In the Saddle column: Suffering from a serious case of the winter blues!

Winter is every equestrian’s nightmare with horses. It’s the one time of the year where our work load seems to double and the nights are here before you’ve had chance to finish your lunch.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 2:44 pm

This winter, in particular, seems to be really dragging out.

It’s probably that teamed up with the lockdown which is making it feel extra long.

Plus the bout of snow we had didn’t help either.

Anita with her newly backed youngster, Sully.

We had to ferry water in from the kitchen (cue muddy floors and slopping water all over in a bid to fill buckets as high as you can to avoid further trips!).

The snow made everything so much hard work. The freezing taps then having to lug out a heap of haylage into the field, drive their hooves and bring in earlier than usual - all nearly sent me over the edge.

We must be crazy having horses. At least that’s how winter makes most of us feel.

Roll into spring and life seems somewhat lighter, brighter and more blessed. You’ll then find many of us planning what shows we can get to and the start of rejoining pony club.

Last year pretty much nothing ran as normal. We were just awaiting good news of shoes returning in the summer but now there seems to be a new threat within the world of horses hot on the heels of Covid-19.

If you haven’t heard of the horrific situation in fast developing in Eastern Spain it could make you think twice about competing this summer.

An exceedingly virulent outbreak of Equine Herpes has forced competitions to close across the continent and left many wondering if they will get home with their horses alive from an FEI show jumping event in Valencia.

The outbreak known as EHV1 is the neurological and deadliest type of the virus.

Whilst there’s been huge efforts to contain the outbreak, fourteen horses left the show venue before the organisers became aware there was a problem. They have all been tracked and traced. However, the situation at the show is very serious and horses have unfortunately died as a result.

The International Federation for Equestrian Sports have stated that events will be closed in ten European countries until 28 March to try to stop transmission.

The ban affects upcoming events in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Poland, Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia.

Luckily since we left the EU on 1st January much more stringent health control measures have been placed on the movement of horses, which will help risk the spread of transmission.

EHV is present in the UK all the time. The virus causes respiratory disease similar to equine ‘flu’ and is most commonly spread by the respiratory route, very similar to COVID-19.

As well as it causing a respiratory disease the virus can cause foal losses in pregnant mares and damage to the nervous system, particularly the spinal chord resulting in paralysis and death.

The strain of the virus in Europe seems to be more likely to cause neurological damage than previous strains, which is very worrying.

A vaccine has been available against EHV1 for many years but only protects against the respiratory form of the disease and pregnant mares. Most of us have this done as part of our yearly vaccination programme.

It doesn’t protect against the neurological form of the disease though. There’s been much sharing of the situation on social media where UK Equestrians are calling for the halt the movement of all horses in this country to protect horses.

Whilst there is some speculation that it has already arrived in the UK, I’m not sure if this is the case. I really hope not. I hope it’s contained and that those horses which are affected make a good recovery, and we don’t lose any more to this terrible disease.

So, who knows if the competition season will go ahead as normal in the summer? Let’s hope it gets sorted, contained and we can finally make plans safely to enjoy our horses.