Wellington Equestrian Partners, Tequestrian Farms Make $100,000 Grant for Study of EHV-1

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HITS Post Time show grounds in Ocala, Florida where the latest outbreak of EHV-1, the equine herpes virus, occurred.
HITS Post Time show grounds in Ocala, Florida where the latest outbreak of EHV-1, the equine herpes virus, occurred.

WELLINGTON, Florida, Mar. 14–Wellington Equestrian Partners, organizers of the Winter Equestrian Festival, and Tequestrian Farms announced¬† Thursday a $100,000 grant to Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky for research of the EHV-1 neurologic disease.

A special Veterinary Committee is planned, and WEP and Tequestrian will also lead in gathering information for established protocols for owners, treating veterinarians and horse show managers to prevent and neutralize EHV-1 at equestrian events.

Tom Tisbo, owner of Tequestrian Farms, said: “We are interested in helping to fund new EHV-1 research after our experience with a false-positive case. The ongoing problems the equine community in the United States has faced with EHV-1 and its impact on the horse are a sign that more work needs to be done to understand this devastating disease.”

With the news of more cases of EHV-1 in the United States and the potential impact on horse welfare, WEP and their operating entity, Equestrian Sport Productions, believe that research to understand the “wild strain” of the disease, whether the “wild strain” is mutating, established protocols on veterinary care, and uniform biosecurity measures at horse shows are of paramount importance.

The grant came after the apparent end of the latest outbreak of EHV-1 that led to the quarantining of the Horse Shows in the Sun HITS show grounds in Ocala, Florida and horses from that facility transported to Palm Beach that prompted short term quarantine in and around Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. An EHV-1 outbreak in Wellington in 2006 led to the deaths of several horses but was brought under control before the start of the Winter Equestrian Festival which attracts thousands of horses from around the world.

Focus of the research is to:
Determine the virulence of the virus during an outbreak;
Provide an understanding of the molecular basis of the neurologic disease;
Improve techniques for diagnosis of EHV-1, and
Provide a basis for development of more effective vaccines.

“The Tisbos approached me with the idea of helping the equestrian industry become more informed about EHV-1,” said ESP CEO and WEP Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo. “We think a grant to Gluck is a great first step and hope that with a Veterinary Committee’s assistance we can start the conversation of getting universal protocols for the prevention and treatment of this disease. We want to make sure that all of the horses coming to our horse shows are healthy, but also help determine the best way to apply standard measures at events. We want to learn from our recent experience and not look back, but forward, in order to get the best from a bad situation.”

A false-positive test occurred on a horse at Tequestrian Farms, adjoining the WEF show grounds, producing incorrect information. The original positive blood test was found to be a false positive as supported by several subsequent negative nasal and blood tests. Additionally, all Tequestrian horses at their Wellington facility, including the horse in question, have been retested with negative results. None of the horses at this facility had ever shown any neurological signs and are completely healthy. An independent veterinarian with a PhD in virology and a specialist in infectious disease has confirmed these findings and supported the Florida State Veterinarian’s decision to lift the quarantine.

“Our goal is to help elevate the standard of the industry, protect horse welfare, protect the sport, and protect communities where shows operate. With the capability and possible consequences of this disease, it’s in everyone’s best interests to learn more and be on the same page,” Mark Bellissimo said.