Ranch struck with strangles

Disease running its course after infecting 15 horses



Horse owner Natalie Bieber talks about the impact of strangles on her horse Shadow, which she boards at the Sidney Peak Ranch. This winter, an outbreak of strangles, which is similar to strep throat in humans, infected about 15 horses at the ranch. Strangles is a bacterial infection which causes swelling in the glands of the throat. It's very contagious, but is normally not fatal.

— A contagious horse disease known as "strangles" is lingering at Sidney Peak Ranch, a month after most of the unusually large outbreak subsided.

Rod Hanna, president and chief executive officer of Sidney Peak Ranch, said Monday that strangles infected 15 of the 61 horses at the ranch from late December through early March. The ranch is a horse-boarding facility that includes an indoor riding arena, outdoor pastures and 32 adjacent home-sites on Routt County Road 14, south of Steamboat Springs off Colorado Highway 131. At least one horse at the ranch still has the disease, which is also known as "horse distemper." Strangles is characterized by a swelling of lymph nodes beneath a horse's chin and in the throatlatch area, possibly affecting a horse's ability to breathe. The disease is a bacterial infection that most often runs its course in about 10 days and is rarely fatal, but it can spread rapidly among horses in close proximity to one another.

"Surprisingly enough, a lot of people don't know about it," barn manager Angie Harding said of strangles.

Routt County resident Nat-

alie Bieber said her half-Morgan horse, named Shadow, is currently suffering symptoms from the disease at Sidney Peak, which Bieber called "the best barn I've ever boarded a horse in." Bieber said Shadow could have become infected with strangles at a friend's pasture.

But one local horse owner is not happy with the conditions at Sidney Peak. Laurrelle Crawford removed her Tennessee Walker gelding from the ranch in November, she said, because of concerns about a lack of health precautions.

"I made complaints last year because they were putting a sick mare next to mine," Crawford said. "They weren't taking care of the place to protect the health of the horses that were there. Now, I'm nervous about bringing my horse back from Arizona. This is about protecting all the horses in Steamboat."

Sidney Peak Ranch is requiring all new horses boarded at the facility to have a strangles vaccination, which Harding said has about a 60 percent success rate in preventing infection. The ranch boards horses in individual stalls inside the barn, outdoor paddocks and an outdoor pasture.

Harding said strangles likely came to Sidney Peak in an influx of new horses that began boarding at the ranch in December.

"This is the first year we've had 60 horses," Hanna said.

Symptoms of strangles include a fever, a reduction of energy and an unwillingness to eat.

"It's basically the same as strep throat in humans," Hanna said.

Harding said treatments include letting the disease run its natural course, lancing the boils to induce drainage, or in some cases, giving the horse antibiotics such as banamine.

"Mild cases usually resolve themselves without incident and probably do not require antibiotic therapy," said the North Dakota State University Extension Service, which said in a February article that strangles was a common affliction among horses this winter. "Applying hot packs to swollen and abscessed lymph nodes can be beneficial. : Any equipment that has come in contact with an affected horse, including brushes, buckets and tack, should be disinfected thoroughly."

Local veterinarian Mike Gotchey, who treated the horses at Sidney Peak, could not be reached for comment Monday.


ElBorracho 10 years, 1 month ago

"Suprisingly enough, many people don't know about it," says the barn manager. Well, are you telling them about it before they bring their horses to you??? This barn apparently has had horses in and out all winter, despite these ongoing problems. The whole place needs to be quarantined -- no horses in, no horses out -- for at least a month after the last case is gone. And with 60 horses there, how many precautions are they able to take to make sure it doesn't spread among horses? Not many, apparently.


Mike Perrego 10 years, 1 month ago

Good morning,

This was a great article to help educate the community on health issues affecting our equine friends. As with our own human families illness arrives in different packages. The terms used such as "strep" and "strangles" occassionally make the situation sound dire when as even NDSU states "...usually resolve themselves without incident..." kind of like a regular cold. My trusted vet relayed he has only seen two equine fatalities in 20 years and those cases were severe.

I must also comment that like Natalie, the owner of Shadow that had the illness, I feel this is the best barn I have had our three horses boarded at. In the past my family has had the opportunity to run our own horse training and boarding farm and understand the commitment to health, care and proper management and the team at SPR has shown a very high level of these aspects to my horses.

