The past few weeks have been scary for horse owners here in Livermore.
Barns have instituted quarantines, shows have been canceled and even trail rides have been put on hold as owners wrestle with the best course of action following an outbreak of neurologic equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1).
The virus is not uncommon, but it is rare for it to mutate into neurologic form. Even then, it’s usually contained quickly. What made this outbreak so noteworthy was that it centered on a large group of horses at a cutting competition in Ogden, Utah, who were not quarantined until after they left the grounds.
No one knows why the virus has become much more contagious than it was 15-20 years ago.
The Ogden cutting horses passed it on to the horses at the Bakersfield cutting, which then brought it home. The horses at the home stables also got it.
Horses at affected stables are being quarantined. The affected horses have to have two negative tests a week apart to be cleared.
A carrier horse will have a fever, but it may only be 102 so no one would know without daily monitoring.
When cases started popping up, especially in horses in California, few people knew that they all stemmed from the same core group of horses from the cutting competitions.
Panic became widespread and barns were quarantined. At my barn, we tried to keep a level head about it. The chances of a horse from our barn contracting the virus from some horse out on the trail or even at a hunter/jumper show were almost zero.
Yet people wanted a quarantine. They wanted to know we were doing everything we could to keep their horses safe. So we made the decision to ask that traffic be limited and the horses avoid unnecessary travel.
A similar outbreak of EHV-1 in December 2006 at Golden Gate Fields was thought to be the first of its kind in California.
About 2,100 horses were impacted by the quarantine in the Bay Area — 1,300 stabled at Golden Gate, 600 from the now-defunct Bay Meadows and about 200 based in Pleasanton.
There was an outbreak among warmbloods in Florida about that same time.
With both the warmbloods and the thoroughbreds quarantined, the outbreak passed quickly.
There was no outcry among barn owners in the Bay Area to close traffic to their home barns, or even shows canceled because of it.
So why this time?
Some experts point to social networking, which turned what would have been an easily ignored outbreak into an outcry that made people who didn’t even own horses fear that carcasses would begin to pile up around the state because of this deadly plague.
Most vets assured their clients that there was very little need for worry because all of the cases could be traced back to those cutting horses.
In any case, it would appear the worst is over. No new cases have been reported and events are beginning to be held again.
Which brings us to the Livermore Rodeo.
In just two weeks, Livermore’s ranching heritage will be on display. While some rodeos were shut down in the wake of the virus, a surprising number just kept on track.
While barns with no contact with horses in Western disciplines such as cutting horses closed their doors, Rowell Ranch held its annual event May 21-22.
Bay Area horse owners were openly critical of what they believed was a blatant disregard for the health hazards of holding an event like this.
We won’t know if any cases of EHV-1 will surface as a result of the Rowell Ranch Rodeo for at least a week or more. And, in fact, there have been no new cases for so long now that the suggested restrictions are loosening on horse travel.
And that comes none too soon for the Livermore Rodeo.
Here’s hoping there will be no new cases or else those running the rodeo will have to ask themselves the same tough questions that everyone running a barn around here has been asking themselves for the past month:
Should we err on the side of caution?
Was the outbreak contained because most barns opted to take the cautious route?