Horse vans, like this truck bearing a Florida license plate, have been busy moving horses out of Kentucky.

Horse vans, like this truck bearing a Florida license plate, have been busy moving horses out of Kentucky.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Florida Officials Tracking Requests for Horse Shipments; Van Companies Busy

By Eric Mitchell and Ray Paulick

Officials with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Animal Industry, reported early Thursday afternoon that in 2 1/2 days they have received applications for 71 permits for horse shipments from Kentucky to Florida. In the wake of the recent foal/fetal loss outbreak in Kentucky, the state of Florida enacted temporary regulations requiring all horses from the Bluegrass State be tracked through the issuance of a permit from the state's Commissioner of Agriculture. The permit process went into effect Tuesday, May 8. Dr. LeRoy Coffman, director of the Division of Animal Industry, said each permit application typically has 5-8 horses.

Coffman emphasized that, while the permit process includes questions about the exposed risk of horses to the mysterious foal loss syndrome and the purpose of shipping, no horses were being denied permits to travel into Florida.

For further information on obtaining permits to accompany a veterinarian's Official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, call (850) 410-0900.

No states have banned shipment of horses from Kentucky. Florida is the only state known to have enacted special regulations.

Because the diagnosis of this problem is unknown, Florida officials recommend horses arriving from Kentucky be isolated from other horses and be monitored daily for any signs of illness, appetite suppression, or obvious signs of abortion.

Transportation companies have been extremely busy since the weekend of May 5-6, when word of the problem first spread.

"Overwhelmed would be the proper word, starting on Sunday afternoon with people calling to check availability," said Bobby Maxwell, vice president of Sallee Horse Vans. "That continued through late Wednesday afternoon. Today (Thursday) we haven't had half the calls we have other days this week. We've taken in excess of 100 mares from Kentucky, in just about every direction you can imagine: New York, Virginia, Maryland, Florida. It's not that unusual for us to have mares going to Florida this time of year, but not in these numbers. We've got one going there today, and two tomorrow.

"We had a waiting list of people wanting to ship," Maxwell continued. "But in some cases from the time they booked the van until we could take care of them, a number of the mares were found out to be empty."

Maxwell said Sallee has 26 vans; two are committed to taking horses to Churchill Downs and the remainder are busy transporting mares. "This has been hard on everyone," Maxwell said. "The next phone call is somebody's crisis."

Keith Boyer, office manager at the Lexington division of Brook Ledge Horse Transportation, said on Thursday all 25 of the company's tractor-trailer vans--each capable of carrying 10-12 horses--are on the road. "Things really started hitting the fan Sunday and Monday," Boyer said. "Right now, we have a big push on Friday. I have five trucks. These five will head to Ocala (Florida)." If a mare owner called Brook Ledge, Boyer said, "Right now I couldn't move them because I don't have the equipment available.

"I hope they resolve it (the cause of the foal losses) and know what we are dealing with," Boyer added. "If they say it is not contagious, I feel it's safe to ship these horses. My concern is that if they are in foal, that they stay in foal when they get where they are going."

Richard Smith, vice president of Ralph G. Smith Inc of West Chester, Pa., also reports unusually high business volume. "I pulled 10 loads out of Kentucky this week when normally I would pull one," he said. "They are going everywhere--New York, Maryland, Florida. They are all going back home."

Smith said some clients are getting faster service than usual because the company's tractor-trailers are filling up so quickly. "They don't have to wait for us to put a shipment together," he said. The company has six or seven vans in operation carrying 10 horses each.