European Equestrian Stakeholders Review Return to Shows Amid Equine Herpes, Corona Virus Concerns

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Mar. 24, 2021

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) held a stakeholder consultation session Wednesday to review requirements for a return to competitions in Europe April 12 designed to prevent a recurrence of the Equine Herpes Virus EHV-1 as the coronavirus pandemic is in its second year.

The session came amidst a lockdown of all international and many national horse shows in 11 nations and the “blocking” of almost 4,000 horses in the FEI database that means the horses must be isolated until cleared by a negative PCR test.

At least 17 horses linked to the outbreak described as the worst in decades have died while others have died or sustained serious debilitating effects of EHV-1 from contact with horses that were in Spain.

The FEI pledged  a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the outbreak” that began at the jumping competition in Valencia, Spain in February and the governing body said was reported to the Lausanne, Switzerland headquarters Feb. 20.

The EHV-1 outbreak on top of the coronavirus pandemic has seriously disrupted the competition calendar and limited opportunities for dressage, jumping and eventing combinations to prepare for the Olympics in Tokyo in late July and August that have already been put off for a year.

“Our goal is to learn from this and not to point fingers,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos told the session, who added that though the outbreak was “devastating,” it will be “another milestone in our collective effort to overcome this, to learn from it and to make us stronger for the future.”

But a muddled FEI response that allowed the Sunshine Tour of jumpers also in Spain to continue and participants at the Valencia event reported by some European media accusing the organizers of a cover-up has led to demands for accountability.

Two international dressage competitions are scheduled for Valencia the second half of April and the European Championships for dressage Junior and Young Riders and Children are on the calendar for July.

However, among organizations early on the front lines was the German federation that sent veterinarians to Valencia and the International Jumping Riders Club and members that provided vital services including temporary stabling so horses could be isolated as well as a local veterinary college that provided volunteers, while France helped arrange biosecure pathways for horses to return home from Spain.

Areas covered during Wednesday’s session included include biosecurity and mitigation plans for outbreaks of infectious disease for all FEI events; mandatory advance PCR testing for designated events and temperature monitoring; enhanced examination arriving at events; athlete self-certification for the health of their horses; stabling at shows; minimizing nose-to-nose contact between horses; control of dogs, and basic hygiene. The FEI said the group provided broad consensus for the proposals.

Although vaccinations were discussed, FEI Veterinary Director Göran Åkerström of Sweden advised there are no vaccines which are effective against the neurological form of the virus that caused the current outbreak.

“Vaccinated horses have still become sick and,” the FEI said in a statement, “in addition, there are currently very limited supplies of EHV vaccines available in Europe.”

Included in the session was Beatriz Ferrer Salat of Spain, Klaus Roeser of Germany representing the International Dressage Riders Club and Frank Kemperman as chair of the FEI Dressage Committee.