS, PhD, head of the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky and president of the World Equine Veterinary Association, noted that there is really not enough information about VS, so that states feel they can "protect" themselves from the spread of the disease. He and other members of the committee, however, also brought up the point that the more restrictions that are placed on affected premises, the more likely people are to try and avoid reporting the disease. This could lead to movement of animals and rapid spread of the disease.

There also is debate over the vaccine currently available. As with many vaccines, there is no way to tell a VS-vaccinated horse from a horse which has antibodies developed from natural exposure to disease. Since there are restrictions in place on national and international transport of "positive" horses, this means vaccinated horses could not be moved. There is work ongoing at Colorado State University to develop a VS vaccine that would leave a horse with a titer that would be
discernible from natural infection.

Another question raised was that cattle that aren't certified that they came from a premise free from VS are coming in from Mexico. This could be a source of disease outbreak, although periodic outbreaks of VS are historic facts in the Southwest and in Western states.

As of July 14, there were 23 premises in New Mexico and one in Arizona confirmed to have at least one VS-affected animal based on clinical signs and serologic testing, and all positive cases have been equines (see accompanying chart). The premise in Arizona was released from quarantine on July 9.

Tim Cordes, DVM, Senior Staff Veterinarian, Equine Programs, USDA, said, "As a member of the VS Research Blue Ribbon Panel the committee has done a gradient, which established what is urgent versus what is important. And we are ready and prepared to provide that list to any of the animal industries. We have started with the AAEP Equine Research Coordination Group, which is made up of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation, Quarter Horse Foundation, and AAEP." It appears that some funding from the group is forthcoming.

EVA

Another area of concern to horse owners is equine viral arteritis (EVA). Several groups, including the North American Warmblood Studbook, have approached the American Horse Council and individual researchers to help curb the spread of this disease, especially via transported semen. The group has created an "industry-driven control program for EVA that would include a protocol for identifying and managing sources of equine arteritis virus infection by way of carrier stallions or virus-infective semen." (See sidebar page 44.)

International Concerns

If you think because you don't have to ship horses in or out of the country that international import/ex-port regulations don't affect you, think again.

Did you know that the international organization that oversees international animal health affairs throughout the world (OIE) does not have a working group for equines? This means that there is no place within this important, international group to have equine issues raised. Usually, matters that involve equines are handled under the foot and mouth and exotic animal diseases working groups.

Work is on-going to try and get a forum for equine matters, but reports from the AHC Animal Health and Regulatory Committee meeting indicated that while the door isn't closed on the idea, it will not happen in the near future.

"Regionalization" is required under the GATT trade agreement with the European Union, and this will bring changes for horse owners. Regionalization means that all areas of the United States have to be divided into regions for disease status and control. There is a USDA rule proposed now that covers ruminants and swine concerns, and those regulations could serve as a guideline for equines. The main area of concern is to facilitate movement of equids and their products (such as semen) internationally in a way to minimize health risks to our own population.

However, within the United States, there is a lack of a surveillance system to keep track of our "fluid" population of horses. The American Horse Council subcommittee, headed by Richard D. Mitchell, DVM, has been looking at this concern and will continue to work toward a solution to regionalization. Horse owners should be aware of these coming regulations, and be prepared to work within their community and state to support safe, unburdened trade.

NAHMS Study

The first federal government-sponsored study of the horse industry will commence in 1998. Focus groups have met during the past two years, and industry-wide information has been gathered to help direct the focus of the 1998 study.A single area of study will be determined based on this previous input, and data will be collected from Feb. 16-March 6, 1998. The reports will be tabulated and ready for distribution in 1999. (More on the preliminary reports of this study will appear in an upcoming issue of The Horse.)

Transportation To Slaughter

Cordes of USDA chairs an inter-agency working group to develop guidelines for transportation of horses to slaughter, and he said, "All we are waiting for is appropriations." (For further information see Viewpoint on page 7.)

Legislative Concerns

Following are items on the legislative agenda of the AHC as they presented them at the convention.

Equine Tax Fairness Act of 1997, sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Representative Jim Bunning (R-KY)--This bill would modify the application of the passive loss limitations to those in the business of breeding, racing, or showing horses. Specifically the bill would do the following:

* Allow an individual to satisfy the passive loss rules and deduct any losses from breeding, racing, or showing horses regardless of the specific amount of time spent. IRS regulations presently require an individual to spend a minimum of 100 hours each year to satisfy the passive loss rules.

* Allow an individual to count all management time spent in the horse business, even if others who are supervised and controlled by the taxpayer, such as trainers or farm managers, spend more time or are paid for such services.

Estate Tax Reform--Forty-five bills have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives to ease the estate tax requirements. This would benefit many small businesses, including horse businesses, farms, and ranches.

American Family Tax Relief Act, Senators William Roth (R-DE) and Trent Lott (R-MS)--Several bills have been introduced to reform estate taxes. This act is supported by the AHC.

American Farm Protection Act of 1997, Representative Amno Houghton (R-NY)--This act is supported by the AHC.

Health Insurance Reform--Numerous bills have been introduced for the purpose of allowing self-employed individuals to deduct the entire cost of their health insurance.

National Recreational Trust Fund Act--There are numerous bills that have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives that would extend the National Recreational Trust Fund Act (NRTFA). These bills differ in the amount of money they provide for trails and how the money is distributed.

Volunteer Protection Act, Senator Paul Coverdell (R-GA) and Representative John Porter (R-IL). The act provides that no volunteer of a non-profit organization shall be liable for harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on behalf of the organization or entity if the volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities, was properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities and the harm was not caused by willful and wanton misconduct. However, nothing in the act affects the liability of the non-profit organization for the actions of its volunteers. There are also exceptions to volunteer liability protection if there are any state laws that limit volunteer liability in certain instances.

Further information on these legislative concerns can be obtained from AHC.


Animal Welfare

Humane care for equines is a topic of interest to all horse owners and enthusiasts. There are many programs around the world that "rescue" horses which either have been abandoned, neglected, or abused by owners. These rescue groups attempt to save, rehabilitate, and place these abused or unwanted horses to offer them a better life.

There is a unique rescue program in Georgia, explained Lee Brooks, DVM, Georgia State Veterinarian. Georgia state law allows the Department of Agriculture to impound, temporarily or permanently, any horses which are neglected or abused, and since 1992, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has impounded more than 500 horses.

However, the state does not fund any of the rescue or rehabilitation of these horses. The Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) is a non-profit organization that provides human and financial resources as well as a public liaison group. Additionally, they provide foster homes and oversee adoption of rehabilitated horses.

The GERL was founded in 1993 with the motto: "With your help...we will make a difference." They have established a Web site at http://users.aol.com/gerlwindee/gerl/gerl.htm.

The Humane Care for Equines Act in Georgia has definitions for adequate food and water and humane care, and covers inspection warrants, impoundment authorization, and examination. The persons or group impounding an equine under this Act or providing care for impounded equines are given a lien on the horse for the reasonable costs of care. If the owner of the horse wishes, he or she can "donate" the horse to the GERL to be placed in a foster home.

The Act also is unusual in that it allows the Commissioner of Agriculture to apply to the superior courts for an injunction or restraining order against the owner. The courts can grant a temporary or permanent injunction or an ex parte or restraining order "restraining or enjoining any person, partnership, firm, corporation, or other entity from violating and continuing to violate this chapter or any rules and regulations promulgated under this chapter." This means the court can forbid the owner from ever again having horses in his or her possession.

For further information, the Georgia Department of Agriculture can be reached at 404/656-3713; 800/282-5852. The GERL can be reached at 770/464-0138; FAX 770/464-4221; E-mail GERLANDEE@AOL.COM.

European View

Col. George Stephen, vice president of international affairs for the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), spoke on the European view of equine welfare issues. He showed a three-minute video clip of horses being transported from Russia to a slaughter house in Southern Europe.

