Hundreds of horses tested, processed at equine games

Officials, veterinarians test, process some 500 horses during FEI World Equestrian Games
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Nov 01, 2010

Lexington, Ky. — When the dust settles from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, close to 500 horses will have gone through a new quarantine facility just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It’s a monumental undertaking, says Dr. Edward ‘Rusty’ Ford, of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. And the process has been “challenging and gratifying.”

“We have imported 200 horses so far and have had no significant issues,” Ford tells DVM Newsmagazine. “Any time you move this many horses, this distance, you will have minor issues—colic or the equivalent of horse jet lag. So far it has been pretty seamless.”

Close to 500 horses arriving from Liege, Belgium, will be tested for dourine, glanders, equine infectious anemia and equine piroplasmosis at the quarantine facility set up in the employee parking lot at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky. The quarantine center is operated by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Ford explains. Other horses from the 58 countries participating in the games are being imported through other facilities in Miami and Los Angeles.

Governed by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the World Equestrian Games feature horses from around the world competing in dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, para dressage, reining and vaulting. The games take place every four years—two years before the Olympic Games—and this year ran from Sept. 26 to Oct. 10.

“There are 58 countries represented at the games. These are seasoned travelers,” Ford says of the horses. “I wish I had as many frequent flyer miles as some of these horses.”

The quarantine facility is just one part of a veterinary preparedness plan nine years in the making, Ford says. The plan also includes three other facets—the Kentucky Horse Park, ensuring that arriving horses are coming into a healthy environment and a response plan if a communicable disease is isolated.

“These games are not the only things that take place at the horse park,” Ford explains. “Throughout the spring and summer, we average 140 inspection hours. We need to make sure we have a healthy environment for horses coming here.”

As for the quarantine facility itself, “this is the first time we’ve had a facility of this magnitude,” he says, adding a smaller facility, inspecting 40 to 60 horses, operates for the Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs. With close to 300 stalls in six barns, plus four isolation stalls, the newest quarantine facility is expected to inspect close to 500 horses before the final event. Horses coming from Central and South America go through a similar quarantine facility in Miami, while those coming from New Zealand and Australia are inspected in Los Angeles.

When a Federal Express charter flight arrives, the first group to enter the jet includes customs/border patrol, a federal veterinary representative, Ford and the state veterinary offices of Kentucky, plus a practicing veterinarian with the World Equestrian Games.

Each flight contains 40 to 52 horses, plus their attendants.

“Once customs is finished, we make an initial inquiry to see if there are any immediate veterinary needs,” Ford says.

The horses, transported in special crates, are then unloaded by the Delta ground crew and trucked about 1.5 miles to the actual quarantine facility.

“We identify the horses against the passports, take their temperature, check their pulse and respiration, and do a visual exam,” Ford explains, adding they also draw three tubes of blood, which are in turn sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, part of the United States Department of Agriculture. There blood samples are tested for dourine, glanders, equine infectious anemia and equine piroplasmosis.

“This is standard procedure for testing horse populations for a lot of diseases,” says Jim Barrett of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “What’s unique this time is the volume. This is a huge effort.”

While at the quarantine facility, the horses are treated for ectoparasites and tucked in.

“We try to allow as much quiet as possible for the next two or three hours,” Ford explains.

Horses are kept at the facility for a minimum of 42 hours and an average of 46 to 48 hours.

Once the results are in and the horses are cleared, they are transported to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, about one-and-a-half hours away.

Of the original six flights, five have already been cleared and the horses transported to the horse park, Ford says. “We’re waiting for the test results from the sixth flight, but we expect to have them cleared soon.”

“Everything’s going well,” he adds. “It is extremely gratifying seeing so many entities coming together for a common cause—processing the horses and getting them to the horse park.”

Fellenstein is a freelance journalist in Cleveland, Ohio.