Horse Herpes: It's No Laughing Matter | Buzz Blog
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Horse Herpes: It's No Laughing Matter



OK, we all laughed -- or at least stared in bafflement -- when we first saw this brilliant KSL headline from Thursday: "Horse herpes outbreak forces rodeo queens to ride stick ponies."---

It's a truly great headline, and I envy the editor who came up with it -- few peak experiences in an editor's life could surpass the joy of an opportunity to juxtapose three images as provocative as horse herpes, rodeo queens and stick ponies in a single hed!

Not surprisingly, the ample fruits of that editor's peak experience have gone on to achieve prominence as a Facebook meme, and were even declared "Headline of the Week" on Boing Boing -- a noteworthy accolade, particularly considering "Headline of the Week" is not even a weekly Boing Boing feature. (Apparently, it's an honor awarded, not according to some arbitrary schedule but only when merited, much like the National Geographic Society's prestigious Hubbard Medal.)

The KSL story played up the stick-horse angle: Junior Queen contestants in Davis County were judged on their horsemanship without the benefit of actual horses. And it features cute videos of bright, ambitious girls trotting around road cones placed at strategic locations about the Golden Spike Arena. Hahaha. And, now, the weather.

But, once you get past the cuteness of it all, isn't it a genuinely tragic story? It makes me feel sad, actually.

The reason the contestants were not allowed to bring their horses is because they love their horses, and don't want to risk exposing them to a highly infectious and potentially deadly contagion known as Equine Herpes Virus 1. Despite the implications of its name, however, it is not a horse STD. Nor are humans susceptible. EHV-1 is transmitted among horses much like the flu virus is transmitted among people.

Many horses infected with EHV-1 -- the lucky ones -- merely develop respiratory, flu-like symptoms that clear up after several days. Then there are the other, less fortunate horses, which instead come down with a severe neurological disorder known as myeloencephalopathy, causing muscle weakness and paralysis. Oftentimes, the treatment for a horse with myeloencephalopathy is to shoot it.

Panic ensued following an EHV-1 outbreak in early May during the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships in Ogden. The horse death toll spans several states. According to a days-old USDA APHIS report, in Utah alone, there were:

"Seven confirmed cases. The state has had its first fatality, reported by state veterinarian Bruce King on Saturday evening. He said the horse was found lying down in its stall in Utah County. All attempts to get the horse to rise were fruitless and it was euthanized. As of Friday evening, there were two additional confirmed cases of EHV-1 within the state, at two additional properties, both of which were placed under restrictions. One is in Weber County, the other in Kane County. The five other confirmed cases are in Utah County, at one property. This updates formal APHIS figures, which indicated two of these cases were suspected, but unconfirmed."

According to a more current APHIS report on the Ogden outbreak [PDF format]:

  • * A total of 75 confirmed EHV-1 or EHM cases have been reported in 9 states (AZ, CA, CO, IDAHO, NM, NV, OR, UTAH, WA)
  • * Of the 75 confirmed EHV/EHM cases, 58 cases are horses that were at the Ogden, Utah event.
  • * There are 11 horses associated with this incident that are dead or have been euthanized.
  • * There are 15 newly identified premises with suspect or confirmed cases identified this reporting period.

So, the threat of an EHV-1 outbreak is severe. And, OK, rather than canceling the whole Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest, it made some sense to have the girls run on foot through the barrel events -- this allowed them at least to demonstrate they had a mental grasp of the basic serpentine and cloverleaf racing patterns.

Still, it must have been a huge disappointment for them, after they had spent weeks, months or years practicing elegant one-handed Western reining, and timing their ride durations down to tenths of a second.

And, for some reason I will never understand, they had to suffer the added indignity of carrying kiddie stick-horses with them. If we were honest with ourselves, I think we'd admit that that little touch was more for the benefit of the audience ("Aw, lookit the cute little things ...") rather than to teach the young women about resilience or to test their "ability to adapt."

All I can say is brava to them all for having the patience to put up with the demands of unreasonable adults.

Brandon's Big Gay Blog