Biosecurity gears up for the 2010 World Equestrian Games

A plan eight years in development will finally come to fruition.
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Oct 01, 2010



The 2010 Alltech Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games will be held Sept. 25 through Oct. 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. These games mark a number of firsts in the relatively recent history of this competition.

Past performances

The first World Equestrian Games were held in 1990 in Stockholm, Sweden. The FEI awarded championships in jumping, dressage and eventing at these inaugural games, as well as in the non-Olympic disciplines of driving, endurance and vaulting.

Four years later, the World Equestrian Games were held at The Hague, Netherlands, and the same six-event format was followed. In 1998, the games were held in Rome where five disciplines competed while the endurance competition was held in Dubai. Jerez, Spain, hosted the 2002 World Equestrian Games, and, in addition to the six traditional disciplines, reining made its debut as the seventh world championship event.

The 2006 competition was held in Aachen, Germany, where a record number of tickets (570,000) were sold for the two-week event, and 850 horses representing 61 countries contested seven world championships.

Making history

This year marks the first time that the World Equestrian Games will be held outside of Europe. With nearly 800 horses representing 60 countries, this year's games will be the largest equestrian spectator event ever held in the United States and the largest sporting event of any kind held in Kentucky. The Para Dressage competition has been added to this year's games, making it the first time that eight championships will be contested at one event in a single location.

The need to ship so many horses into the United States will make this the largest airlift of horses to a single event in transportation history, and, with nearly 2,000 media attending, this will be the largest network broadcast of an equestrian event ever. The eyes of the horse world during these two weeks will truly be on Kentucky.

This fact is not lost on E.S. "Rusty" Ford, the equine programs manager in the Office of the State Veterinarian. The primary responsibility for biosecurity at these games is shared among the Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Federal Department of Homeland Security, the FEI, the World Equestrian Games Organizing Committee and the Kentucky Horse Park.

With all of these differing groups involved in an event of this nature, the potential for confusion and problems is high. That's why the Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office has spent the last eight years designing and implementing a biosecurity and quarantine program aimed at keeping all horses safe—from securing the international horses competing to monitoring the safety of the local horses eating grass in the fields around the Kentucky Horse Park.

Biosecurity measures

The main biosecurity challenge at these games is infectious disease surveillance and management. "The Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office has regulatory responsibility to contain, manage and resolve outbreaks of communicable equine diseases occurring at public venues, including large international competitions," says Ford.

This responsibility has led to the establishment of four main focus areas. The first is the need to maintain the health integrity of the hosting facility. This requires stringent monitoring of preceding shows and of the resident equine population to ensure that no potentially communicable diseases are present in the horse park at the start of the event. The second area of focus is the importation of competition horses, both domestic and foreign. Third is the implementation of disease prevention and mitigation strategies, many of which are aimed at particular diseases and their means of transmission. The fourth area of interest is an infectious disease response plan that would allow veterinarians and officials to quickly and efficiently deal with any disease outbreaks that might occur.

To accomplish the goal of equine disease surveillance and management, a temporary quarantine facility had to be constructed at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Seven barns at this location will be used to house all arriving horses. A six-stall barn within this quarantine area will be available to house animals thought to present a heightened risk of disease transmission.

While in this facility, horses will be tested for dourine, glanders, piroplasmosis and equine infectious anemia. They will be examined daily, have their temperatures monitored and be held for a minimum of 42 hours before being transported to the Kentucky Horse Park.

Many of these horses will already have had mandatory seven-day quarantine in Miami, Fla., before entering Kentucky, and they will be given another physical examination upon entering the horse park. Serology and any additional blood tests needed will be done in cooperation with the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center.

Piroplasmosis: A special concern

Equine piroplasmosis is nearly always a controversial topic in international competition. The southern half of the United States has both the climate and the specific types of ticks needed for transmission of this disease. Dermacentor nitens (the tropical horse tick) is the primary foreign culprit, but Dermacentor albipictus (the winter tick), Dermacentor variabilis (the American dog tick) and Boophilus microplus (the southern or tropical cattle tick) are all capable of transmitting the disease domestically.

The Olympic games in Atlanta in 1996 were especially problematic since there were an estimated 1,300,000 ticks per hectacre around the main equestrian venue. Long, tall grass around the Georgia International Horse Park further complicated matters in that ticks can maneuver better in thick grass and are much more likely to contact horses and transmit disease. The 2000 Olympics in Sidney, Australia, fared much better with piroplasmosis in that no ticks were found that were capable of transmitting the disease.

Studies in advance of the 2010 World Equestrian Games have shown that there is a low risk of transmission of piroplasmosis (0.00065 or seven horses in a million) because of the low number of appropriate tick species and the fact that most of the Kentucky Horse Park and surrounding lands are short field grass and are kept well cut and maintained.

This low tick-exposure risk and the shorter cropped grass have so reduced the risk of transmission at these games that horses testing positive for equine piroplasmosis have been allowed out on the park trails. Examination of these horses before and after they leave the piroplasmosis quarantine area and appropriate tick treatment (ears) throughout should allow them to compete without compromising the health of other competitors or the safety of the horse industry in Kentucky.

And don't forget the flu

Influenza is another concern that is being addressed by the biosecurity team. A specific influenza vaccination program is required for horses entering the World Equestrian Games. These vaccinations are an FEI requirement, so all competition horses should be up-to-date.

The lessons learned from influenza outbreaks and rhinopneumonitis flare-ups at racetracks and other venues have been applied to the program set up to maintain biosecurity at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games. There has never been a serious disease outbreak or significant veterinary problem at the World Equestrian Games, and Ford and his colleagues in charge of biosecurity at this year's games in Kentucky don't want to see it become a first.

Dr. Marcella is an equine practitioner in Canton, Ga.