Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sudden Death and Biosecurity

Some time ago I posted about my daughter's beloved Morgan gelding who died unexpectedly one December afternoon. The necropsy results were inconclusive.

This week I received an email that set my head spinning even more than usual. At a farm here in New Jersey a horse had died under the same mysterious circumstances and two other horses on the premises had displayed the neurological symptoms that preceded the Morgan's brain death and forced his euthanasia. I passed the news on to my daughter in PA who emailed the farm owner and was put into contact with the vets involved. They were mutually startled to find that they all seem to be dealing with the same problem.

I'm not posting today to belabor the sadness of losing a horse. We all know about that. This is a warning, a heads-up, and a notice from the NJ Dept of Agriculture which I've shamelessly adopted and pasted below. The issue at the farm in question seems to be shaping up as a possible PHF variant. If the "PHF" part of that isn't enough to scare the breeches off you, the "variant" thing certainly should be. Variants turn up when they feel like it, and they're off the medical radar, so no vaccines exist to protect against them.

The symptoms of this current discouraging malady are both neurological (from leaning against a wall for balance, through seizures and collapse) and gastro-enterological (colic, inability to eat, dehydration due to insufficient water intake). The post-mortem shows dead tissue in the liver and other internal organs and rampant bacterial proliferation of something called c.sordellii. The whole disease process is quick and frightening in its relentlessness.

If you have any horses showing signs of this nature, don't panic, but do contact your vet and your state Department of Agriculture. The disease is not contagious through contact with infected horses. It is contracted by horses who come into contact with fecal matter (like the manure spread on fields) of other infected animals. The warnings and recommendations in the notice below should be taken seriously and adhered to diligently. This is not a pretty end for any horse.

Biosecurity – Keeping your animals safe and healthy

As a service to horse and livestock owners and farm managers and in lieu of recent questions that have been raised in New Jersey concerning contagious horse disease(s), The Division of Animal Health at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is providing recommendations on biosecurity practices and management tools to keep your animals safe and healthy both at home and at competitions.

Biosecurity is the series of management steps taken to prevent the introduction of infectious agents into an animal herd. Most diseases are spread through direct or physical contact, oral ingestion through contamination of feed or water, or inhalation of infectious agents. Disease can also be transmitted via fomites. A fomite is an inanimate object or substance that is capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another. This would include brushes, pitchforks, wheel barrels, automobile tires, clothing, shoes and even human hands. Keeping in mind how disease is spread should help you in reducing the risk that infectious agents are carried onto your farm.

Precautions to protect your horses/livestock:

• Clean and disinfect equipment such as bits, bridles, lead shanks and clippers between use on different animals.

• Horse specific equipment such as water buckets, feed buckets, and halters should be clearly labeled as belonging to an individual horse and used only on that horse.

• When filling water buckets, keep the nozzle of the hose above the water level to avoid carrying infectious agents from one bucket to the next.

• Wheel barrels should only ever be used for either feed/hay or waste removal. DO NOT use the same wheel barrel for both.

• Multi-dose medications such as dewormers or paste medications should not be shared between horses.

• Quarantine new arrivals for at least 30 days (horses returning from stays off the farm should be quarantined for at least 2 weeks). During quarantine do not allow nose to nose contact. Monitor the quarantined animals daily and take daily temperatures – this will help in early detection of disease. Keep separate equipment for the quarantine animals. This includes pitchfork, wheel barrel and brushes. Care for the quarantine animals last.

• Visitors to the farm should wear clean clothes and shoes. They may cover their shoes with plastic shoe covers or be asked to spray their shoes with disinfectant. If you have visited another farm or been to a competition, you should change shoes and clothes as well as wash your hands before entering your barn.

When off premises with your horse/livestock, avoid using commensal water buckets, feed buckets, tack or equipment. Avoid hand grazing your animals at shows as this should also be considered a common eating area. Avoid you or your animal having contact with animals of unknown origin.

If you suspect your animal is ill, it should be examined by a licensed veterinarian. If the sick animal is not already in quarantine, isolate it from having further contact with other
animals in your barn. In the case of a reportable disease or disease outbreak, your veterinarian will notify the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

About New Beginnings . . .

Someone recently said something about feral horses. It might have been me. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was. Someone was pretty worried about the whole getting back on a horse after a long layoff thing. That was probably me too. Someone is an idiot.

I haven't been busy blogging (did we really need a new verb?) because I've been busy riding. This is a truly wondrous thing. Even more wondrous is that I haven't fallen off, not even once, not even almost. I did have some issues with raising my leg high enough to get it over the horse's back (apparently horses, left fallow, will grow quite tall). I recognized the wisdom in the design of back supporters, particularly those amazing Professional's Choice models with their infinite adjustability and protection that would make even a linebacker sigh.

But the coolest, most wondrous, most electric realization of all is the one that came when I finally worked up the energy to throw that leg over the monster horse, Zipper. He was fine. We briefly revisited his kicking-out-to-the-side-in-protest issue, but the months off gave me ample time to watch more training videos than I even knew existed. I was able to apply at least a tiny bit of what I thought I'd seen, and a new day dawned on a happy and willing partnership. Yes indeedy, Zip and me, we're buds again and loving it.

My most important conclusion from all of this random learning is that horses may not have the same time sense we humans have. To me, eight months was an incredibly long time to do (or not do) anything. I was bored, nervous, antsy, crabby, and generally impolite in polite company. The horses were not. They were fine. They were just as I'd left them as if no time had elapsed at all. In fact, they were better than fine. Whatever might have been bothering Zip had eight months to go away, and so it did. I had it in my head all along that there was a physical cause for his mental craziness and behavioral putziness. I'm thinking I might have been right. I may never know what the problem was, and that's okay. He doesn't know what was wrong with me, either, and he could care less. I'm okay now, and that's the bottom line. We're All Okay.

So to those folks who argue that too much time off is bad for a horse, I say "Ha!" Sure, Leo, who turned 22 while my back was turned, is taking a while to get into shape, but he's running poles and doing lateral work without complaining, which is just dandy as far as I'm concerned. By the time I'm firing on all cylinders again, he probably will be too.

Zip was born in shape and seems to magically stay that way. At 11 he's got all the gusto he had when he was 5. More, in fact, as he's learned along the way that I'm not too stupid to know a squirrel from a cougar, a trust which is evident in his willingness to follow my commands without as much discussion as the five-year-old verion of him insisted upon.

Dakota is Dakota. He's kind and slow and obedient (for the most part), and we never ask him to do much, so "in shape" isn't in his vocabulary. That will change this coming spring when a real new beginning will (hopefully) find us all ready to start again on whatever path whispers most sweetly to my vapid horseperson brain. I'm thinking some long trail rides for Dakota, maybe--just maybe--some more dressage tests for Leo and Zip, and for me, less introspection and more laughing with the horses.

My new book is out, by the way, with a glaring error soon to be rectified. Horses in the Yard (and Other Equestrian Dilemmas) is the title, in case you've forgotten (said earnestly as if at one time you knew and/or cared), and I'll happily sell you an autographed copy if you email me. Note I said sell not just send. I need to become rich and famous on your dime or it's not going to happen at all. Writing books is second only to watching training tapes on the list of Good Things To Do When You Can't Do Anything Else. Make a note. Someone needs to write a book about the nonsense we foul our lives with to keep us stressed and our horses wondering why we can't see what a lovely day it is for a peaceful graze. That won't be me. I'll be out riding.