February 3, 2003 -- All those involved with horses at the University of Findlay will not soon forget the tragic events of late January when 12 horses were lost to equine herpes virus 1 (EHV-1) at the James L. Child Jr. Equestrian Complex, which houses the University's English equestrian riding program.
"The teaching value of those horses is irreplaceable," said Greg Hess, a veterinarian with University of Findlay. "And certainly there was a lot of emotional attachment to those horses."
Students, devastated by the losses, created memorials for their long-time riding partners and friends they lost to the disease.
"Just like the death of family member, you go through a grieving period," Hess said. "But they're handling this like adults."
The tragedy occurred at a crucial stage in the show season; the University and students scrambled to remain competitive after their losses.
"They're making other accommodations for the students, but they're definitely not going to have the riding time that they would've otherwise," Hess said. "But the program is strong and it will continue to be strong, This is an unfortunate occurrence that could've happened anywhere but we'll rebound from it because everybody's pulled together."
As soon as the problem was discovered, both the English facility and the nearby Western facility (which houses more than 300 horses) were quarantined. No horses were allowed in or out of the facilities and all activities at the English riding facility were canceled through early April. The quarantine will continue for 30 days beyond the last acute sign of fever in any horse.
"We appear to have the problem under control but I don't believe we're totally out of the woods yet," said Stephen Reed, head of the equine section at the Ohio State University Veterinarian Hospital who worked with horses at Findlay. "You would certainly believe that all the 144 horses in the facility were exposed because over 120 horses had fevers."
As a result of this devastating outbreak, numerous biosecurity concerns have been raised--particularly because the University of Findlay had done things properly to prevent such a problem.
"All the right things had been done," said R. David Glauer, Ohio's state veterinarian. "I think they were doing everything right. They required immunizations coming in and they boosted the immunization at that barn. But no vaccines are 100%."
Even with all the proper precautions, it is hard to avoid equine herpes. "The equine herpes virus is not an unusual infection," Glauer said. "The thing that made this unusual is the number of deaths and the number of central nervous system cases that were associated with this particular outbreak."
For concerned horse owners, proper vaccination based on the specific requirements of the herd is the first step in preventing the herpes virus 1. Owners should consider how many horses are moving in and out of their facilities and the number of breeding mares present when making vaccination decisions.
"All of those kinds of things really affect the preventative immunization program that a veterinarian and their client should choose for the situation," Glauer said. "It is important that horse owners communicate with their veterinarians to develop the best immunization program that they can for their particular situation."
To prevent other problems with the herpes virus 1 and other diseases, there are some additional simple steps horse owners can take.
"They have to be aware that when they take their horse out they have the possibility of bringing something back home," Glauer said. "You need to isolate them when they return so you don't expose the rest of the herd."
It is also important to change and wash shoes and other clothing after working with horses to prevent the spread of diseases. By taking these precautions in addition to the conservative quarantine, the tragedy at the University of Findlay was minimized, though it will not soon be forgotten.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Donations are being accepted to help re-build the University of Findlay's equine program. Checks may be sent to: Lissa Guyton, director of equine business development University of Findlay 1000 N. Main St. Findlay, OH 45840
If you have a horse to donate, contact Terri Blosser at (419) 434-4859.
Matt Reese is an agricultural reporter for Ohio's Country Journal, in Columbus, Ohio.