In the early 1970’s horses across the United States were dying from a disease that seemed to be spreading quickly. In 1972, a new blood test called the Coggin’s test, had been created to help find horses that were carriers of this deadly blood disease named, Equine Infectious Anemia. At that time people were scared, and rumors were spreading like wildfire. This test was being used to locate all the sick horses and euthanize them to protect the rest. This disease had no common denominators not breed, sex or age. Most of the horses found early on were in hot, swampy areas of the lower south. When the disease finally made it to South Florida, my grandmother, Susan Young, knew she needed to test the horses under her care because the Department of Agriculture was pushing everyone to help stop the spread of this disease. At the time she managed a ranch where the herd was close to 100 head of horses. All of the horses were tested and when the tests came back, about 30% of the horses came back positive for EIA. The problem was, these horses showed no outward signs of having the disease and these horses were not dying. At that time, she did not want to destroy healthy horses, so she got permission from the Department of Agriculture to move the herd to another property that would be a safe distance away from any other horses. Once approved, she moved all the horses to the other property so they would not be destroyed, and they could live out their lives and they could be studied by researchers in an effort to help them come up with a cure or vaccine to help all horses.
During that time, the University of Florida was doing some pretty crazy research and testing. They had used a 3-year-old EIA negative horse to do a complete blood transfusion from an EIA positive horse. They watched the horse for several months and he had no problems or signs of illness. Sometime later, they would use the same now positive, 4-year-old horse, and gave him a complete blood transfusion making him negative again. This same horse was then sent to our ranch, where the university would continue check on him regularly and draw blood samples. He stayed negative for 7 years before he turned positive with no signs of contracting the disease. The University of Louisiana also had a researcher named Dr. Chuck Issel that was working on finding a cure or vaccine for the horses as well. So much was unknown at the time and real research was just beginning.
People were scared, and rumors quickly spread that the disease was highly contagious. People believed their horse could get it from using the same bridle, brushes or saddle pads that had sweat on them. Over the next few years horses continued to come up positive all over the State of Florida, and eventually there were well over 100 horses under my grandmother’s care. There was nowhere else for these horses to go and that remains the same to this day. At the time, the Department of Agriculture set some ground rules for EIA horses. If you wanted to keep your horse you would need to keep them 600 feet from the nearest horse. Through the research done with our herd, it was determined that this was a safe distance from any other horses.
Originally, it was thought that mosquito's spread the disease but later they found that a mosquito could not carry enough blood to transmit the disease. It was later determined that a horsefly could feed on an EIA positive horse and then only fly within 600 feet or 200 yards before the blood would dry on their tentacles and mouth which meant they could not pass on the disease past that point. Transmission was easy to figure out. It was only done through BLOOD transfers. Unfortunately, back in those days, both veterinarians and horse owners had often used the same needle, syringe and bottles of vaccine on all their horses so in essence they were infecting their own horses. As the herd grew bigger and bigger, the researchers learned more and more.
During this time we housed EIA negative and positive horses together in an effort to see if these positive horses were truly dangerous and highly contagious. At that time, there were many researchers interested in studying the disease and they all had different theories. It took several years to see why and when transmission would take place. Still the question arose; if the disease is deadly, why are none of these horses dying? During that time we even bred horses and their foals would remain negative. It was not until 2010 when Dr. Chuck Issel, from the University of Kentucky did an article in Americas biggest equine magazine, EQUUS, where he stated there were three types of EIA horses. My grandmother was right, the inapparent carrier, was the type of horses we had, and the chance of them ever transmitting the disease to other horses was 1 in 6 million. It was the acute horses that were getting very sick and dying within 10 days. The third type of carrier was the chronic horse, which I still have yet to see. Supposedly, those horses would have temperature spikes and if a horsefly would feed on these horses and fly within the 600 feet and feed on another horse, it could transmit the disease. However, we never had a negative horse turn positive in our combined herd.
In 1987, we were forced to move because the property we were located on was sold to build the Sawgrass Mills Mall. We were very fortunate to have the help of Broward County when they leased us a piece of land where we could keep the horses. We are still on County land to this day as we could never afford to purchase property, and there is no other area in the county where we could meet the current quarantine laws. During this time of change, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Horse Rescue and Sanctuary was formed as a nonprofit 501 (C)(3) organization and today we still maintain a herd of 45-50 equine where the herd is mixed with EIA positive and negative horses. We have still never had a negative horse turn positive because of exposure and EIA is still not eradicated. Dr. Issel can verify this as he has drawn samples on our herd every couple of years for the last three decades. Our horses are stalled side by side, they go out together, and they eat and drink together. Over the last 32 years we have continued to give EIA blood samples to the University of Kentucky, Centaur, Zoetis and other private researchers and Vets. We have never allowed any researchers to inject anything into our horses, but we do give blood samples with the hope that someday they will figure out this disease. Not much research is done anymore as there are far more dangerous equine diseases that are prevalent now.
