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Dealing with international quarantine

James Lala helps keep horses safe after international travel.

By Carrie Wirth

Originally published Summer 2013

The process of importation and quarantine can seem daunting for an owner importing a horse from abroad−whether it’s the first time or the twentieth time. James Lala makes it his mission to safely and efficiently expedite horses through the process while providing a rider-friendly, workmanlike facility to get travel weary horses back on track.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) carefully regulates the importation of horses into the country and the rules and regulations can seem overwhelming. Stallions and mares entering the U.S. from countries known to have Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) are required by federal law to be quarantined and go through a testing process to prove that they do not have the sexually transmitted disease.

According to the USDA, “CEM is caused by a bacteria Taylorella equigenitalis. Clinical signs may include a vaginal discharge in up to 40 percent of affected mares, abortion and infertility. Stallions typically show no clinical signs. Stallions and mares can become chronic carriers of CEM and be sources of infection for future outbreaks. The transmission rate is high and naturally occurs by mating and can also be spread via semen collected for artificial insemination.

The other option for those mares and stallions is to go to the CEM waiver tent on the show grounds, which is usually located in the FEI area. But, they aren’t permitted to leave that area, except to walk to the show ring and back. Most people opt to send their stallions and mares early to go through the quarantine process because once it is completed, their horses are free to go to a farm and get turned out, or go on a trail ride and have a normal life.

“For mares, they do a blood test and three cultures that have to be taken three days apart,” explained James Lala, who owns and operates James Lala’s Wellington Quarantine in Wellington, Fla. “It takes eight days to get the results of the set of cultures. The shortest timeline the process can be completed in is 14 days.  We also start the cleaning and packing process right away. We clean with Nolvasan and pack the mare’s vagina with Furason. This process has to be done for five days in a row after the cultures are completed.”

“If the test comes back with overgrowth/fungus and you haven’t started the cleaning and packing process, then you have to wait 21 days before you can culture again, then do five days of cleaning and packing again,” continued Lala. “It can be an extended stay. I do my best to help prevent an extended stay.”

For stallions, the process takes an average of 36 days. A culture is taken from the horse’s penis when he arrives.  Then, the stallion must be bred via live cover to two mares provided by the quarantine facility. Then they wait for the results of mares’ tests to come back, which must be negative for CEM. For five days in a row after the stallion has bred, his penis must be cleaned with Nolvasan and packed with Furason.

“I provide two test mares per stallion,” Lala said. “I have the mares prepared for the stallions, these mares are experienced and know what they are doing to keep everything safe and moving along on schedule.”

Lala works closely with Dr. Erin Newkirk from Byron Reid and Associates, who does all the testing, cleaning and packing, and manages the live breeding of the stallions and the test mares. In addition, veterinarians from the Florida Department of Agriculture must be on hand when the horses arrive from the airport to unseal the trailer and check the paperwork. They are also on site to regulate every procedure from monitoring cultures taken to the live breeding.

“Dr. Newkirk is a master at getting the test mares in season without ovulating, so they don’t get pregnant,” Lala continued. “If they’re not in season that can be risky, because they may not want to be bred, putting the stallion at risk. Plus, I feel it is basically, rape—not fair to the mare. If they were to get pregnant, they’d get a shot of Lutalyse, like the ‘morning after’ shot for horses.”

It is evident that Lala puts safety first while keeping the rider and owner in mind during the quarantine process. His impressive list of clients return year after year.

“Two top European riders sent their stallions to me to ride while they did quarantine, then they flew them to California,” Lala said. “Obviously, that was more expensive but they have been very pleased here. We’ve had four or five horses that were in the Olympics. Almost every top rider has been here. Gold medalists, world cup horses and the country’s top hunters have stayed here.”

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