More cases of swamp fever: Area barrel racers urge testing of horses
By Gaven Crites
Another six cases of equine infectious anemia (EIA) were confirmed in the Meadow Lake region last month. Commonly known as swamp fever, the disease is potentially fatal and attacks the immune system of horses, donkeys and mules and is typically transmitted by biting flies.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, at least 28 horses have tested positive for EIA in Meadow Lake since January, double the number confirmed last year.
With the barrel racing and fly season around the corner, some riders are urging mandatory testing.
Markie Ballard has been a barrel racer for most of her life and sits as secretary on the regional Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association board.
“We’ve gone to our provincial board and told them what is going on,” Ballard said. “We have this many positive tests, there was one barrel horse that came up positive. You would think they would take it into serious consideration.”
So far, no other cases of EIA outside of Meadow Lake have been detected in the province. Testing is more expensive and EIA is not as real a concern in the southern part of the province, Ballard explained.
“I was hauling down there at least two or three times a month,” she said. “At that time, we didn’t know and my horse could have been a positive (case) and here I am tracking it all the way down south. Then the fingers would be pointed at me. So, I was very lucky (the horse was negative) because it would have been a mess.”
Rapid View area resident Nancy Dancy sits on the Meadow Lake region’s SBRA District No. 6 board of directors. Like Ballard, Dancy recently had all her animals tested. However, she said there is an issue around getting everyone in the barrel racing circuit to do the same.
“This area is open to testing,” she said. “But, that’s not always the case in other parts of the province. The fear is more real for us.”
Horses that test positive for EIA are usually euthanized. For this particular outbreak, it is believed the original positive case was detected in the wagon racing circuit last year when a driver saw a large drop in the performance of his horses and had them tested.
“People in the barrel racing community really love their animals,” Dancy said. “A lot of the good horses are in the 10-12 year-old range. It’s a lot of investment and time spent. It’s like a member of your family, too.”
There is an indoor jackpot scheduled at the River Point Ranch in Dorintosh soon. With respect to testing, Dancy said they follow the SBRA guidelines, which do not make it mandatory. However, she added event hosts can make it so participants must show their horses are negative before entering the event.
“The effect is a lot greater if everyone takes it upon themselves (to test),” Dancy said. “I’m sure others appreciate that we tested and we would appreciate the same. I’m not expecting any problems because our wave of testing has happened already.”
Ballard added she’s afraid Meadow Lake might be blacklisted if the problem isn’t fixed.
“Then we won’t be able to go anywhere,” she said. “That’s the risk you take if you’re going to travel. As long as you get your horse tested, you know you did the right thing for yourself and you’re protecting others.”