Hold your horses: Why most horses will be banned from Horse Expo

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It's a case of no one wanting to be accused of closing the barn door after the horse has left the building. The Minnesota Horse Expo, scheduled for April 25-27, will ban most horses this year because of a contagious lethal virus that has been reported in parts of Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa.

FOX 9 reports that the outbreak began near the end of March, and so far, at least 9 horses have contracted a neurological form of equine herpes virus-1 (EHV-1). Three of them have been put down as a result.

The Horse Expo, held annually at the State Fair, is scheduled to begin just as a voluntary horse lockdown ends. Veterinarians called for a quarantine to halt the spread of the disease and recommended that no horses be moved or intermingled for at least two weeks from the last positive case of equine herpes. That voluntary quarantine concludes as the Horse Expo is scheduled to open, which means there will be 300 empty stalls in barns on the fairgrounds. Organizers are limiting the number of show horses due to the outbreak.

The Horse Expo Facebook page has a statement signed by the Expo's board of directors and staff. It reads in part, that the board "has decided to limit the horses coming to the Expo to PRCA rodeo stock and participants, Ma’Ceo horses, clinician presentation horses, and the pony and wagon ride horses. Breed and registry groups, private farms and stables will NOT be bringing horses to Expo, but may set up informational displays in the Horse Barn."

The statement goes on to note that "bio-safety measures will be taken before and during the Expo to safeguard the health of the limited horses that will be allowed at the event." It adds that a health certificate with temperature recorded on the document from an accredited veterinarian will be required for horses coming to Expo.

Access to horses by the visiting public will be restricted or not allowed at all. The highly-contagious virus has no effect on people but since humans can spread the disease, the Expo's management will request that everyone who attends wash their hands before, between and after handling horses. Petting the horses that are on site will be forbidden and the Expo will offer hand sanitizer and foot baths at the entrance and exit of the barns.

The Minnesota Horse Expo says that it brings together some 400 vendors who offer horse-lovers a variety of products, information and services and educational presentations.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that the Midwest Horse Fair, held in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend, initiated precautionary measures to thwart the spread of the disease, but did not ban horses from attendance. Experts told Fox 9 News that the event was though to be far enough away from the outbreak to preclude such precautions.

Last month, Examiner.com noted several Midwestern events were canceled or postponed by the virus, including barrel racing events in Minnesota and the American Competitive Trail Horse Association's obstacle challenge at the Tomah, Wisconsin Saddle Club.

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