MAF Investigating Balclutha Horse Syndrome

12 March 1998

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has isolated two neighbouring property near Balclutha, while it investigates unexplained ailment among horses there. The ailment has been dubbed ‘Balclutha Horse Syndrome' in the interim.

Of the 29 horses on one property, 15 have small shallow lesions on their tongues and gums, and two have small, coldsore-like blisters, on their gums. Three horses on the adjacent property all have lesions in their mouths. The horses in question are otherwise healthy and blood tests from them have been normal.

Restricted place notices has been served on the properties, which means no movements in or out are permitted while the cause of the problem is investigated. The Ministry stressed that this was a routine investigation which is carried out in New Zealand whenever animals suffer unexplained illness or ailments.

An equine specialist from Massey University, Dr Harry Pearce, who has been brought in by MAF to examine the horses, does not believe the lesions and blisters are cause for concern. Dr Pearce said mouth ulcers and small blisters are common in New Zealand and those found in Balclutha are within the normal range. He said the cause could be equine herpes, which is endemic (i.e. well-established and widespread) in this country and around the world.

Dr Pearce said horses at the properties had been brought together from around the country and the resulting stress could have triggered the herpes.

Preliminary results from samples sent to MAF's central animal health laboratory at Wallaceville have found no evidence of exotic virus. However, further tests are being carried out in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom to confirm these results.

Results of the tests to confirm herpes and to check for other viruses are not expected until late next week at the earliest.

Meanwhile, other possible causes of the ailment are being investigated, including a reaction to a natural plant toxin or a contaminant in the feed. Tests are being carried out on water and feed samples, and a plant toxicologist is investigating possible toxic plants at the properties. Results from these tests expected before the end of the week.

In the meantime, quarantine on the properties will be maintained. Horses recently moved from the properties in question, and other horses which may have had recent contact with horses from the properties, have been traced, checked and cleared.

Media inquiries to:

Dr Barry O'Neil, Chief Veterinary Officer, MAF Regulatory Authority (04) 474 4128
Debbie Gee, Director, Corporate Communications, (04) 474 4258
Dr Harry Pearce, Massey University (06) 357 3217 (hm)



Last Updated: 08 September 2010

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