FOUR horses have now died following an outbreak of a highly-contagious disease at a Hampshire equestrian centre.
Now the owners of horses which have been to Crofton Manor, near Stubbington, are being urged to help prevent the equine herpes virus EHV-1 from spreading to the New Forest.
EHV-1, which can cause inflammation of blood vessels in the spinal cord and brain, is usually spread by direct horse-to-horse contact.
But it can also be spread indirectly through contact with objects which are contaminated with the virus, including clothing, grooming equipment and water buckets.
The New Forest, home to thousands of free-roaming ponies, is one of the most popular horse riding areas in the country.
Sue Westwood, clerk to the Verderers, said: "We're asking anyone whose horse has been to Crofton Manor, or has had contact with a horse that has been to Crofton Manor since Christmas, to kindly refrain from riding on the Forest. This a temporary measure to protect the Forest ponies."
Ten horses at Crofton Manor tested positive for EHV-1, which cannot be passed to humans, after the first case was confirmed on January 7.
A statement on the centre's Facebook page confirms that the number of horses which have died from the disease has risen from two to four.
It adds: "Whilst we are still waiting for all the results to come back from the laboratory we can say that the majority are coming back negative."
Several people have used social media to send message of support to the centre.
One woman said: "Thank you for being so responsible in sharing information about this devastating situation, which could have happened anywhere."
Seadown Veterinary Services in Hythe has alerted its clients about the outbreak of EHV-1.
Equine vet Laura Trigg, a Seadown director, said: "The herpes virus is extremely contagious and can be spread by the affected horses. It can also be spread inadvertently due to poor biosecurity."
EHV-1 can cause respiratory problems, abortion in pregnant mares and in rare cases neurological problems leading to paralysis.
Early symptoms caused by the respiratory form of the disease include coughing, increased temperature, a nasal discharge and a lack of interest in food.
Initial indications of the neurological form of the virus include a lack of energy, wobbly hind legs and a slight tilt of the head.
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