By Stephanie Shertzer Lawson
Showing at the FEI North American Young Riders Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park, against teams from across the US, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean? You'll need a Coggins and a 30 day Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.
Showing at Devon, Harrisburg, or The Laurels -- three of the country's most prestigious equestrian events? You'll need a Coggins.
Got a kid showing in the egg and spoon class at the Perry County Fair, or any of Pennsylvania's 116 county and community fairs? You'll need a Coggins, rabies certificate, 30 day Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and an Animal Owner or Caretaker's Verification of Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship.
New Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regulations require more in the way of health certificates and vaccinations from backyard horse owners showing at their local fair than are required by competitions for the nation's top horses. And, for a short time earlier this year, the new regulations were intended to pertain to all horses shown in Pennsylvania in 2009.
Perry County Fair
Tara Dawn Hazen runs the one-day, ship in and out, Perry County Fair Horse Show, held August 22. It's populated by fuzzy, serviceably sound, and much loved horses and ponies, many pulled out of the pasture for their single competitive event of the year. For every clipped, sleek, well trained horse, there's another with a bushy mane, long whiskers and bobbing gaits.
Hazen's students at Outlaw Stables in New Bloomfield like showing at the Perry County Fair. "The fair's different" than showing at the farm's own show series, the only other shows most of them attend. "The horses are different," said Erin McClellan, 18, of New Bloomfield, who doesn't show at rated shows because of the expense. "It's a step up from the schooling shows, it gives you a taste of the bigger shows. I like showing in front of people."
"Everyone in the county knows about the fair horse show," Emily Belmont, 18, of Newport, said. "Our friends and people who don't ride know about it. In a way it's the big time for us."
"These are kids who have nothing. This is the biggest thing in the world to them " Hazen told Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) officials at a meeting convened in Representative Mark Keller's office in New Bloomfield in April. She supports efforts to control contagious diseases and protect the health of the horses. Her objection: "What you're requiring really won't solve the problem. The horses can get sick anyway. You're costing them money and not solving anything."
Hazen's frustration is this: Especially in this year of financial challenges, these exhibitors don't have the money for an unbudgeted farm call and CVI, which can cost $60 to $100 or more. And, because a horse can pass a CVI the day before it contracts a contagious disease, the additional expense does not prevent sick horses from showing and infecting others. In addition, because notification was not widely disseminated, exhibitors are only starting to learn of the new regulations.
Hazen was faced with a number of problems. First, notifying exhibitors, half of whom show up the day of the show, expecting to pay their entry fees and compete. Because she has no way to contact them, she anticipated having someone there to inform them that they can't compete without health papers they probably didn't know they needed, and vaccinations that had to be given weeks before. "People will blame the Perry County Fair," she said.
Of those she can contact, she anticipated a firestorm of protest from people who probably already have a Coggins in hand, but did not budget for another vet visit to prepare the necessary paperwork.
Finally, given the obstacles, she had to decide whether or not to try to hold the horse show at all this year.
Influenza OutbreakAn outbreak of equine influenza at the Crawford County Fair last August caused 70 of the 500 horses entered there to become sick. In an unrelated incident, one horse succumbed to colic, but all the influenza-affected horses recovered. Sources say there was an outcry against the fair board, which had a lot of explaining to do about biosecurity and health requirements.
According to Craig Shultz, DVM, Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services, the Crawford County incident caused criticism from individuals and fair boards to be directed at the PDA. "If something were to happen, there was nothing significant to show what was being done to protect animals," he said. "If there are no established heath requirements, the fairs and PDA are vulnerable."
Each year the PDA issues animal health requirements for fairs. The possibility of making these changes had been discussed for years, Shultz said. At the urging of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs animal health committee, the PDA executive committee, consisting of the Secretary, Deputy Secretary and animal health staff, developed the new regulations.
2009 Health Requirements
When first issued in January, the new requirements were called the 2009 Health Requirements for the Exhibition of Horses in Pennsylvania, and were intended to apply to all horses shown in Pennsylvania, Shultz said. They read:
In comparison, health requirements for the 2008 Pennsylvania National Horse Show, which draws a thousand top hunters and jumpers from across the US and Canada, read: A negative Coggins test dated during 2008 must accompany this entry.
