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UPDATE | Horse facilities at Island County Fairgrounds closed as precaution against EHV-1 outbreak
Island County Fair officials announced an immediate closure of the horse arena and equestrian facilities at the county fairgrounds in Langley in light of the EHV-1 outbreak in the Western U.S.
"It officially will start today," said Sandey Brandon, manager of the Island County Fair.
She said the closure would run for three weeks, and may stretch to 30 days if necessary.
Brandon said no cases of EHV-1 had been reported on Whidbey Island, but fair officials wanted to play it safe.
"We're going to shut it down as a precautionary measure for the safety of the animals on our island," she said.
State officials said earlier this week that a horse from Washington state had tested positive for Equine Herpes Virus 1, a highly contagious animal disease, after the animal returned from the National Cutting Horse Association event in Ogden, Utah.
The horse was treated at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, and officials with the state Department of Agriculture said blood samples from several other Washington horses that attended the event were being tested at WSU’s Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.
Officials said the disease poses no threat to people.
The disease is spread from horse to horse through direct contact, on feed, tack and equipment, or on the clothes and hands of horse owners. Symptoms in horses can include fever, slobbering, sneezing and other mild symptoms. While serious cases of the disease are rare, they can lead to hind-end paralysis and even death of the horse.
The closure of the horse arena and horse barn will impact local 4-H horse clubs that are trying to get riders qualified for the Island County Fair in August, Brandon said.
The clubs have already faced difficulty trying to schedule events because of the wet spring; three weekends' worth of horse events have already been canceled this year due to the weather.
"They have not had the shows they need to get to the county fair," she said.
Brandon said a horse show has been planned for every weekend until the fair, except for Father's Day weekend, so the cancellations will mean the loss of revenue for the fair.
She put the financial impact at less than $1,000, but added: "Every penny is an important penny to us."
Jackie Vannice, the 4-H program and education outreach coordinator for Island County, said the director of 4-H Youth Development in Puyallup has ordered a three-week postponement for all 4-H events involving horses.
"Fortunately, our Island County 4-H horse clubs do not have any qualifying shows within that period so it doesn’t have any effect on us other than canceling a couple of clinics that can be made up at a later date," Vannice said.
"I’m proud of our 4-H membership for their understanding in this situation as it does cause a bit of frustration," she added.
Vannice said the Spring Show with the club Inca Pride Alpacas will still be held Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. The show will take place at the fairground's grandstand area, but not in the horse arena.
The horse arena and barn closure will also impact the general public; the fairgrounds is used regularly for free by local horse owners, but Brandon said activities will be halted at the horse arena and barn — including the use of the facilities by the HOPE therapeutic riding program — until fair officials decide it is safe to reopen.