• Photo by Molly Montag

2 Horses From NRCHA Stallion Stakes Test Positive for EHV-1

Two horses that attended the recent National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Stallion Stakes have tested positive for a non-neurologic form of equine herpesvirus – type 1 (EHV-1). Officials say all horses that were at the event may have been exposed, and their owners should use extreme caution when traveling with their equines or competing.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture reported Thursday, April 11, that one of the horses was from California and the other was from Clark County in Nevada. The department also reported that another horse in Nevada tested positive for EHV-1. That case, which is reportedly not related to the positives from the NRCHA Stakes, involves neurologic symptoms in an unvaccinated horse from the greater Las Vegas area, officials said.

The EHV-1 virus can manifest itself in horses in a number of ways, including as a respiratory infection and a neurologic condition.

NRCHA Veterinarian and Animal Welfare Committee Chairman Dr. Joe Carter said in a statement Thursday night the respiratory, non-neurological form of EHV-1 that the horses tested positive for after the Stakes is very similar to the flu.

“EHV-1 is more common than most people realize,” he said. “Keeping your horse up-to-date on vaccines is the best line of defense against EHV-1, along with many other viruses horses battle regularly. If a Stakes competitor is concerned about their horse’s health, it is best to consult their local vet and monitor the horse closely.”

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) said that signs of the neurological form of EHV-1 — which, in severe cases, can result in death — include nasal discharge, incoordination, hind limb weakness, loss of tail tone, lethargy, urine dribbling, head tilt and the inability to rise. Horses also may lean against a fence or wall to maintain their balance.

Horses can contract EHV-1 through horse-to-horse or indirect contact, according to the AAEP. That includes contaminated equipment, trailers, grooming equipment, feed buckets and water buckets. Humans can also spread the virus to horses through contaminated hands or clothing.

The state of Nevada has reported a total of six EHV-1 positive cases in recent weeks. On March 15, officials announced a horse facility was placed under quarantine when a horse in Nevada tested positive for EHV-1 after attending a High School Rodeo Association event. Two more facilities — both, like the first, were located in Clark County — also were put under quarantine days later after two more horses tested positive.

State officials in Nevada say the South Point Equestrian Center, which hosted the NRCHA Stakes, is not under quarantine. They urged the state’s horse owners to not compete or travel with their horses as a result of the three positives announced Thursday.

At the time last month’s positives were reported, Nevada State Veterinarian Dr. JJ Goicoechea urged that all horse events for the weekend of March 23-24 be canceled in order to minimize the potential for more exposures. The South Point complied with the request, canceling a team roping that weekend in order to restrict horse movement and take extra biosecurity measures at the facility in advance of the NRCHA Stakes.

South Point Equestrian Center General Manager Steve Stallworth said the Las Vegas facility has stringent protocols for the sanitation and disinfection of stalls and public areas after each of its events. The facility’s owners, Michael and Paula Gaughan, have a passion for running a clean, safe facility, he said.

“It’s heartbreaking for us that we do so much, and then this can still happen,” said Stallworth, noting that he felt horrible for the owners whose horses got sick. “So, I think it’s just all about diligence.”

NRCHA Executive Director Jay Winborn said officials did not foresee the spread of the disease at the Stakes because they were out of the incubation period for the previous cases in Nevada, and they knew of the strict cleaning procedures used at the South Point. 

“Unfortunately there were a couple of horses that came back [positive], and we’re advising our membership, if they have concerns, to continue to monitor their horses and consult their veterinarian,” he said. “And, [the NRCHA wants to] also stress the importance of routine vaccination and health care if they’re going to be traveling a lot.”

Winborn said the NRCHA will continue to monitor the situation and, if necessary, consider implementing additional biosecurity measures at its next show, the NRCHA Derby, which is scheduled for June 9-16 in Paso Robles, California.

In addition to continuing its cleaning protocols, the South Point will institute temperature checks for all horses at next week’s American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Level 1 World Championships. Horses at the show, set for April 17-20, will have their temperatures checked as they come in the facility. Each horse will have a temperature chart and its owners will be asked to take its temperature in the morning and night.

“We feel good that our protocols at the facility are in place to not only be preventative, but also in case anything does happen,” Stallworth said. “If we get a feverish horse during our show, then we will isolate them until the proper veterinarians look at them and determine if they’re safe to still compete.”

Temperature checks also will be done during the upcoming National Reining Breeders Classic in Katy, Texas. Officials made that decision after the Texas Animal Health Commission announced earlier this week that a reining horse in the state had tested positive for Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM), the neurologic disease linked to EHV-1, after attending a show in Oklahoma.

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