Outcry Prompts Roll Back
Penn State Extension officials released the new regulations to 4-H leaders early this spring, and the outcry was intense. "The Secretary received lots of letters from 4-H members, parents and others who complained that the regulations created too great a financial strain," Shultz said. Families with kids in 4-H, many already strapped by the economic downturn, were facing the cost of multiple CVI's in order to show numerous times throughout the summer to qualify for the state 4-H show. In response, and because the rules were imposed at the request of the PSACF board, in March the regulations were revised to apply to horses showing at county and community fairs only.
The outcry would have undoubtedly been more intense had the regulations been more widely circulated. "Youth leaders were notified," Dr. Shultz said. "The information went on the PDA web site January 21, and it was put on c-animalem, a passworded web site for accredited vets and animal health officials. It's too expensive to send out to everyone. We release it to the fair board, and the fair board disseminates through the premium books."
The PDA has no plans to actively enforce the new regulations this year. "Because we are an education- rather than compliance-based agency, we would not cite someone for a first offense," Shultz said.
Premium Books Included
Fairs, including the Clinton County and Bloomsburg Fairs, held August 8 to 15 and September 26 - October 3 respectively, are including the information in their premium books. Bloomsburg added requirements: Horses must also be vaccinated for influenza and Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis.
Arlene Parker, who runs the Clinton County open show, had not considered that exhibitors might be ignorant of the additional requirements, or might stay away because of the cost of complying. "It's usually not a problem but the CVI does require an extra vet visit at a time when I don't normally have the vet coming out for anything. We may be seeing a decrease in entries, and there may be a problem with those who just come in for the day. I guess we better discuss this at our next meeting so we can address it ahead of time," she said.
Owners of Standardbreds that race at fairs are also affected by the new regulations. "Judging by the number of complaints we've received from Standardbred owners, I think they know (about the new health requirements)," Shultz said.
John Flick, who runs harness racing for the Bloomsburg Fair, said by email: "The harness horsemen are a pretty close knit group. I have attended two meetings now where this has been stressed to the horsemen. I think they will look at the schedule and try to work it so they can spread out the tests so they are in compliance at all the events this summer. They may elect to skip an event because of the testing, but I would think that they will get a test that will qualify them for York, Gratz, and then Bloomsburg (all held between September 11 and October 3). Bloomsburg is the last fair on the circuit and I believe the horsemen will have the routine down by that time. I think they will carry many copies of the test in their vehicles just in case. I already have a paddock man who is well known by the horsemen and sees them when they come on the grounds and I am putting him in charge of collecting them."
But Will It Help?
"The problem with the CVI is that the incubation period for most infectious diseases is 5 -14 days," said veterinarian Holly Wendell of the Carlisle Equine Clinic, who says she has many clients who have been affected by the new regulations. "A horse that passes a CVI has the potential to contract an illness and become infectious to other horses within 30 days of that CVI examination. If a health certificate is to be effective it should be done within two weeks.
"Anytime you have horses get together in crowds, there's a chance one will be infectious to others," Wendell, who is also one of the veterinarians for the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, continued. "The only way to make sure no sick horse enters the grounds is to have a vet stationed at the show" to inspect horses as they arrive and turn away any that show signs of illness. "It's a risk you take when you go to horse shows. Many horses are carriers of diseases like herpes, and they shed the virus only when they are stressed. When are they stressed? When they're transported and put in a new environment with lots of other horses. They can shed at a horse show, and have no signs of illness until then."
Wendell says horse owners should be responsible. "I tell my clients, whenever you move into a show you need to totally disinfect the stall before putting your horse in. Owners should be responsible for making sure their horse has no temperature, cough or nasal discharge before putting the horse on the trailer. The onus should be on them."
"The current requirements are defensible and legal and represent a workable, if imperfect, plan to address liability without trampling exhibitor rights," Shultz said. The requirements, he said "cannot be rolled back for fairs." It would take an act of the legislature to repeal the need for the VCPR, which predates the CVI and was established by the FDA long ago to associate an animal with a care provider, he said. Because it's a simple form they have chosen to keep it. Next year, he said, there will be a meeting of all stakeholders before requirements are set.
Perry County Solution
Tara Dawn Hazen's students will get their day in the Perry County Fair spotlight without putting a hole in their parents' pocketbooks. Hazen found a solution, though it doesn't meet the state's requirements. The fair is going to hire a vet to be onsite for the day to inspect and turn away any horse that appears to be sick. It's not what the state requires but "they can't really fine us," she said. But the show will be impacted anyway -- one trainer for whose students the fair is their only show, and who traditionally brings a large number of entries, plans to stage an Unfair Fair horse show at her own farm that day.