UW-River Falls’ Rodeo Club may have to postpone spring activities because of a rare virus that emerged in nearby Stillwater, Minn., in early March.
The virus is called Equine Herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1), which according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (MNBAH) is highly contagious among horses and can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including abortion, respiratory disease or death. EHV-1 usually spreads through the air or direct contact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Each member of the Rodeo Club will have an option to compete in various rodeos in the surrounding region or keep their horse quarantined. Individuals within the Rodeo Club are eligible to earn points at regional rodeo events that could go towards prestigious awards, possibly making the risk worth the reward.
“The students use their own horses,” said Nathan O’Connor, advisor of the Rodeo Club. “They will make the final decision.”
The Rodeo Club will be meeting this week to decide whether to cancel the season or keep riding. According to O’Connor, the club is leaning towards taking the reins.
“At this point we’re going ahead as planned,” O’Connor said. “We deal with these kinds of situations every year, it’s part of being a horse owner.”
According to the MNBAH, ten horses have tested positive for EHV-1 in the region since March 8. Eight of the ten horses were Minnesota- raised. Three horses have been euthanized, four are currently recovering and three more have only recently been diagnosed. The numbers are expected to rise over the following weeks, but O’Connor believes the virus will be contained in 30 days.
According to Jennifer Weinert, UWRF’s horse herd manager at the campus farm, the EHV-1 virus has not been the only health concern this spring.
“Actually our main concern right now is a bacterial sickness,” Weinert said. “Some of the school’s herd has been hurt by this bacteria, but this year hasn’t been any worse than any other year.”
O’Connor is also wary of the UWRF colt sale on May 3, which showcases more than 40 colts that have been raised and trained by animal science students.
“We’re really worried about not being able to sell the horses,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor expects the number of regional rodeo participants, which is usually very high, to be down this spring because of the EHV-1 threat. Those who do travel to other communities to ride are being asked to take extra caution.
“We are taking as many precautions as we can,” said Haley Dettmering, Rodeo Club president. “And people on the team are weighing both options to go to the rodeo or keep their horse here in River Falls.”
MNBAH recommends that owners keep horses with fevers and clinical signs of respiratory infection at home. Owners are also advised to wash and disinfect their hands and change their clothes before coming into contact with healthy horses to prevent the potential spread of EHV-1.
“It would be best if the horses were isolated as good as possible to try and get rid of the virus,” Dettmering said. “It is affecting our season because a lot of the UWRF rodeo team is not able to travel to the rodeos because horse farms are on lockdown.”
The last known case came on March 29 when a Minnesota-raised horse was diagnosed with EHV-1; the horse is still alive but neurological test results are still pending, according to the Stillwater Equine Veterinary Clinic’s website.
“It remains to be seen if these outbreaks are just a blip,” Weinert said. “But the virus could intensify with more travel.”
Since the virus was made public, the campus farm has quarantined all horses. EHV-1 does not pose a threat for humans or other animals, but no outside horses are allowed on the farm. Horses that leave the campus farm will be isolated if Rodeo Club students decide to participate in events around the region.
“They will be isolated when they return,” Weinert said. “There’s an off-chance they could carry the virus and not necessarily show symptoms. The time between exposure and symptoms could be two weeks.”
It is too early to tell, but O’Connor believes this virus won’t affect the UWRF-hosted Falcon Frontier Days Rodeo in September. The Falcon Frontier Days Rodeo is the only university rodeo show east of the Mississippi River, according to UWRF’s website. 2014 will be the rodeo’s 50th anniversary.