The first of about 80 rental horses and ponies owned by the Westernaires is expected to come out of a six-week quarantine period by May 20, after recovering from a form of strep called strangles.
The outbreak should not cause panic, said Glen Keller, the director of the Westernaires, who referred to it as a “very inconvenient truth.”
“We’re not letting it get the best of us,” Keller said.
According to www.horseandhound.co.uk, strangles is a common bacterial infection that can affect horses, ponies and donkeys of all types and ages. It is a highly contagious infection of the upper respiratory tract, and can be easily spread through shared water troughs and/or tack and yard equipment.
It is specific to equines, Keller added, and only in a rare circumstance can the bacteria be transmitted to humans or other animals.
Strangles is rarely fatal, Keller said, adding equines generally make a full recovery. None of the Westernaires’ horses and ponies have died from the infection. The animals showed symptoms of a “snotty nose” and a fever, Keller said.
The Westernaires is a nonprofit organization that provides horsemanship and promotes western heritage to Jefferson County youth ages 9 to 19.
The Westernaires own about 230 horses and ponies, Keller said. He estimated that of them, 58 horses and 26 ponies were affected by strangles.
Keller is unsure how the infection came to the Westernaires facility, located adjacent to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. But the organization responded instantly to the outbreak, and it is being handled with all professionalism, he said.
All areas of the Westernaires’ facility has been disinfected and cleaned. The equines are being treated with a regimen that entails two vaccine shots administered by a veterinarian, Keller said.
“It seems to be working really well,” Keller said.
However, even after symptoms clear up, strangles can be contagious for up to six weeks, Keller said. Therefore, every horse and pony that contracted strangles is being quarantined for that amount of time.
The illness has led the Westernaires to modify operations — practices now take place on Saturdays only, and only the healthy horses that have not contracted the infection are being used. In addition, to avoid potential exposure to horses not owned by the Westernaires, owners are not permitted to bring in their own horses for Westernaires activities.
A memo sent out from Scott Gales, the director of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, to members of the 4-H organization states that the fairgrounds’ facilities are not involved in or associated with the infection.
“However, as a precautionary measure, all of our stalls, pens, water tanks, tie-outs and other facilities were disinfected shortly after discovery of this infection,” the memo states. “We have taken these precautionary measures to ensure the safety and well-being of animals and humans — as our highest priority.”
The strangles vaccine is costly, and because the Westernaires cannot rent out the quarantined horses, the organization estimates it is incurring a weekly loss of revenue of about $15,000. To help offset the expenses from the strangles outbreak, the organization set up a Go Fund Me account on April 29. As of May 5, $23,463 of the $30,000 goal has been met.
“Westernaires has coped with countless demands over its 68-year history, and 2017 is proving to be particularly challenging,” the organization states on its Go Fund Me page. “… between the veterinary bills, the treatment protocol supplies and the lost revenue from weekly activities, Westernaires is experiencing a financial hit like they never have before.”