Southlands Riding Club, in Vancouver, British Columbia, has closed after a newly arrived rescue horse tested positive for Strangles – a serious upper respiratory tract disease.

Strangles is highly contagious and is transferable through direct contact. It is not airborne and does not affect humans. In horses, it causes high fever and swelling around the jaw and neck, which can restrict breathing and cause lymph nodes to rupture, producing large amounts of thick, creamy pus.

During the closure, which has forced the cancellation of competitions planned for March and April, measures will be taken to decontaminate the property.

The horse, Valentine, arrived from an Alberta feed lot approximately two weeks ago, as part of Southlands’ rescue and rehabilitation program, established in October 2015. Southlands’ spokesperson, Bronwyn Wilkinson, said the horse was vet checked before being shipped to the facility and showed no signs of the disease. However, a nasopharyngeal wash sample taken after the mare’s arrival returned positive for Streptococcus equi bacteria.

The initial report sparked debate among members and the public – calling into question Southlands’ bio-security measures, and suggesting more stringent quarantine protocols should be followed for all newcomers.

On March 17th, Southlands reported via social media that Valentine had been relocated to a “temporary secure new home where she can recover.”

Southlands hosted an information session for members on Monday March 14th and released the following statement on their Facebook page:

Please note the important following quarantine protocols in place at the Club and recommended for the entire Southlands area for an initial three-week period (if any other horse contracts strangles during this period the quarantine protocols will be extended):

• The risk of contamination of the riding rings and track is considered very low because Valentine is not handled and has never left her paddock. However, the vet has recommended that horses do not socialise or come into contact with other horses at the club. Riding at home is recommended; however if you do not have that option and need to ride at the Club, do not let your horse sniff manure, fences or other surfaces.

• Anyone who mucks or is in contact with the rescue ponies and their stalls must adhere to the strict quarantine procedures posted at the stalls.

• The other three rescue horses are quarantined to their paddocks and will be have weekly nasopharyngeal washes to test for the bacteria.

• Shows scheduled at the Club in March and April will be cancelled to enable us to ensure the club is completely contamination free in time for the summer shows.

• No horses to leave Southlands unless for urgent medical care.

Recommendations for all barns in Southlands:

• Do not allow horses from different barns to mix – ie no group rides with horses from different barns.

• Anyone working at multiple barns or moving between barns to teach should have different sets of clothing and boots (or rubber boot covers) for each barn. Boots should be sprayed with bleach.

• Take each horse’s temperature at least daily (twice daily is preferable) and keep a log. Regular temperature is 37.5-38.5 C. Call the vet and isolate the horse if it spikes a temperature higher than normal.

• No grazing on boulevards or other public areas.

• Do not let horses sniff manure on the roads or lower their heads to the pavement.

We are investigating options to have Valentine moved from the Club to another location where she can be isolated. The other three rescue horses will be tested regularly and are quarantined in their paddocks for the foreseeable future.

The Board is also looking into how we will address the impact on members and will have more information in the next few days.