Virus Strikes Wellington, FL; Horse Shows Cancelled to Protect Horses

A fast-moving flu-like virus has killed an estimated four horses in the Wellington, Florida area since Sunday. The only details currently available are what is published in the local press and information posted on the web by the Florida Division of Animal Industry.

Test results to verify that the outbreak is a form of Equine Herpesvirus-type 1 (EHV-1) are expected to be received soon. To make matters worse, Wellington was soaked in a drenching rainstorm today, with an estimated five inches falling on the horse show grounds, I learned by phone.

According to the state of Florida, two horses have been euthanized and others are showing signs of illness; other reports put the number at four. Quarantines and “lock downs” are in effect around the village; farriers are being asked by owners not to report to do scheduled work.

Stadium Jumping Inc., organizer of the Winter Equestrian Festival, has announced that this weekend’s shows will be cancelled. A prepared statement reads:

In light of the apparent outbreak of an infectious equine disease within the equestrian community of Wellington, Stadium Jumping, Inc. announced that this weekend’s AGA National Championship and the Christmas Festival Horse Show have been cancelled.

“Until we know more about this situation, and get further advice from the veterinarians and professionals that are on the scene and on top of this emergency, it would be irresponsible for us to move forward with this weekend’s competition. Safeguarding the horses in our community and the protection of the equestrian industry in Wellington is our utmost and primary concern,” said Stadium Jumping, Inc. President Eugene R. Mische. “We would much prefer to err on the side of caution than to put even a single horse at risk.”

Meanwhile, the interstate highways leading into Florida are crowded with horse vans and trailers bringing horses into the state for winter shows, racing, sales, and polo. Currently, the state of Florida is not restricting travel of horses into the state, and no other states have issued sanctions against horses from Florida entering their states. Anyone involved with horses traveling into or out of Florida should monitor the state’s animal industry web site for more news.

Wellington’s show season is one of the most prestigious in the world. Horses have recently arrived into the village of Wellington from dozens of states and foreign countries; many are still expected to ship in over the holidays. It is not unusual for some horses to show minor flu-like symptoms after flights or shipping by road, and veterinarians are hard at work determining which symptoms are “normal” for shippers and which might be signs of a viral infection.

An article in the Palm Beach Post traces the outbreak to a possibile source in a horse that shipped in from New York and was ill on arrival. Veterinarians became suspicious when another horse in the barn started to show symptoms.

Among the horses euthanized are jumper rider Debbie Stephens’ Dutch Warmblood x Thoroughbred Cosequin’s CEO, an outstanding home-bred product of her Centennial Farms breeding and showing operation in Florida.

This blog post will be updated as new information arrives. Please check these links as well:

Florida Division of Animal Industry (statewide horse health alerts and updates)

Stadium Jumping (horse show management company in Wellington)

Palm Beach Post daily newspaper (search for “Wellington horse virus” or similar terms)

South Florida Sun-Sentinel daily newspaper (search for “Wellington horse virus” or similar terms)

Palm Beach Equine Clinic (leading veterinary hospital located near showgrounds)

University of Georgia information page on EHV-1

Last update 14 December 8:11 p.m. by Fran Jurga

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