Horse disease hits Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – An outbreak of equine herpes in Colorado has put several youth events on hold for at least a few weeks, and could affect summer rodeos and other events.
The outbreak started recently when eight cutting horses brought home the virus from an event in Ogden, Utah. So far there are nine confirmed cases and another 22 suspected cases in Colorado. Two horses have been euthanized so far.
There have not been any confirmed cases of the disease in Eagle County.
Equine herpes won’t spread to humans, but it’s easily passed from horse to horse through sharing equipment or drinking out the same water trough. While the symptoms can be treated successfully, the disease is often fatal.
To help stop the spread of the disease, 12 ranches in eight Colorado counties – including Garfield – have been put under either “hold” or “quarantine” orders, meaning animals can’t enter or leave those ranches.
Several events at the Colorado Fairgrounds have been canceled, and the Eagle County Commissioners last week closed the county fairgrounds to any equine events until further notice.
That’s put just about all local 4-H horse activities on hold for the moment. The biggest of those is practice for the Freedom Riders drill team. Other 4-H events around the region have either been canceled already or may be soon.
“We’re hoping to lift the restrictions in another two or three weeks,” local 4-H coordinator Jenny Wood said. “We’re waiting for word from the state.”
Colorado Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Christi Lightcap said the state doesn’t have a database of every event that’s been canceled or ranch that’s imposed its own restrictions. It’s up to private ranchers and others to decide what precautions to take, she said.
But the state has made a change in the way horses are allowed to be transported into the state. Now, in addition to a couple of standard health certifications, the state also requires owners to register with the state so officials can better track the animals.
While state and local animal health officials try to contain the outbreak, the Beaver Creek Resort Company continues to plan for this summer’s Beaver Creek Rodeo Series, set to start June 30.
“We’re being very optimistic,” said Jean Dennison of the resort company.
If the outbreak continues and horse transportation is limited, the rodeo could go with bull riding and other events, Dennison said, but even those would be affected without horses to chase the other animals.
Kimberly Adams owns Beaver Creek Stables. That company’s horses have been on pasture land south of Eagle during the offseason, and all the horses are healthy. But Adams is still concerned, for both her business and the horses.
“It’s very scary how contagious and deadly this is,” Adams said. “I’m just thankful for the Internet because it’s kept all of us up to date on this.”