A recent outbreak of Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy, or EHV-1, in at least six Western states, including California, is causing concern among Mule Days contestants and organizers.
There have been 10 reported cases of the virus in California, but no reports have come from Inyo or Mono counties.
Despite the widespread concern, officials at Mule Days have no plans to cancel the world-famous event, slated to enter its 42nd year May 24-29.
“As of this time, we have had no recommendations to cancel the show. Mule Days will go on,” a voicemail recording at the Mule Days Office said Wednesday.
Bob Tanner, 2011 Mule Days president, said that afternoon, “There is not going to be any problems. Mule Days will be a success.”
The virus has been traced to horses that attended the National Cutting Horse Associations’ Western National Championships in Odgen, Utah on April 30 through May 8.
Suspecting that all horses that participated in the event may have been exposed to the EHV-1 virus, health officials had several ranches quarantined. EHV-1 is highly contagious disease spread through nasal secretions by nose-to-nose contact when horses nuzzle each other. If left untreated, the virus can be deadly for equines.
Tanner said no equine from Utah will be coming to Bishop’s event. He said the committee has been in contact with various state officials and, “We’re definitely doing the right thing.”
In California, positive confirmed cases of the virus have been located in Amador (1), Kern (2), Napa (1), Stanislaus (4) and Placer (2) counties.
“Currently there is no evidence of EHV-1 disease spread outside the cutting horses who participated in the Odgen, Utah event,” a press release from the California Department of Food and Agriculture states.
Despite assurances that officials are attempting to contain the disease, there is some concern that the appearance of the virus will deter out-of-the-area contestants from bringing their animals to California for Mule Days.
“This is a concern among individuals who own horses, mules and donkeys,” said Mule Days Executive Committee member Dana Crom. “We may have some contestants who elect not to participate this year because they are concerned for their horses.”
It is unclear exactly how many concerned contestants have contacted the Mule Days office, but Crom confirmed that there have been several inquiries about whether the event would be cancelled due to the outbreak.
According to a report from Reuters on Tuesday, cutting-horse competitions scheduled for this coming weekend in nine states have been canceled; Washington State and Colorado State universities have quarantined their veterinary teaching hospitals; and two equestrian reining and jumping clinics in Colorado have been called off.
Crom said Mule Days organizers have been in contact with U.C. Davis equine researchers who said the virus is a concern. However, the U.C. Davis team will once again be bringing their horses and mules to Mule Days.
“I don’t think anyone would argue with you if you were to say U.C. Davis is number one in equine health and science,” Crom said. “If U.C. Davis will be bringing their mules to Mule Days, I think that is telling.”