However, here are some quick facts;
This is F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 32nd year of saving Florida’s horses. No vaccine or cure was ever created, and research now is primarily done to create a faster, more accurate test to replace the Coggins Test.
1. EIA will never be eradicated because no one knows where the disease comes from.
2. Killing off all the EIA positive horses will not eradicate the disease because it has not worked yet.
3. Destroying all the EIA horses will only destroy the hope of ever having a vaccine or a cure for Americas horses.
4. When a horse tests positive for EIA now they call it a “breakout” but the truth is, usually horses found today are horses that have either never been tested, or they have had the disease for years and no one knew about it.
5. Coggins tests are required by the USDA for; transporting out of the state, showing, auctions, rodeos, leaving your property or anywhere that horses congregate.
6. There is no one to police that people have a current Coggin’s Test. Police are not going to pull a rider over to ask for the test, wait at the park to see if the people riding have the test, and truthfully, they don’t even know horse owners need to have the test on their person.
7. All of the horse in the United States will never be tested. People who have horses in their backyard yard that never go anywhere don't feel the need to have it done. People on working ranches don’t want to pay for one.
8. FACT, the Coggin’s Test only tells you one thing; the horse that is tested is only negative, the moment the blood is being drawn. Once the blood is pulled, if you ride your horse down the street, your horse is exposed to other horses and they could become positive that night and you wouldn’t know it until you tested them the next time. You could have exposed your entire barn for a year without ever knowing it.
Today, the Department of Agriculture has a lot of rules governing EIA horses and it is their hope to have even stricter guidelines in the future. The amount of money spent on testing every year is shameful and we quite certain horse owners are not even aware of the total cost.
FACT: From 2007-2017 there were 17,095,493 Coggins Tests done and it cost horse owners $1,538,594,370.00 from that total only 659 positive horses were found. Yes, BILLION. So, the total cost to find each one of the 659 horses was $2,081,995.09. Yes, that is "million" to find each horse.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was born from a struggle and continues to struggle. We have worked very hard to get the funding to feed all the animals. The feed, hay and supplements average $ 2,500.00 per week. We currently have 47 horses, 2 miniature donkeys, 1 hinny, 6 potbellied pigs, 2 farm pigs, 6 goats and 1 cat.
As long as Broward County continues to allow us to use the property, we will continue to stay open.
We have developed several programs for the community and they have been very supportive.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Horse Rescue and Sanctuary was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization in 1987. We are Broward County Florida’s oldest and largest horse rescue & sanctuary. We are the only organization of our kind. We are the only safe haven for horses that are asymptomatic carriers of Equine Infectious Anemia in the United States. We are also the only source available for the blood samples researchers need to find a cure, vaccine or a more accurate test for this disease.
I am very proud that my grandmother, Susan A. Young, had the wisdom in 1972, to see that these horses were not sick but instead simply carriers of the virus and that more research was and is needed instead of euthanizing these otherwise healthy animals. I am also very proud that this is our 32nd year of saving horses and other farm animals. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. does not sell, trade, buy or give away horses. We rescue and offer them sanctuary so they never have to be in a bad situation again. We are a no kill shelter. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is; a Platinum GuideStar Organization, a verified Global Federal of Animal Sanctuaries organization, a 5 Gold Star Great Nonprofits Organization, a recipient of several ASPCA of NY grants, we are also one of Jane Goodall’s “Roots & Shoots” organizations. We continue to offer programs for the people of our community that no one else has such as our “Magical Mini Program” and the “Sponsor A Horse Program”.
I don’t really believe in luck. I believe in God and the humane treatment and bond between people and animals. I believe you can be or do anything you want in this country but you have to work hard, be positive and do your best all the time. Lastly, I believe we all get put in the same position at some point, the difference is, how you choose handle it and the choices you make. That's what makes your story.
Thanks for reading our story,
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Horse Rescue & Sanctuary
Facility Address: 19801 Sheridan Street, Southwest Ranches, Florida 33332
Phone: (954) 492-0168 or (954) 609-5943