As we were about to begin boarding at SPR soon after the illness was recognized we were notified by SPR mgmt and we vaccinated ours for this illness as well as for other necessary yearly needs before arriving. Our horses have been cared for by SPR mgmt and by us as owners during this outbreak and they have not succumbed to this illness. To date I have seen regular ranch worming and vaccination schedules completed along with an infectious disease educational event. I do agree that "many people don't know about strangles" but that goes for many diseases, human and animal related, and its not the responsibility for SPR to become full time educators of a horse owner. Ignorance is not bliss, rather an excuse when owning a horse.

With regards to the negative experience that another boarder Laurelle had gone through all I can say is that is unfortunate. As horse owners we are ultimately responsible caretakers and if she felt the need to remove her animal for whatever reason then that was the correct thing for her to do.

On a related note, it is my understanding that another owner in particular was not doing their responsibility of care. SPR mgmt continually attempted to contact that owner with multiple horses boarded where at least one had the illness and the owner would not respond and assist in caring for their animal(s).

If this is accurate that scenario leaves us with the equivalent situation of another family sending their sick child off to school and others blaming the school system for their child also becoming sick, or, where a coworker refuses to take a sick day off and blame is placed at the manager for others becoming ill from contact with the person. This is nonsense and responsibility must lie with the owner of the issue.

Personally, we are very satisfied with the equine care and ranch cleanliness provided by the SPR Mgmt and Team and will continue to board our horses with them.

Mike Perrego Steamboat Springs, CO


Laurrelle Crawford 10 years, 1 month ago

Thank you Steamboat Pilot for letting the community know that there is a very infectous disease in our community, one that can affect ALL Steamboat horses whether they board at Sideny Peak or not. Strangles is transferred by coming in contact with the nasal discharge (including being air borne up to 30 feet when the horse sneezes and it gets on your clothes); manure and shavings; the abcess drainage and from tack, feed buckets, stall doors or any other surfuce that has come in contact with the horse. It is transferred from barn to barn by flies that have visited the infected manure pile and farriers and vets via their boot and clothes as they travel. As a former manager/trainer of show horses at a Florida barn, I am well versed in preventive horse care. One major practice is to require health certificates before a new horse is brought onto the property and to ISOLATE that horse from the other horses for at least three weeks. Any horse that becomes ill while boarding at a facility should be isolated and any one handling or feeding the horse should change clothes, disinfect all buckets and any other items that have come in contact with the horse before handling any other item in the barn.

Sidney Peak is indeed a beautiful place to board a horse, however, with the first outbreak of Strangles happening a year ago and two more outbreaks happening this past winter, I have to suspect that complete health procedures are not taking place. While a vaccination is available, it does not prevent the disease, it only lessens the severity. In addition, the vaccine only lasts 3 months. Some horses can become carriers of Strangles and so my fear is that once the owners start traveling around town or trail riding and their horses come in contact with others, Strangles will spread county wide.

It has been stated that Strangles is like a sore throat or common cold. It is much more severe than that and includes large abcesses developing in the jowl area that burst and drain. It can become "Bastard Strangles" where the organs of the horse develop huge pustulant abcesses and, in many cases, death. In any event, a horse sick with Strangles is miserable and requires veterinary care which results in hundreds of dollars to the owner.

I am hoping that this warning to our equine community will force Sidney Peak to be placed under quarantine until every horse has had the required throat swab testing over a three week period to show that it is not carrying the disease; that they will take measures to disinfect the barn, paddocks and fencing and that they will bury or totally cover the manure being taken out of the barn so that files can't get to it.

It is unfortunate and terrible when our equine friends, who depend totally on us, suffer this kind of illness and I hope that, as a community, we can join together to help them through this crisis.

Laurrelle Crawford


ElBorracho 10 years, 1 month ago

Mike: You are absolutely right that strangles is fatal in only a small percentage of cases, but just because it doesn't kill most horses doesn't make it a minor inconvenience -- and if that's the information you're getting from SPR, that's exactly what concerns me.

It is a highly, HIGHLY contagious disease that is both painful and performance-limiting. Horses -- not just those that show symptoms, but every horse in the barn b/c of how infectious this is -- should be quarantined for at least a month.

That may not a problem for you if you ride and enjoy your horses solely at the barn and never plan to take them off the property to go to a 4-H competition or trail ride with friends. But for anyone who would like to get off the property, the persistent nature of these outbreaks at SPR has kept them on-site for months at this point (assuming they are responsible managers of their animals and didn't decide to leave anyways, precautioned be damned).

