Outbreak of deadly horse virus threatens to further disrupt equestrian events

Last year coronavirus caused almost all equestrian events and competitions to grind to a halt.

A year on, a deadly horse virus is threatening to do the same. 

An outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus is ripping through 10 countries in the EU. 

With events in England now able to resume under Covid restrictions, show centres and competitors in Northumberland are hoping the same doesn't happen here.

Lauren and her horse Luna will compete for the first time in almost 6 months Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Lauren Roseberry is a showjumper from Durham. She has been unable to compete with her horse Luna for almost 6 months due to lockdown, but after the forced hiatus, she is saddling up to attend a show at Alnwick Ford Equestrian Centre in Northumberland.

Restrictions on equestrian events were eased on 29 March, allowing competitions to resume. Lauren said EHV was an added concern in the face of covid restrictions;

"EHV is a worry, especially as I have a mare in foal. It's been a difficult year for the sport, which has already been so disrupted by the pandemic, so the EHV outbreak is an added problem. Obviously we all only want to compete if it safe for us and our horses to do so, but I am so excited to get back out to shows."

Lauren Roseberry, Showjumper

Alnwick Ford in Northumberland is one of the North of England's premier equestrian centres. The show ground The facility is a British Showjumping & British Dressage accredited venue. 

In order to host such events, the centre already has strict bio-security measures in place. Hygiene and safety precautious were heightened when the covid-19 pandemic began in Spring 2020.

Alnwick Ford is a premier equestrian centre

The measures to limit the spread of covid such as social distancing and increased hygiene, also help mitigate the spread of EHV.

We are always conscious of making sure our venue is as bio-secure as possible. Covid hygiene and safety measures go hand in hand with the prevention of EHV spreading. Everyone is used to social distancing now, and making sure they wash their hands thoroughly and regularly. People have to use their common sense and be careful where they travel to.

Martyn Johnson, Alnwick Ford Equestrian Centre

There are many similarities between Covid-19 in humans, and EHV in horses. Equine Herpes Virus is highly contagious and much like covid, it is airborne and causes respiratory disease. 

Not all horses show symptoms and some may only show mild signs. A high temperature is often the first indicator that a horse is unwell.

Symptoms of EHV include;

  • Dry cough

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Reduced performance

In more serious cases the virus can cause severe disease of the nervous system and lead pregnant mares to miscarry.

There is a vaccine for the virus, but since the outbreak, some vets in the North East have struggled to access supplies.

Alnwick Ford is a premier equestrian centre

A virulent outbreak of the virus Spain forced European equestrian events to be cancelled across the continent.

The International Federation for Equestrian Sports has banned horse shows and competitions 11 April 2021.

The ban is place for upcoming events in 10 EU countries.

The outbreak has called off events in Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Netherlands and Slovakia.

The FEI has imposed a further extension of the shutdown of all international events in mainland Europe until 11 April 2021 due to the ongoing outbreak of the neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus. The move aims to minimise the further spread of the very aggressive strain of the virus. The extended lockdown applies to all FEI disciplines.

International Federation for Equestrian Sports

No events have been cancelled in the UK yet, but British Equestrian are working closely with the Equine Infectious Diseases Advisory Group who are monitoring the EHV-1 situation.

The organisation warned a further pandemic, in humans or horses, would be financially devastating for the equestrian sector.