HORSES have been banned from taking part in this year's New Forest Show unless they have been vaccinated against a potentially-fatal disease.
More than 200 confirmed cases of equine flu have occurred in the UK so far this year, compared with just two in the whole of 2018.
The Daily Echo understands that two animals in the Braishfield area are among those which have been affected by the disease.
Now the Animal Health Trust is warning that the number of cases could continue to rise as horse shows take place across the country.
The three-day New Forest and Hampshire County Show, which starts tomorrow, is allowing only vaccinated horses to take part.
Laura Trigg, of Seadown Veterinary Services in Hythe, said: "Equine flu is highly contagious and is spread by the affected horse coughing and releasing the virus into the air.
"The virus can also be spread via human contact and other methods such as contaminated feed buckets.
"Equine influenza can be fatal, especially in unvaccinated horses."
Ms Trigg warned that the 3,000 free-roaming ponies in the Forest could be at risk from the disease.
She said: "It's likely that almost none of these ponies has been vaccinated. Most will have never been exposed to the current strain of flu.
"The concern is that an infected/unvaccinated horse or pony enters the area and infects the herd.
"This is especially concerning at this time of year due to the large number of equine shows and events held in the area.
"Fortunately the New Forest and Hampshire County Show has made vaccinations mandatory for all equines entering this year and vets will be carrying out spot checks to ensure all equines entering the showground are up to date with their vaccinations.
"I'd urge anyone thinking of coming to the Forest with their horse to ensure it's vaccinated, not only to protect their own animal but the native herd too."
The show, which takes place at New Park, Brockenhurst, attracts about 100,000 spectators from across the south.
A spokesman sad: "The show takes the outbreak of equine flu extremely seriously and is following British Equestrian Federation guidelines to ensure horses entering site follow the correct vaccination requirements.
"Checks will be occurring throughout the event to ensure exhibitors follow the rules and that anyone found with a horse without an up-to-date vaccination does not enter the site.
"All the competitors are aware of this rule and are happy to comply with the vaccinations requirements."
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