25 Years Ago: EHV at the Spanish Riding School Stud Farm

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One of first recorded observations of a neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus took place in 1983, when a severe outbreak devastated the Piber stud farm of the Spanish Riding School in Austria. Oddly enough, today's news from Vienna about the CEM outbreak (see following posts) comes on the 25th anniversary of the publication of an account in TIME Magazine about the EHV outbreak, which killed seven mares and 27 foals at the Piber stud farm.


Here are some excerpts from the account that appeared in TIME Magazine:

"The outbreak of equine herpes I in Austria began in mid-February when a number of horses started coughing. By March, many of the mares were aborting their foals. Miscarriages are a common effect of herpes, but the next phase of the disease is not. The unusually virulent form of the virus slowly killed the seven mares by paralyzing their nervous systems.

"Of the 36 pregnant mares at the Piber farm, 22 were vaccinated at the first signs of the outbreak and survived, although they all lost their foals."

(transcribed from an article in TIME Magazine, April 11, 1983)

Back in those days, EHV was called "rhinopneumonitis," so it is a little tricky to find records of this attack. However, in the excellent book The Imperial Horse: The Saga of the Lipizzaners by Hans-Heinrich Isenbart and Emil Buhrer (Alfred A Knopf, New York, Publishers, 1986), they contend that the EHV tragedy signalled a new dawn at Piber. The authors write that longtime SRS veterinarian Jaromir Oulehla assumed directorship at Piber after the deadly spring. He made the decision to purchase 14 replacement mares selected from stud farms in what was then Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, as well as Hungary. By 1985, 30 mares were in foal at Piber.

Considering that at the end of World War II there were only 250 Lipizzaners in the world, Oulehla's actions were bold and visionary. They were also timely, and coincided with a renaissance in interest in dressage and a renewal of respect and patronage for the Spanish Riding School and the Lipizzaner breed.