Health Aspects of the World Equestrian Games

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced Dec. 6 that the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) in Lexington will host the 2010 Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games (WEG). While this is a wonderful opportunity for the KHP and the United States, the arrival of horses from 50 different countries, all with their own endemic diseases and vaccination regimens, means there are implications for animal health. USDA and Kentucky Department of Agriculture veterinary officials collaborated to develop a protocol for measures to safeguard equine competitors against foreign animal diseases for this event.

The WEG, held every four years, will run for two weeks and include the world championships for seven equestrian sports (dressage, show jumping, eventing, reining, driving, vaulting, and endurance). This will be the first time that the WEG will be held outside of Europe. According to Bob Stout, DVM, Kentucky state veterinarian, officials expect 900-1,000 horses to participate in the competitions.

Stout says the main import issue is the potential introduction of diseases such as equi piroplasmosis (EP), which is an infectious, sometimes fatal, tick-borne disease caused by one of two protozoal parasites, Babesia equi or B. caballi. These parasites attack and destroy red blood cells in horses. Horses that recover may remain carriers of the disease, with no outward clinical signs. Piroplasmosis is found in nearly every country in the world except the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan, and Iceland. More information on piroplasmosis:

“The competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (cELISA) test will be the official test for piroplasmosis for the WEG,” Stout noted. According to The American Horse Council, the cELISA test replaced the complement fixation test in late 2004, but the USDA switched back to the former in December 2004 because of technical problems at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory where the test was run, which resulted in numerous false positives. According to a 2005 risk assessment prepared by the USDA’s Equine Event Piroplasmosis Evaluation Group (EEPEG), the cELISA test is more sensitive and can better detect the carrier status of horses. Following adjustments, cELISA was reinstituted again in August 2005 with a 98% accuracy rate.

Stout said, “Equine piroplasmosis-positive horses will be coming to the games, and this is why measures are being taken now to ensure safety for all competing horses.” He noted that the same basic protocols that were used for the 2000 Sydney Olympics will be implemented for the WEG. These protocols include “quarantine, tick inspections, regular baths for horses to kill ticks, barrier areas of concrete to separate grass from stables, and removing excess foliage around the park.”

According to the EEPEG analysis, “The transmission of piroplasmosis from infected to susceptible horses as a result of the 2010 WEG requires the presence of three essential components--the piroplasmosis agents, appropriate vectors, and suitable environment. It is possible that the temperature and humidity in Kentucky during September and October could facilitate the transmission of the disease.” Two known tick species that might be present at the KHP are competent vectors of piroplasmosis, Dermacentor variabilis and D. albipictus. However, the timing of the event is in the officials’ favor, since Kentucky’s tick numbers decrease significantly after mid-August.

Kent Allen, DVM, of Virginia Equine Imaging in Middleburg Va., has been a Vice-Chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee, and a United States Equestrian Team veterinarian. He was also the Veterinary Coordinator for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the Foreign Veterinary Delegate for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and is now the chair of the USEF Veterinary and Drug Medication committees. Allen says his three main concerns for the WEG are, “Making sure that stabling is safe and secure; timing; considering the heat and exercising horses; and good veterinary support.” He said that unlike the Atlanta Olympics and other large equestrian events, temporary stabling will not have to be set up at the KHP. This is an advantage because the tighter quarters of temporary stabling can make it more difficult to isolate horses from one another, and these stalls usually are set up on pastures (where ticks reside). Allen says using permanent stabling will enable officials to isolate horses and prevent the spread of disease.

Final recommendations from EEPEG are that piroplasmosis-positive horses be allowed to participate in the field events of the 2010 WEG, provided that the KHP fully implements the tick control measures developed for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Allen said, “The Olympics in Sydney were done brilliantly. These procedures will safely allow countries with horses positive for piroplasmosis to compete in the WEG at the Kentucky Horse Park.”

About the Author

Rachael C. Turner

Rachael Turner is the former Photo and Newsletter Editor for The Horse. She is an avid event rider. Rachael's main focus is dressage and on training young horses with the proper foundation for success. She is also a member of the United States Dressage Federation and the United States Equestrian Federation. Her website is

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