The foot and mouth (FMD) outbreak in Great Britain started on Feb. 21, 2001. Immediately, virtually all equestrian enterprises stopped in sympathy for the farming community. This affected all sporting and recreational activity including, for the first week, racing. After advice was taken from epidemiologists, the Ministry of Agriculture consulted, and the necessary risk assessments undertaken, the racing authorities resumed racing where it was considered safe to do so. There was some public misgiving, even controversy. The racing industry imposed strict hygiene and disinfection regulations to ensure vehicles, horses, trainers, riders, and connections did not spread the disease.

The arrangements worked well and were replicated by the sport horse community five weeks after the crisis began, but only for sports confined to areas easily controlled. Eventing, endurance, driving, recreational riding, riding schools, and almost all equine tourism could not be restarted. Areas of the countryside normally open to horses -- the bridle ways and fields used for sheep and cattle -- remained out of bounds. This continues to be the case in late June for some areas.

Now, a good many show jumping and dressage shows are taking place throughout the United Kingdom, some events are being staged, and efforts are being made for driving and other activities to get underway. The riding schools still struggle, but things are improving. The trade has been savaged throughout the crisis--most supporting businesses have small turnovers, limited margins, and virtually no reserves. Many people have lost their jobs, and some businesses will never recover.

Restrictions imposed by the British Equestrian Federation in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture are still in place (see, and they continue to be followed. Some out-breaks continue in the areas most effected (Devon and Cumbria), but many areas are free of FMD.

It's important to recognize that most of Great Britain is clear of the disease and open to visitors and travelers. This is why it is possible for substantial sections of the countryside to absorb well-regulated equestrian sport and recreation, and on a wider basis, tourism as a whole. We look forward to seeing further recovery, which should accelerate considerably as the summer develops.

The financial damage to the industry has been extraordinary; it has pervaded more businesses than any of us thought possible. The saddlers, farriers, veterinary surgeons, and feed suppliers have felt the pain, but so, too, have the horse show caterers, course designers, photographers, suppliers of tents, portable stables, cleaning services, and so many more. We estimate the industry's losses to have reached $141.6 million (£100 million) a month in March, April, and May. The British Equestrian Trade Association established that their members alone lost $56.6 million in March and $80.7 million in April.

Andrew Finding, the British Equestrian Federation's Secretary General, said, "We have been devastated by this disease. Few, if any, European governments have reacted well; the horse is not susceptible, but has been kept at home causing businesses in Great Britain and throughout much of Western Europe to suffer.

"We all need to be better prepared," Finding continued. "We must consider the potential for an outbreak to interfere with our sports and recreation when neither horse nor human suffer directly from the disease."

The repercussions of foot and mouth for the veterinary profession have also been considerable, both for those in government dealing directly with control of the disease and rural practitioners dealing with the farmers. Over the last few months, hundreds of European and overseas veterinarians were drafted in to assist the government as Temporary Veterinary Inspectors. There were also many senior veterinary students from all six UK Veterinary Schools who volunteered to help control this dreadful disease.

With the FMD situation coming under control, there has been pressure for a wide-ranging inquiry into the management of the outbreak. The Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons voted unanimously on June 7, 2001, in favor of a broad inquiry along the lines of the "Northumberland Inquiry" that was carried out after the last major outbreak in 1967. If this is going to be meaningful and materially assist in preventing such an extensive epidemic ever again, it must look at all the issues involved and not just the scientific implications.

About the Author

Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, DSc

Professor Leo Jeffcott, BVetMed, PhD, FRCVS, DVSc, MA, VetMedDr (h.c.) has been an official FEI Event Veterinarian since 1977, and has officiated at many elite championships including 4 World Equestrian Games. He has been an official veterinarian at the last 6 Olympic Games (1988-2008). He was President of the Veterinary Commission at Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004), and has been Veterinary Technical Delegate at Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008). Professor Jeffcott was elected Chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee and member of the Bureau in 1998, and served until 2006. He was then made an Honorary Member of the Bureau, and was the first veterinarian to receive that honour. He held the post of Dean at the Veterinary School in the University of Cambridge (1991-2004) and then at the University of Sydney (2004-2009).

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners