• 43°

WEG endurance course awaits USDA approval

Commissioners, TIEC discuss equine disease

MILL SPRING — The endurance course for the upcoming World Equestrian Games is still awaiting approval by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and heard from Commissioner Ray Gasperson, who brought up some concerns about the course, as well as a disease called equine piroplasmosis.

Gasperson released documentation sent to the county from Gregory Atchley, with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, who said the endurance course is not complete, but the USDA has been persuaded to allow for another 30 days to correct the issues.

Atchley also said approximately 40 international horses have tested positive for a tick-borne disease, and are not allowed to compete in the endurance race.

“One of the horses is owned by a member of [United Arab Emirates] royal family,” Atchley said in an email to the county. “Political pressure is anticipated to reverse [the]decision to bar the positive horses.”

Gasperson said the very serious tick-borne disease is piroplasmosis.

Tryon International Equestrian Center Chief Operating Officer Sharon Decker said there was a lot of misinformation in what Gasperson relayed in his documents.

“The USDA is still considering this issue as to whether we will be approved to allow piroplasmosis horses to compete,” Decker said. “We do not have a final decision from them. We will have to have it in the next five days.”

In response to Gasperson’s concern about “political pressure,” Decker said the course has to pass USDA inspection.

“Any kind of decisions where there is any concern about health risk, we don’t want to take any chance and wouldn’t ask them to take any chance,” Decker said.

Decker also said TIEC does not know how many international horses have tested positive for piroplasmosis because they do not get to see those results.

“We would anticipate that in a competition like this on an international level that some horses would test positive, but we do not know the number,” Decker said. “And they will be tested before they leave and again once they get here.”

Gasperson said there are horses that are positive for piroplasmosis but are competing in other countries.

Decker said that is correct, and a common event.

“We have worked with USDA the last 18 months on this issue specifically,” Decker said. “They have given us guidelines for clearing the trails, with mitigation of the trails.”

Decker said getting the course ready has been a real challenge for TIEC, considering all the rain the area has had. The area has already exceed its annual rainfall.

“So we are definitely challenged to get it done and to have done it in a timely manner,” Decker said. “But there have been no exceptions made in what’s required.”

Decker also said TIEC has had to modify a barn, at an extensive cost, for quarantine. She said no horses will arrive in the area until Sept. 2.

Two-thirds of the endurance course is located on one of the managing partners of TIEC’s property, and 1/3 on 47 other properties.

The final inspection for the veterinary treatment facility is Aug. 28, according to Atchley, and the post arrival quarantine barn has already passed the final inspection.

“This will allow horses to come from [Greenville-Spartanburg Airport] and enter quarantine versus having to come in through another international port of entry for quarantine,” Atchley’s email said.

Equine piroplasmosis can be transmitted by ticks or through contaminated blood from infected horses. Transmission can occur when a tick feeds on an infected horse, which then finds a new horse to feed on.

Horses are capable of carrying the parasite for long periods of time without showing signs of the disease. The USDA considers equine piroplasmosis an exotic disease in the United States.

In its acute form, piroplasmosis can present as fever, malaise, reduced appetite, increased pulse rate and respiration, anorexia, constipation followed by diarrhea, tachycardia, petechiae, splenomegaly, thrombocytopenia and hemolytic anemia, leading to hemoglobinuria and icterus, and death in some animals.