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WEG will be a tick-free zone

FEI veterinarian: No way disease will spread to local horses

COLUMBUS — While some have expressed concern over more than 60 horses coming to the World Equestrian Games who have tested positive for a tick-borne disease, WEG officials say they have taken every precaution and then some to ensure the local horse population is protected.

To answer questions of if equine piroplasmosis could be spread to local horses, Tryon International Equestrian Center Chief Operating Officer Sharon Decker brought Fédération Equestre Internationale Veterinary Director Göran Akerström, of Switzerland, to Tuesday night’s county commissioner meeting. 

Göran Akerström

Akerström said there are 63 horses total who have tested positive for equine piroplasmosis and 39 of those are scheduled to run in the endurance race on Wednesday. The endurance race is a 100-mile course, with the trails going through private property.

Akerström explained the process of testing, saying all horses are tested 30 days before arrival. He said if a horse on the same flight tests negative as horses that tested positive, the negative horses are also treated, just to be sure.

As soon as horses arrive, the United States Department of Agriculture takes blood samples and sends the samples to a lab in Iowa.

“We are taking double samples, and know exactly which horses are positive and negative,” Akerström said. “Every time they go in they are searched [for ticks] and not by us, but by USDA officials. They are also shampooed on a number of occasions with something that kills off ticks.”

Akerström said horses that are positive for equine piroplasmosis also have a special marking in their equipment so they can recognize them.

“So we take it very seriously,” he said.

After the third loop of the endurance course, horses are sprayed as well.

“There is no way on earth that a tick would survive long enough to get a blood meal,” Akerström said.

On the course itself, Akerström said officials are taking out the habitat for ticks. On kudzu, for example, he said they went further than the USDA required.

“They asked for 30 feet; we went 50 feet,” Akerström said. “I hope this comforts you.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said, with all the measures taken, it seems almost impossible that a transmission could occur. He said with all the extreme measures required, he wondered if the WEG could be held without allowing horses that are piroplasmosis positive.

“You’re going through such extreme measures to let them compete,” Gasperson said.

Akerström said in order to really call it the World Equestrian Games, the horses have to be allowed to compete. He said piroplasmosis is fairly common in other countries, so it could not be called the world championships without allowing them.

“Very few countries in the world are concerned about piroplasmosis,” he said.

Commissioner Tommy Melton asked how long the turn around is on test results.

Akerström said the horses arrived on Sunday, and they got the test results back earlier  on Tuesday.

“No horses are allowed out of the quarantine until blood samples are back and negative,” he said.

Melton asked if for the endurance race, all horses will be negative for piroplasmosis.

Akerström said no, there will be 39 horses competing in the endurance race that have tested positive. Piroplasmosis is curable, he said, but the horses that test positive still have the antibodies.

“We are not competing with sick horses out there,” Akerström said. “There’s no way they could do that. They couldn’t pass the tests.”

He explained that there are strict tests on heart rates and body condition, and a sick horse would not be able to compete on those levels.

Commissioner Myron Yoder asked if any local horses tested positive following the WEG event held in Kentucky.

“No. None whatsoever,” Akerström said.

Akerström also said a “very picky” USDA inspector spent 11 hours on the course and reported that it was great and fabulous. He said the USDA gave its approval on site, and WEG got a formal letter 24 hours later of the USDA’s approval. He also said the contributions from landowners in both Polk County and Landrum have been great.

Decker said TIEC has signed agreements with the landowners who have allowed the course through their properties  that the organizers will leave the properties as well as they found it.

Decker also addressed concerns of horses and riders using the restroom on the course. She said the course is not a continuous 100 miles, with the average being 20-mile loops. She said all loops start and return at TIEC, with horses being checked periodically and riders go to the bathroom during those checks.