And that's where I'd argue that, as the barn manager, SPR DOES have a responsibility to teach people about strangles and make sure their boarders don't take it upon themselves to up and leave for a pack trip or team roping at the fairgrounds, thus exposing a whole other group of people's horses to this disease. Plus, while individual owners should care for their horses' needs, SPR has the responsibility for ensuring the safety of its other boarders and doing everything possible (isolating infected horses as well as their feed, water and equipment). I don't see ANY mention in this article of what procedures SPR is taking to quarantine the property or infected horses. I hope that was just an omission by the writer and not an indication that SPR management and boarders think "Oh well, it'll just run its course."


Mike Perrego 10 years, 1 month ago

Great conversation. I am glad we are being educational on this topic. It does appear I was mistaken for insinuating this is only like a slight cold ... what I meant was it can be like a cold and it can run its course in 'mild cases' (as with what NDSU stated in the article) but, yes, there are (according to my vet) a few serious cases causing more issues and discomfort; similar to the differing severities of a cold/flu where some cases end up in hospitalization while some are only carriers.

ElBorracho: In this ranch's situation I acquired my strangles information from my vet, not SPR. When SPR notified me of the issue I took proactive measures as best as one can to protect the health of my horses. My vet stated the Intra-nasal application for this lasts 6 months and to be certain to renew every 6 months as a preventative measure (The shot version is not as effective was my understanding from my vet so we went with the Intra-nasal).

I cannot speak to what occurred before I arrived but since I have SPR has had a "strangles" educational clinic with an onsite vet for information. Also, upon arrival we were required to provide Health certificates and proof of negative Coggins tests, Intra-nasal Strangles and the Rhino/Flu shots. In addition, our horses were isolated from others for a few weeks.

I was educated on how SPR quarantined/isolated the one horse, Shadow from the article, and was satisifed with what I saw occuring.

I also feel the author of this article needs to follow up with more information on how SPR is handling this rather than us going around this topic when SPR should speak for itself thru The Pilot.

What I do know coming in to SPR's barn is that they required more on health standards than some major horse trainers require at their ranches here in Colorado that we've been to and most certainly light years above any Colorado 4H event we've been a part of. I do not mean 'all' 4H horse events, only the ones we've been participating in. Those events never once asked for anything revolving around the health aspects of particpating horses nor the health of any one around a horse that's been observed to be ill or dangerous.

Maybe (??) my experience at SPR as shorter lived as some is showing a change in attitude away from what some others experienced..? I do not know, however, can only speak to my experience and it has been completely acceptable to date. If I see something amiss there I will not stand idle and accept any propaganda. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but I do care for horses and will not accept subpar treatment of them.

Thanks for the comment sharing, let's get SPR to speak up.


alanamaga 10 years, 1 month ago

If Strangles is such a "common" affliction, why have I never in 11yrs of boarding all over routt county, ever heard of it happening here until Sydney Peak?? Also, doesn't it concern anyone that the "barn manager" refers to Banamine as an ANTIBIOTIC, when in fact, it is a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug?? Even I know that, and I am certainly not in charge of the health of 60 animals. I guess anyone can be a "barn manager", and not even know the basics. I, also, am concerned about the health of my horse as well as all of routt county as this is a highly contagious disease, but I guess Sydney Peak is more concerned with their PR campaign. I looked at boarding my horse there a couple years ago, and when I saw all the comings and goings of all the animals, decided against it for health reasons. I am glad that I did, as I heard horror stories from friends who boarded there relative to the high incidences of minor illnesses amongst the animals even before the outbreak of strangles. It may be a "beautiful" barn to board at, and goodness knows, we certainly need facilities like it, but there is obviously an ongoing infestation, and the only thing of integrity to do is to quarantine the whole place, animals and all, and do a massive clean up, but then again, that might cause bad publicity.


Laurrelle Crawford 10 years, 1 month ago

Hi everyone,

I'm so happy to see that we're not letting this issue die silently but are interested in protecting Steamboat's equine residents. As there seems to be some false information going around I thought you'd like to go to the following web sites and get some one on one information. Hope this helps you:






Laurrelle Crawford


Laurrelle Crawford 10 years, 1 month ago

How lovely to see the Saturday two page ad that Sidney Peak submitted which contained many horse owners happiness with boarding there. Quite nice ... my question is ...



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