The racing world was shook on Wednesday afternoon by the news that there will be no racing until at least Wednesday 13th February due to an outbreak of ‘Equine Influenza’.
Equine Influenza is the horse version of the regular human cold. The virus is similar in the to the human version but humans can’t catch it and vice versa. Humans can carry the disease on their bodies, clothes and equipment. The virus is contracted by inhaling it and can be passed on in the air. Once it has been breathed in, it causes the lining of the Airways to become inflamed, which makes the horse’s throat very sore and it gives them a nasty cough.
The disease isn’t normally fatal but can lead to complications like pneumonia and long term health issues, which could result in fatalities. Young and older horses are most at risk of contracting the illness.
All racehorses are vaccinated but it has been reported that this strain of the disease is affecting vaccinated horses.
• High temperatures (39-41 C)
• A dry cough
• Clear, watery nasal discharge (may become thick, yellow and green)
• Enlarged glands in the lower jaw
• Clear discharge from the eyes and redness around them
• Loss of appetite
• Filling in lower limbs.
• Good stable ventilation
• Soaked hay/feed to make it easier for them to swallow
• Turned out often in recovery
This virus is very contagious which is the reason for such severe precautions being taken by the BHA. They stated that it is “standard procedure” in the event of an outbreak being reported to restrict the movement of racehorses around the country.
It has been released that the virus outbreak began at Donald McCain’s Yard in Cheshire. Originally, it was thought that just three horses had contracted the disease but the news broke on Friday afternoon that three more horses- including Raise A Spark who ran at Ayr this week- have the disease. Apparently, the horse showed no signs of this on Race Day.
The BHA also announced that there was another runner who has since shown symptoms. Because of this, a further fifty four yards have been placed on lock down, increasing the total to one hundred and seventy four.
Yards that have been locked down include those of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Henderson believes that it is very important to know what the situation is immediately. “The repercussions of this are unthinkable as we could be without racing for weeks, months or longer – who knows? It’s important that this problem is sorted straight away one way or the other.”
Trainer Paul D’Arcy, on the other hand, thinks that more could’ve been done in the first place, “I said to the BHA person that they knew about this six months ago and only advised people to give booster jabs. What should have happened is they should have checked their passports at the races and said if the horse had not had a jab in the last three months they weren’t allowed into the course. As usual, it’s a reaction to a reaction.”
The British Equestrian Foundation have said that “It is currently not not necessary to cancel other equine events at this time.”
In my opinion, the BHA have done the right thing by cancelling racing and in doing so have hopefully prevented the spread of the disease so far. Admittedly, it is very disappointing that racing is cancelled until Wednesday or possible later but the horses’ welfare is the most important thing right now.
The decision about when racing will resume will take place on Monday.
If you think your horse is showing signs of the disease, please contact your vet as soon as possible and do not go to any event/competition with them.