After four horses were euthanized in January in Rutherford County just southeast of Nashville, another case of equine infectious anemia was reported at the beginning of May in Shelby County. Rutherford County is just southeast of Nashville, while Shelby County encompasses the greater Memphis area, right along the Arkansas border. These outbreaks are noteworthy for horse owners in Tennessee, but they’re also noteworthy for Arkansas horse owners and the state’s agricultural department.
Arkansas’ Rules and Regulations for Equestrian Events
Earlier this year, Arkansas was actively considered loosening the rules that require equestrian events to hire an equine infectious anemia verifier. While it would still be required for any horse traveling through the state or attending an equestrian event to have a negative Coggins test result within the last 6 months, there would no longer be an official at these events to verify each horse had a negative Coggins test on file. The idea was to make a little easier and a little cheaper to host an equestrian event. This proposal was despite the fact that Coggins documentation has already become significantly easier with the introduction of online systems such as GlobalVetLink and the USDA Veterinary Services Process Streamlining system.
While rates of equine infectious anemia have been declining since the 1970s, the disease has shown a strong resilience against being eradicated altogether. While researchers are working on a vaccine, this may never be completely effective as the virus continues to mutate in the biting flies that serve as the disease’s vector. Perhaps, Arkansas’ agricultural and veterinary authorities have grown complacent in avoiding any major EIA outbreaks over the last few years. From 2016 to 2018, the state saw a total of only three cases of equine infectious anemia.
Nevertheless, the disease persists and has hit many of the states surrounding Arkansas especially hard. While loosening these rules might save horse event organizers a few dollars in the short run, it’s likely to cost the state a lot more than it saves in the long run.
Fortunately, horse owners and veterinarians alike pushed back against the state’s proposed rule changes, and for now, the plans have been abandoned. Any interested parties can use this link to read Arkansas’ current EIA (Equine Infectious Anemia) Verifier Regulations.
What’s at Stake?
There are approximately 160,000 horses in Arkansas, and the combination of veterinary care, equestrian professionals, horse tack and other equipment suppliers, and capital investment make this a $3.5 billion industry for the state. As such, the greatest risk of loosening may not be more or worse outbreaks of equine infectious anemia. The greatest risk would be the harm to the state’s reputation as a safe place for horses to travel to. Speaking of the potential dangers involved with the equine infectious anemia rule change, equestrian Lee Hatcher told KATV in Little Rock, “I house and take care of other people’s horses…If I go to a horse show and no one’s verifying and my horse gets a positive test and I bring it back and transmit it to the people that board at my facility that’s being negligent on my part.”
More to this point, Arkansas already has a recent blemish on its record. From 2014 to 2016, the Arkansas Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory lost its accreditation with the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation. High turnover at the laboratory had led to serious gaps in its administrative recordkeeping—no small thing for a laboratory that’s part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) which is responsible for monitoring and responding to animal diseases throughout the country.
The nearby outbreaks of equine infectious anemia in Tennessee are a lesson and a warning to other states. The responsible attitude and strong culture of horse owners, equestrians, and veterinarians is as important as it ever was in protecting the tremendous resource that is the U.S. horse population. Likewise, we must not take it for granted that we’ve beaten back the deadly and highly contagious disease that is equine infectious anemia.