International Mare Owners Not Worried By MRLS

Kentucky farms are seeing promising signs that mare reproductive loss syndrome has not scared off international Thoroughbred mare owners.

Preliminary data from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture shows that, following required quarantine and testing of imported horses, approximately 205 overseas Thoroughbred mares were received in the state in 2001 compared with 248 mares 2000. Exact totals will be available in a few weeks.

Another encouraging statistic is that 156 of these 205 mares were imported during the last quarter of 2001, which represents a 35% increase in the number of mares imported during the same time in 2000.

"We believe these preliminary numbers show that our major overseas trading partners have confidence in Kentucky's equine industry," said Rusty Ford, equine programs manager for the Department of Agriculture.

Mare reproductive loss syndrome, which struck last April and May, caused the abortion of late-term foals, contributed to the early deaths of some foals born, and caused early fetal loss. The Thoroughbred industry lost an estimated 516 foals of 2001 and nearly 3,000 pregnancies for 2002. The syndrome's cause is still unknown but appears to be related to an unusual chain of weather events. Below normal temperatures and drought in March were followed by high temperatures and rapid plant growth in early April, then two days of severe frost on April 17 and 18, and finally uncommonly higher temperatures.

Theories for the cause have included mycotoxins in pastures, endophytes in grasses, cyanide from drought- and frost-damaged black cherry trees, and an abundance of Eastern tent caterpillars, which feed on the cherry tree leaves.

Department information also shows new stallions coming into state from overseas and other states. Three overseas Thoroughbred stallions were shipped to Kentucky in 2001 compared with two overseas Thoroughbred stallions in 2000, and three stallions standing in other states were relocated to the Bluegrass.

Non-Thoroughbred mares imported into Kentucky from overseas for 2001 total 139 compared with 196 for 2000. Non-Thoroughbred overseas stallions shipped to Kentucky totaled 23 for 2001 and 28 for 2000.

"We're very appreciative of the comfort level the international equine community is showing by bringing nearly the same number of horses to Kentucky for the 2002 breeding season," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. "We can see no reason why the owners of horses and mares that do not reside in Kentucky should not come back in 2002."

Switzer said he believes the confidence being shown by breeders has a lot to do with the vigilance of Kentucky's horse farm managers, and the efforts of the University of Kentucky and its role in implementing an MRLS monitoring program and making prevention recommendations.