Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year's Weekend in Aiken

The weather forecast sounds good for the weekend: mostly sunny, highs in the 60s, a slight chance of rain on Sunday. So what's going on in Aiken? There's hunting on Saturday (Why Worry Hounds at Basset Hill on Saturday at 9 AM, The Aiken Hounds also on Saturday, and Whiskey Road Foxhounds on Sunday.) Otherwise, Poplar Place Farm in Hamilton, GA is holding a schooling show, and there is not much else on the calendar. A good time to ride, tidy the barn and think about New Year's resolutions.

Aiken's horsepeople who haven't done so already still have time to submit a photo to the My Favorite Horse Exhibit at the Aiken County Historical Museum on Newberry Street off South Boundary. The exhibit is scheduled to open on January 3, and will feature photos brought in by community members. Photos may be of any size up to 11" X 14", but must be framed and ready to hang.

Museum director Elliot Levy says there has been a great response and he has some wonderful pictures. He is planning to continue to add photos throughout the month until the space is filled. The show runs until January 31, and will be held in the ballroom, a beautiful setting for any picture.

Bring your framed photos to Banksia (the grand Winter Colony home that houses the museum) 433 Newberry Street SW. For more information, call 803.642.2015.

While you're at the museum, take a look around. There area few interesting equestrian artifacts upstairs. However, the best part of the museum are the scrapbooks downstairs. These feature newspaper and magazine clippings from the 1920s and 1930s, the height of Aiken's fabled Winter Colony. You'll see photos from the hunt and polo fields, and find quite a wealth of information (including some great pictures) of Aiken's pioneering women polo players.

(Is there some event out there we don't know about? Drop us an e-mail & let us know!)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Virus in California

In the last few days, three horses in California have been confirmed positive for Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1.) The first horse was part of a group of 15 warmbloods that were imported from Germany through the USDA Animal Import facility in New York. This horse was shipped to Lexington, Kentucky via Tennessee, and from there flew to Ontario airport in San Bernardino County, California. The horse was taken to Del Mar, where he soon began exhibiting symptoms, including a high fever and ataxia of the hind limbs. He died within 72 hours of his arrival. Along with the horses that perished in Florida, this brings the total number of EHV-1 deaths to six.

Because the sick horse was transported along with other horses while he was in a highly contagious state, California horsemen are worried about the possibility of a larger outbreak. So far, two yearlings shipped with the sick horse and brought to the Fresno area have been confirmed positive for EHV-1. Both are doing well as of this writing. Several other California horses that shared travel accommodations with the gelding that died are reportedly exhibiting fevers. So far, none is seriously ill. (Read more about it here.) In addition, a mare that shipped with the gelding from New York to Kentucky has been declare healthy and released from quarantine.

Equine rhinovirus is not a reportable disease in California, which means (among other things) that all quarantines there are voluntary. Since the winter season in California (like the winter season in Florida) is a time when many horses are moving to different competition venues, there is the possibility of a serious outbreak. Officials at various horse hot spots (such as El Dorado Polo Club) are asking those shipping in to take extra precautions to ensure that they do not introduce infected horses to the local population.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Equine Herpes Virus

As most of Aiken's horse people have probably heard, an outbreak of equine herpes virus (otherwise known as rhinovirus) has shut down many equestrian activities in Florida. The virus appears to have been introduced by a group of horses imported from Germany to the USDA Animal Import station in New York and then shipped by van to Wellington. To date, eleven horses have been confirmed with the disease. Five have died or been euthanized; four in Wellington and one in Ocala. The majority of cases occurred in Wellington, with one in Jupiter and one in Ocala. All infected animals had contact with horses in Wellington.

(Read a recent article about the outbreak in the Palm Beach Post here. Or check out the December 16 press release from Phelps Media Group. )

Rhinoviruses are quite common. In fact, a little more than 50% of human common colds are caused by rhinoviruses. It is widely believed that the human common cold actually "jumped" from horses to people not long after horses were domesticated.

In horses, the most common strain of rhino (EHV-1) causes low fevers and respiratory symptoms as well as spontaneous abortions in broodmares. Another strain (EHV-4) can cause higher fevers and thick nasal discharge. Recently, EHV-1 seems to have mutated into a far more virulent disease. This dangerous strain of rhino infects the horse's brain and spinal cord, causing neurological symptoms. These symptoms can be mild or severe. Horses that lie down and cannot get back up are generally euthanized.

(Here's what the Merck Veterinary Manual has to say.)

Rhino is an airborne virus that can spread as far as 35 feet from a sneezing horse. Vaccinations are available (in fact, most show horses already get regular flu & rhino vaccines) but the neurological form of the disease does not seem to be prevented by currently available vaccinations. (A modified live virus [MLV] vaccination might be more effective. Read about it here.) Today in Florida, many barns have set up elaborate sterilization procedures to try to prevent further spread of the illness.

So should you go to Florida with your horses? Some Aiken polo players and few show riders have decided to cancel their Florida seasons. Others are waiting for the outbreak to pass. To date, there is no official statewide quarantine, although barns where herpes has been confirmed or is suspected are under state or voluntary quarantine (eight as of this writing. See them on a map.) The general consensus is that the virus has probably been contained and that shipments to uninfected barns after Christmas are probably safe. The latest news is available at the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners website.

This is the second major neurological herpes outbreak this year. The first one, which ran from January to March, claimed a number of horses at Pimlico racetrack in Maryland and sickened horses from Kentucky to Wisconsin. (Read about it here.)