Horse virus halts equestrian trip

Ashland High School's equestrian team bowed out of last weekend's state tournament because of a potentially deadly horse virus that is sweeping the Western states.

Senior Teague Teece said the decision was among the hardest she and her four teammates have ever made, because they had been training since December for the tournament.

"It's heartbreaking that we didn't get to compete, but it's a lot less heartbreak than if we had infected our horses," she said Monday. "I know that we made the right decision."

Oregon High School Equestrian Teams, the organization that runs the state tournament, did not cancel the event, but asked each competitor to weigh whether or not to attend.

"Our decision is to align with expert advice and let families decide what is best for them," the organization said in a release. "The majority of experts believe the risk to be low (there is always risk when traveling with your horse) and manageable."

Ashland equestrian head coach Dena Matthews, who is Teece's mother, said she was disappointed that the organization put the athletes in such a difficult position.

"My girls were not alone," she said. "About 60 athletes pulled out of the competition. Some were not given a choice as they were told by their barns that if they left they would not be allowed to bring their horses back."

At the time the organization decided not to cancel the event, there had been no confirmed cases of Equine Herpes Virus in Oregon. But in the last week, cases have begun to emerge and as of Monday there were three confirmed cases of the virus in the state, located in Clackamas, Umatilla and Deschutes counties.

Horse events throughout the Western states have been canceled this month after dozens of horses contracted the virus at an event in Ogden, Utah, ending May 8. The airborne virus, which isn't transmittable to humans, can cause respiratory disease, neurological disease and death in horses.

Seven horses that contracted the virus at the May event have already died or been euthanized, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which is tracking the spread of the virus. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in most Western states, including California, Washington and Idaho.

The risk is that infected horses, who may not be showing signs of illness yet, will spread the virus to others, because horses at events share stalls and arena areas, Matthews said.

The Ashland club team decided to attend last weekend's tournament without its horses, in order to participate in some of the non-competitive activities.

Watching their competition perform in the tournament was especially tough for the Ashland team, which was ranked third in the Southern Oregon division, Matthews said.

"They really did have a shot at medaling," she said. "Their number-one competitor took second, and their other competitor got eighth."

Juniors Lauren Smith and Sarah Parks and freshman Cassidy Courtney make up the rest of the team, which had planned to perform in the crowd-pleasing Drill Team event. The event requires competitors to perform synchronized riding movements while waving flags.

Because they didn't get to compete last weekend, the Ashland team will hold an event next month at the Ashland Equestrian Center to show the community their Drill Team performance. Details on the free event, tentatively scheduled for June 9, are still being finalized. For more information visit

Sitting the tournament out was especially hard for the two Ashland seniors, Teece and Kailey Cockell, who have been on the team for four years.

"We had worked so hard for this," Cockell said. "But I feel better knowing my horse is safe in the pasture. There will be other shows."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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