"Such footage is extremely difficult to obtain, and is indeed dangerous to obtain," said Col. Stephen. This particular welfare issue has been fought by the ILPH for several years, and he said, "Despite our best efforts, little has changed."

Col. Stephen described the ILPH as an organization that is "dedicated to preventing and alleviating the suffering of horses wherever they are located and however humble their role. We operate in over 20 countries and have become the world's leading equine welfare charity--internationally embracing rescue and rehabilitation, education, training, and scientific research. We like to think that we also influence political opinion and legislation and indeed can prove that we have done so."


Report of the AHC Working Group on EVA

A year ago, the American Horse Council was asked to address the issue of equine viral arteritis (EVA) because of its continuing economic impact on U.S. horse owners. The AHC established a working group to develop an industry-driven control program for EVA that would include a protocol for identifying and managing sources of equine arteritis virus (EAV) infection by way of carrier stallions or virus infective semen.

Representatives of the following breed organizations were appointed to the AHC working group on EVA: The American Quarter Horse Association, U.S. Trotting Association, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association, International Arabian Horse Association, Appaloosa Horse Club, Federation of North American sport Horse Registries, and The Jockey Club. In addition, the group included Dr. Ralph Knowles from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, chairman of the U.S. Animal Health Association's Committee on Infectious Diseases of Horses; Dr. Don Lein, Director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University; and Dr. Don L. Notter, Kentucky State Veterinarian.

The goal of the working group has been to develop a voluntary, industry-driven protocol that will assist stallion owners in preventing establishment of the carrier state in stallions and minimize the risk of EVA-related abortion in mares and which also will serve to limit the liability associated with the use of stallions which shed equine arteritis virus or infective semen. The protocol also will serve as a basis for establishing controls over the importation of EAV-carrier stallions and infective semen.

EVA is a contagious viral disease of members of the horse family that is primarily spread by direct contact with horses acutely infected with equine arteritis virus. While it is considered a respiratory infection of the horse, the disease also can be spread through breeding a carrier stallion to a susceptible mare. The relative increase in the number of confirmed outbreaks of EVA in horses in the United States in recent years has begun to concern horse owners, notwithstanding the fact that from the medical perspective, EVA is not regarded as a disease of major significance. Horse owners need to be provided with a protocol that will help to ensure protection of their horses from EVA and prevent problems that could result from the use of carrier stallions or infective semen. Other matters that need to be addressed include the liability of owners whose stallions shed EAV and the problems associated with the movement of carrier stallions or virus-positive semen at the national and international level.

The protocol has been developed by the working group to help horse owners identify carrier stallions and EAV-infective semen so that either the former or the latter can be used without attendant risk of the occurrence of EVA. Adoption of the protocol would greatly lessen the likelihood that the disease would be driven underground, which, were it to occur, would greatly hinder horse owners being able to protect their horses effectively against this disease.

Because of the potential economic threat posed by EVA, it is highly advisable that breed registries recommend that this protocol be adopted by breeders as part of good breeding practice. The protocol provides a practical, realistic, and unified approach that permits the continued use of carrier stallions or infective semen. Some breed registries already have taken such an initiative.

The North American Department of the Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands instituted a requirement last year the in order for foals to be eligible for registration, each stallion must be tested for EVA and the results published in the annual directory. Owners are provided with a protocol that allows for the continued use of carrier stallions and effectively protects mares against the disease. Although the protocol was initially implemented on a voluntary basis, membership response for the initiative was so favorable that it is now a mandatory program.

As an additional protection, the Registry requires frozen semen imported into the United States for resale in this country be tested for EAV at the Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky.

Some of the guidelines include when and how you should test mares to determine if they are positive, then based on those results, what you should do in breeding positive, negative, and pregnant mares. Guidelines for breeding stallions are covered extensively, including when and how to test for EAV and what to do if they are positive or negative, and how to handle positive, EAV-shedding stallions. There also are notes about teaser stallions and use of ARVAC vaccine from Ft. Dodge Laboratories.

The group recommends publicly disclosing the names of stallions which are confirmed shedders of equine arteritis virus.

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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