The welfare issues of horses in the United States, and around the world, are of concern to all horse owners. Whether it's starving, neglected, or abused horses in our own county, or the plight of working burros and mules halfway around the world, we care. Sometimes we don't know how to put our caring into action. The first thing that we want, however, is information. We need to know more about the animals involved and why they got into in their situations. In our cover story this month on Canadian Equine Welfare, we delve into several of the issues that we in the United States either already have concerns about, or might need to recognize as problems that could affect our horses. For example, if, or when, the commercial slaughter of horses is ended in the United States, how will U.S. horses be protected from being shipped to Canada or Mexico for slaughter? When planning for our story on horse welfare in Mexico (April 2005; see, an international veterinarian friend of mine gave me a pitying look when he heard me say that horses wouldn't be allowed by law to be shipped for slaughter in Mexico. "The slaughter horse pens and pleasure horse pens are right next to each other," he said. So where does free trade end and federal law begin?

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the number of live horses shipped to Mexico from the United States was: 2001/4,608, 2002/3,467, 2003/3,755, 2004/17,951, 2005/23,309.

Do we really think Mexico had a 400% increase in the number of pleasure horses needed for riders in those four years?

The number of live horses shipped from the United States to Canada has remained fairly steady at just under 30,000. USDA numbers showed: 2001/29,344, 2002/29,395, 2003/26,040, 2004/26,324, 2005/29,701.

So that's more than 53,000 U.S. horses that were shipped across our neighboring borders to unknown destinies in 2005. Sure, some are probably around today living useful, healthy lives. My bet is that most aren't.

When planning to stop slaughter, let's make sure these unwanted horses are kept in mind while still keeping open the borders for normal trade.

Ship Some Disease, Please

Equine viral arteritis (EVA) isn't something you hear about every day. In fact, most of you have probably never even known someone who has seen a case of EVA. But there are some Quarter Horse owners in New Mexico who now know more than they wanted to about this easily passed virus that causes respiratory disease, stocking up, abortion, and a persistent carrier state in stallions. That's a pretty versatile virus.

One of the major problems with this disease is how easily it can be transferred from one horse to another. Of course there is the respiratory route, where nasal secretions spread the virus from horse to horse through a barn or training stable. Then there are the contaminated fluids from an aborted fetus, which are loaded with the virus.

As mentioned before, stallions can become persistent shedders of the virus. But the most incredible way this virus is spread is through overnight mail. That's right, you can FedEx a container of semen anywhere in the world and take the unwanted virus right along with the desired sperm. Think about that next time you order semen. Has that stallion been tested for EVA? If it were my farm and my mare, you bet those tests would be negative, or my mares would be vaccinated and protected.

Currently, the United States has no semen import restrictions for EVA, which means infected semen can be imported for breeding purposes and thus expose resident horses.

In 2002, a study was conducted in California to compare the seroprevalence of equine arteritis virus (EAV) in California horses and horses imported from other countries. Serum samples from 364 horses from 44 farms in California were compared to 226 samples from imported horses. The results indicated only 1.9% of resident horses were seropositive for EAV, compared to 18.6% of foreign horses (16% of which were stallions). Certain breeds appear to be more susceptible to EAV infection, most notably warmbloods.

It is clear that importation restrictions on EAV-positive horses and semen should be considered as a means of preventing this virus from spreading in the United States.

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.

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