Horse shows in southern California are back, and the sun is shining brightly again on the region's horse industry. You need look no further than last weekend's Rancho Valencia Dressage Affaire at Del Mar if you need to see proof.
There was a spring in the horses' choreographed dressage steps, and it wasn't just the first-class arena footing. If you looked around the trade stands and food vendors, you'd see that there was a bit of a spring in the step of the humans at the show, as well.
The reason? Dressage is alive and well and thriving in southern California, to be sure. So is the entire horse business.
And that is enough to put a spring in your step. Especially if you'd been around the area during January and February.
Horse health news stories seldom benefit from follow-ups. Who cares when, weeks later, a quarantine is lifted or the last horse has successfully cleared tests? It's only news when there's shock value, right?
Tell that to the people who have been living under the dark cloud of a horse health emergency or quarantine. They'll tell you about canceled events, lost income, endlessly re-scheduled lessons, incomplete show seasons, disappointed children, unbred mares, unsold horses, endless vet bills, and a black mark against their region's name. Will people haul their horses hundreds of miles to a show in an area that has recently been known to be closed because of a contagious equine disease outbreak? Would you?
You'd have to have faith in the organizers and event facility to make that leap, especially if you owned horses that might qualify for the FEI Reem Acra Dressage World? Cup or even the Olympics.
Just a few short months ago, no one was sure that The Dressage Affaire--or any show in Southern California--would even happen.? On January 10, the region was paralyzed by the announcement of an outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus at an equestrian center in nearby San Juan Capistrano. Cases at the facility kept being added to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Animal Health and Food Safety Services alert list. It finally stopped, but not until 16 horses had been diagnosed, including one with the neurological form of the disease.
Shows were canceled.
To complicate matters, a polo pony in the inland Palm Springs area was also diagnosed with EHV. The polo stable was only a few miles from one of the largest horse shows in North America, the HITS Thermal hunter/jumper show. The show ramped up health precautions and went on, declaring itself "safe to show", but you can be sure that a lot of people in decision-making positions were holding their breath.
It would be more than a month--not until February 14, 2012--that the San Juan Capistrano quarantine was lifted and an all-clear signal given.
In the meantime, horse show organizers for the Dressage Affaire were hard at work. The event attracts competitors from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico and is a key qualifying event for national and international championships, including the Olympics. The show is also in its third year of hosting Para Equestrian Qualifiers.
But would the show go on?
In late January, the organizers issued a press release stating the precautions that they were initiating to make sure that the grounds would not be at risk if a long-term quarantine was in effect.
The Del Mar Horsepark Equestrian Facility, the site for the Rancho Valencia Dressage Affaire, did not have any cases of EHV and the show took immediate steps to protect both permanent boarders and show participants at the park from infection. A press release from the organizers assured potential competitors that, upon learning of the outbreak, facilities management immediately initiated a voluntary "lock down" of the entire facility. This meant that "healthy horses were allowed to leave the show grounds, but no horses were allowed to enter or re-enter." The stalls assigned to house the Dressage Affaire horses had been held empty since December 5, 2011, the release said.
On February 3, as the quarantine wore on, the Dressage Affaire management announced that all horses would be required to supply a veterinary inspection form to enter the grounds.
And then it was over. Once the quarantine was lifted, show management beamed, "Due to the recent announcement by the CDFA to terminate/lift the January EHV-1 quarantine, KP Events, Inc. has waived the late entry fee for anyone entering past the original closing date." They also canceled the veterinary inspection requirement.
And the show went on.
The Jurga Report turned to the official show veterinarian, Mark Silverman DVM of Sporthorse Veterinary Services in San Marcos, California for a followup from his point of view. How had the EHV situation impacted the show?
"The EHV did have an effect on the attendance," Silverman responded. "The entries took a while to fill as everyone was quite wary. We actually ended up sending out a statement from the state regarding the lifting of the quarantine to ease people's concerns."
He continued, "At one point we were going to require a pre-arrival vet exam and a temperature record for several days prior to shipping. We ended up rescinding this requirement, again to ease people's minds and hopefully increase attendance.
"Overall," he concluded, "the cooperation of the state officials and the open lines of communications made for the best possible scenario, given the situation."
Anyone who thinks that veterinarians are oblivious to what goes on in the arena hasn't talked to Dr Silverman. He reported happily that dressage is flourishing among his clients in the area and gave an update of the penultimate international-level events at the show this weekend:
"In the end, it was a great show and a chance to see Steffen's (Steffen Peters) new mount Legolas in the flesh. The horse has amazing piaffe and passage. In the Grand Prix freestyle, Jan Ebeling put on an amazing performance with his mare, Rafalca, earning a standing ovation--only to be outdone in the end by the absolutely ridiculously spectacular piaffe and passage produced by Legolas with Steffen on board."
We all know the old saying, "All's well that ends well" but there's no way to count up the hardship and loss that an equine disease outbreak brings to a community. It's hard to imagine what it's like until you've been through it--and we all hope you never do. There are important lessons to be learned from each and every outbreak, and praise to be given to the people who work pro-actively to prevent the disease from spreading and to buoy up the community's spirit and commerce. They have every reason to celebrate and to profit once the dark clouds part and the sun shines again.
Thanks to Dr. Silverman, Ernest Woodward (Show Farrier), Keenan Productions, Events Inc. and Dressage Affaire for assistance with this article. View more of digit50d's photos of Dressage Affaire.