BADMINTON Horse Trials, cancelled by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 and by waterlogging last year, faces a new threat in 2013 – Equine Herpes Virus (EHV).
A case of the potentially deadly and contagious virus has been confirmed in a horse of the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt – in the very stables which will house the world’s top eventers ahead of the equestrian showpiece which starts on May 2.
The organisers naturally hope that the outbreak can be contained and are monitoring the situation on a daily basis.
“We are consulting biosecurity advisors from the Animal Health Trust,” said Badminton’s Hugh Thomas.
"This is so we can ensure a secure environment for the international event horses, which are not due to come here for another six weeks.”
Sadly, this outbreak is not an isolated incident in the area. In early February, EHV-1 was confirmed in one yard near Moreton-in-Marsh, where horses that hunt with the Heythrop are kept and spread to Evenlode earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Bourton Vale Veterinary Clinic in Lower Slaughter has temporarily postponed cases of horse surgery after discovering that a horse in its yard has come from infected stables.
Last week, British Dressage revealed an outbreak in an unnamed dressage yard in Gloucestershire. Four horses in the yard have tested positive.
Now the neurological virus, which in its worst cases can cause a horse to wobble and become disoriented, has appeared on the other side of the Cotswolds at the very centre of the Badminton Estate.
Someone who knows only too well the devastating effect of Equine Herpes Virus is successful Devon-based National Hunt trainer Victor Dartnall.
The virus struck his yard in November, with six of his string paying the ultimate price.
He was forced to temporarily close down his stables which he described is as ‘the worst six weeks of my training career.’ Event rider Harry Meade, who is based just ten minutes away from Badminton in Luckington, believes that the isolated nature of eventing, compared to racing and hunting, will help the scare to subside well ahead of Badminton itself.
Meade, son of triple Olympic gold medallist Richard, is one of Britian’s leading eventers and is aiming for a top ten finish at least with his mount Wild Lone.
“I do have concerns but I have been led to believe that the virus is something that is airborne and transferred from nose to nose.
“That makes hunters much more susceptible than eventers as they are always mixing and often knocking into each other.
“That does not happen with three-day eventers.
“I understand the remaining hunters at Badminton – whether infected or not – are in the process of being dispersed this week, after which the normal disinfecting process will begin.
“Then the stables will have been empty for some weeks before Badminton begins.
“We will, of course, be vigilant at home and very wary of any new horses coming into the yard. But it is standard practice with us to put them in an isolation box in any case.”
Meade has no qualms about giving Wild Lone a pipe-opener at the ‘Little Gatcombe’ event this weekend.
“Wild Lone feels pretty good. He went to Badminton two years ago, but he was a very young horse then and, of course, last year it was cancelled.
“We went to a big event at Luhmuhlen in Germany instead and he did very well to finish 11th.”
Pattie Biden, one of the organisers of Gatcombe, said: “I can’t give any comment until we hear more from British Eventing, but any decisions about the event would be taken by the HRH The Princess Royal.”