By Shauna Bogardus
New health regulations (including flu vaccinations and health inspections) for the horses to be exhibited at the Crawford County Fair have a great number of people upset. Showing horses at the fair is an expensive proposition anyway, but the changes that are coming at us are going to make it far more expensive.
Some of the fees we pay to be at the fair inevitably go up each year, but the new health requirements will most likely cost close to $200 per horse depending on which services a person uses. The fair’s Horse and Pony Committee has also informed us that we will have to bring our own bedding for the animals for the week, so that will be another additional expense.
First, let’s be clear about why the fair board implemented the “new” requirements for horses at the Crawford County Fair. It has much more to do with the fact that these vaccinations and tests are being required by the state than concern for horse health in the county. Our governor has cut the amount of funding available to the county fairs by half, and if the fair board does not enforce the state regulations, our fair will not be eligible for any of the funds. So this is actually more of a money issue than a health issue.
Now let’s look at the requirements, most certainly a relationship with a veterinarian is a good thing for horse owners, so there is not much of a problem with that. The fact that all horses must have a certificate issued within 30 days of the opening day of the fair may present a problem for the veterinarians as there were as many as 500 horses just in the saddle horse and pony department and there were approximately 100 draft horses exhibited last year. So scheduling the examinations of these horses for this certification may be a logistical nightmare. Even greater will be the problem of getting all of these horses unloaded at the fair, when they may not be taken off a trailer until a vet has cleared them. If the weather is hot, which it usually is at fair time, horses are going to be stressed just waiting to get off a trailer. And how thorough can a vet be when trying to examine that many horses in the space of two days?
Another requirement is the test for Equine Infectious Anemia which must be completed within 12 months prior to the opening date of the fair. The test proves only that the horse did not have the disease at the moment blood was drawn for the test. It does not guarantee that the horse is not currently infected. More money for the state and the veterinarians, yes; significant benefit to horses, no.
Current rabies vaccinations are also required. According to the statistics from the State Veterinary Laboratory there have been three cases of rabies in Crawford County in the last three years; two were bats and one was a raccoon. There have been three cases of equine rabies in the entire state in the last three years, one was in 2006, two cases were in 2007 and there were none in 2008. It is interesting to note that horses were not required to have the rabies vaccine last year, and still no horse in Pennsylvania contracted the disease. It is still more interesting to know that 24 horses were either allowed to die or were killed so that they could be tested for rabies, and none of them had it. Many horse owners in this area are against giving their horses this vaccine because most of us know at least one person who had a horse die from an adverse reaction to this vaccination.
Those are the only requirements that come directly from the state, but now the fair board is also going to require equine influenza vaccines also. We all know from human flu vaccines that the formula for a vaccine is just a guessing game because you can never predict what strain of the virus will strike. The idea is that if the body has similar antibodies it will fight the infection. Every horse that got that flu last year will now have antibodies for that flu and will not likely get it again. However, allowing the vaccine to be given up to 15 days prior will ensure that some horses who receive it will be sick at fair time or, worse, get sick after coming to the fair.
The major problem with horses getting sick at the fair has more to do with horsemanship than veterinary care. Some people bring horses who are sick or depressed to begin with, then put them into a stall that has been used by many other horses that may or may not have been sick, without first sanitizing the stall. Then they do not clean stalls, they do not feed or water at regular intervals, and probably worst of all, ride these horses and ponies to the point of exhaustion. This is poor horsemanship. Proper basic horse health and care used to be the focus of 4-H. Unfortunately, 4-H now seems mainly concerned with trainers and winning. While the majority of the exhibitors are genuinely concerned with the care of their animals, those who do not properly care for theirs affect us all. The general public likes to feed and pet all the horses, so they are just as likely to pet a sick horse as any and the next horse they touch will be exposed.
While there is little we can do about the state regulations at this time, some simple rules could go a long way toward promoting better horse health. More vaccinations and tests will not necessarily prevent sickness at the fair. The horse community needs to come together to contact those who are making the rules to be sure they are benefiting horses.
The end result of all of this is going to be a big hit to the bottom line of the fair. Many exhibitors will no longer come. That means loss of entry fees, camper fees and gate passes, not to mention the hit the concessionaires will take due to the fact that exhibitors live there for the week and eat every meal there. While fewer horses may be fine with the fair board, the loss to the fair itself will be great. Years of family, community and tradition will be lost to rising costs.
As an exhibitor for the past 10 years I am very sad to see this happen.
Bogardus runs WindSong Acres Registered Morgans and has been a Crawford County Fair exhibitor for 10 years.
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