Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Australia: Equine Influenza, changing lives

Jay Randle

The current Equine Influenza epidemic is causing the entire equine industry in Australia a great deal of grief. The bug was apparently brought into the country by a 'shuttle' TB stallion, although the enquiry has not yet determined if the stallion came from Ireland or Japan. You can read about the government's inquiry into the situation at: www.equineinfluenzainquiry.gov.au

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) facility into which these stallions were taken for their 2-week arrival quarantine period has since been shown to have been extremely lax about all methods of quarantine operations!

Our government agencies who are supposed to deal with these types of problems immediately swung into action with a plan that was prepared about 10 years ago, and which was predicated on the virus being spread by direct horse to horse contact. Unfortunately, this virus decided that it would spread itself by a variety of other means, including being borne on the wind, and on people's clothing and vehicles, etc.

Also unfortunately, the spread of the virus was helped by infected horses being moved prior to the virus becoming noticed in them. (You must remember that we have NEVER had EI in Australia before, and our horses have NEVER been vaccinated against it, therefore we have an extremely open naive population.)

And this virus doesn't discriminate! All types of horses are being struck down: some end up worse off than others, some are dying, some are having long-term effects, some have a bit of a snotty nose. This is the breeding season Down Under, so we have thousands of foals on the ground or due, and they seem to be getting the worst of the virus with many foals dying or experiencing unheard-of difficulties.

The equine industry is Australia's THIRD LARGEST industry, for income, employment and associated businesses. This has hit us all really hard! The Racing Industry comprises about 30% of the overall equine industry in Australia, but it is the Racing Industry that is getting the major portion of the support and assistance from the government, including free vaccinations of their horses. Of course, the Racing Industry has a lot of clout, with taxes from gambling and huge figures paid for horses and breeding fees. Also, some of the Racing Industry's high-profile players have an inordinate amount of influence in our government.

The rest of the equine industry are getting pretty peeved about the situation, and if you want to read more about it all you should check out the EI blog page at www.horsedeals.com.au for the latest whinges and comments.

On a personal note: I am a full-time endurance horse and rider trainer, and I have been locked down since 25 August. That means I have had no income since then, apart from basic agistment fees from my clients. I have 28 horses and 1 newborn foal on my 40-acre property, with two more foals due within the month. We have been in drought conditions for years now, so there is no natural feed on the place. I am not allowed to move any of my horses to an agistment property that I lease (where I already have another 8 horses), and I am not allowed to sell any horses.

My feed bill is approximately $1600 per week, and my income has dropped to approximately $700 per week (agistment fees). My usual income is supplemented by training fees, lesson fees, and tours for international endurance riders.

I am certainly not the worst off, however! So far my horses are well, although this morning I noticed a few snotty noses starting to appear. The closest confirmed cases of EI are about 1km away from me, so I certainly expect to get the virus in the near future.

We are not allowed to vaccinate! It is illegal to privately import any vaccines into Australia. The government is limiting vaccinations to the race horses and the TB breeding stock, and certain other "high-value" horses such as police horses, entertainment horses, Olympic horses, etc. Endurance horses (even high value ones like mine :-)) are being ignored.

As of this morning the government has announced that they have purchased enough of the vaccine to start vaccinating 'pleasure' horses as well as racehorses.... far too late for some. This blanket vaccination program will take weeks, if not months, to be finalised, and we will stilll all be in lockdown until after the last horse is over any effects of the virus. The effect on our economy is going to be pretty huge by the time it's all over.

Our endurance season has been stopped in its tracks, with all rides cancelled for the rest of the year. In fact, it looks like we won't have any rides until after May 2008 at the earliest.

Anyway, enough of my whining. Just thought you'd like to know what's going on here, and what EI is doing to us. I am happy to answer any questions.

Best regards

Jay Randle
SPLENDACREST ENDURANCE TRAINING
www.freewebs.com/splendacrest

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