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Highly Contagious Disease In Horses Takes Toll On Nonprofit

By Kelly Werthmann

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - A well-known metro area nonprofit organization is asking for the community's help after a highly contagious disease spread through their herd of horses causing significant financial losses.

Westernaires is an organization in Jefferson County that teaches kids nine to 19 western riding among other specialty skills and horse care. The organization is a staple in the Denver area and has performed at the annual Stock Show every year since 1954.

SICK HORSES Westernaires Strangles
(credit: CBS)
SICK HORSES Westernaires Strangles
(credit: CBS)

There are about 230 horses on the Westernaires property that sits adjacent to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Kids handle several of those animals daily, but the organization is pulling on the reins after an outbreak of "strangles" hit the herd a couple weeks ago, infecting more than 80 horses and ponies.

"Strangles is a highly contagious equine disease that's like strep throat," Westernaires Director Glen Keller told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann. "It's common among horses, but it's not contagious to people or other animals. It is very contagious among horses and they get it by contact, either by touching each other or drinking out of the same water."

SICK HORSES Westernaires Strangles
CBS4's Kelly Werthmann at Westernaires (credit: CBS)
SICK HORSES Westernaires Strangles
(credit: CBS)

Keller said the disease isn't deadly, but veterinary teams are treating the sick horses and keeping the animals in quarantine.

"Each horse is receiving treatment and it seems to be very effective," he said. "The only problem is even with eliminating the symptoms the horse is still contagious for about six weeks. So we have to keep them locked up that long."

Erring on the side of caution, Westernaires is also not allowing kids who rent the horses to work with them and practices are limited to the healthy horses on Saturdays. No owner horses are permitted on the property either. That means a big loss in revenue for the nonprofit organization.

SICK HORSES Westernaires Strangles
(credit: CBS)

"Our horse rentals in a week are cut by more than 50 percent, probably 70 percent now," Keller said.

That means Westernaires is losing upwards of $15,000 each week, not to mention mounting medical costs.

"Even when you run a nonprofit you have to prepare for a rainy day," Keller said. "We've tried to prepare, but it will certainly impact us in the long run, likely eliminating our ability to maintain equipment and things like that or what we use to transport the kids."

Keller did say, however, he will not let the entire program suffer as a result of the outbreak.

The organization has set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise money for veterinarian care and other expenses. More than $5,000 has already been raised and Keller said he is most grateful for the community's generosity.

"I don't think you'd have to be around horses to appreciate what our program is because our program is about kids," Keller said. "If you're around kids and you think kids are worth the future that we hope for them, then they're worth donating to help."

Additional Resources 

To donate, visit:

For more information on Westernaires, visit:

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 Weekend Morning News and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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