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DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Getting strangles outbreak in Charlottetown under control

Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park. - Jason Malloy

There is a sense of unease amongst the harness racing community on P.E.I. these days as the industry comes to grips with an outbreak of the disease strangles at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP).

The disease carries a variety of symptoms including high fever, mucous discharge and swelling of the glands around the horse’s head and must be passed from carrier to carrier through direct contact. Strangles has been around the equine community for at least 800 years, when the first case was recorded in the 13thcentury, with flare ups in the racing community having happened across North America from time to time.


The current situation has three barns under lockdown at the CDP, while officials have announced a complete lockdown of the facility effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday. This will mean any horse that is on the grounds is unable to leave the property unless they have a letter of a negative strangles test.

No new horses will be allowed to ship-in to train or stable at the capital oval until veterinarians have tested all 200 horses currently stabled on the grounds. Those mandatory tests began on Thursday with the initial screening costs being covered by Red Shores, the P.E.I. Harness Racing Industry Association and the Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Commission.

The intention is for the industry to get a firm handle on how far the outbreak has spread and then have trainers and veterinarians assume the rest of the protocol for treatment. There has been no firm date set for when the lockdown may end but there is no question testing the entire horse population is the right step to take and will provide a clear picture of the next steps to be taken.

In a release sent on Tuesday, Red Shores states they have taken “advice, direction and guidance from the veterinarians assigned to this case and their procedures and practices outlined by the Atlantic Vet College and the Atlantic Province’s Harness Racing Commission.”

Each barn in Charlottetown will be limited to essential staff, with owners and visitors not allowed at the present time. Boot wash trays and disinfectant have been placed in each stable with all horse people asked to limit movement from barn to barn for the time being.

The first recently reported case of strangles was identified in the Marc Campbell stable in early November with his Charlottetown stable being under lockdown since that time. Since then, there has been a very accusatory tone within the harness racing community that has been in no way productive. It is a confirmed fact that the Campbell stable had an outbreak of strangles, but where it came from before it hit that barn is still up for debate. Now the disease is in other barns, but with reported outbreaks of the disease in non-harness racing stables in Eastern P.E.I., it is still unclear where this new round of sickness has come from. While some participants are still focused on what did or didn’t happen in the past months, we can’t go back in time and change it. We need to look forward to what needs to happen to get the outbreak under control for the health and well-being of the animals we all care for and cherish.

Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at [email protected].


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