Two dead: equine virus hits Venturing Hills


Olympic event and champion horse Paradigm Shift (aka Dime) under the watchful eyes of Rae Becke in the outdoor paddock at Venturing Hills.


MUNICIPALITY OF PONTIAC – An extremely virulent neurological form of the Equid alphaherpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) virus has devastated the owners, staff and horses at Venturing Hills Farm (VHF) over the past three weeks. With already reduced tourist income, a pandemic within a pandemic has hit hard at the farm, with 18 animals infected; two have already died. Older horses and the very young, are more susceptible to becoming extremely ill, with up to an 80% mortality rate. This is the first outbreak of EHV-1 in the area in about 30 years. It cannot be spread to humans.
Rae Becke owns and runs the family farm with her partner. Normally, they offer a riding and training school as well as boarding. She said the outbreak began after purchasing a horse from the Toronto area in January.
“Within days we started seeing horses getting ill. The oldest horse on the farm, Eddie, died within days in a slow and difficult death. As Eddie had exhibited signs
of neurological dysfunction, blood work was done to establish a cause of
death and the results were devastating – he had died from the neurological form of EHV-1,” said Becke.
“Many tears have been cried during this terrible time. The horses lose leg functioning, suffer respiratory failure, develop high fever with nasal discharge and thrash about. We are working day and night to save our herd. There are still six healthy horses. We are keeping our outdoor horses in the paddocks to not
contaminate their living space. The virus lives on clothing and hands for up to six hours, so transmission is a constant danger. A horses’ cough or sneeze can spread the virus in a 35 foot radius. Maintaining proper health protocols is very important in containing the spread,” she explained.
In fact, it takes the veterinarian up to five hours to disinfect herself, medical equipment and vehicle before leaving the premises. “She comes into the barn with a hazmat suit on and looks totally alien,” Becke told the Journal.
Saving their horses means day and night work: taking their temperature every two hours, administering anti-virals as often as necessary (costing between $500 and $2,000 per dose), giving anti-inflammatory and other medications such as intravenous fluids, and walking them to observe how steady they are on
their legs. The horses must take anti-viral medications for 21 days after their last symptoms.
Becke said she has been comforted by the help and donations of volunteers. A neighbouring horse farm owner donated $800 worth of disinfectant, while other neighbours, family and friends have brought food and meals so the owners can focus on caring for their livestock. Others have helped build stalls to separate sick horses. A GoFundMe page was created to help Becke deal with the costs of essential medications, raising about $60,000 to date.
While Becke works hard to save her herd and business, she also worries about the aftermath as she presumes horse owners will be reluctant to visit her farm and use her training paddocks and lodging facilities in the near future. Getting things under control as fast as possible is her focus.
Becke was hoping to have definitive testing done on her entire herd by February 18. The University of California offered free test swabs, valued at about $15,000 USD, and the vet donated her time to do the swabbing. The results will give Becke a better idea of the health status of her animals.