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An Equine Threat


In the early part of the 20th Century, horses still provided most of the horsepower. In 1915 there were over 26 million horses in the United States. Now, there’s just over 9 million. For most people, horses have disappeared from day-to-day life. But back in the day, horses were everywhere. If you wanted to ride a streetcar, buy produce shipped in from a farm, or purchase ice from the ice man, you used horses.

On this date in 1915, W.F. Crowe of the North Dakota Live Stock Sanitary Board announced an effort to eradicate a threat to the state’s horses. It was Dourine, a fatal venereal disease that affects horses, donkeys, and mules. Even today, there is no vaccine for the disease, and treatment remains far from certain. Dourine used to be widespread, found in countries around the world. By 1915 it was less common. But the state still had some cases.

So, Mr. Crewe announced a program, an ambitious one, to inspect all of the horses that had been inspected the previous year and that way, they’d determine if the disease had made any progress. He said other horses would also be inspected, and he thought the disease would be wiped out by summer. Veterinarians were supposed to report all cases. New horses should be quarantined until known to be disease free, said Mr. Crewe. He also noted that native ponies tended to be of hardier stock and they seemed more resistant to dourine – which, remember, often killed. A few horses recovered, but the mortality rate was estimated to be 75%. Some experts put it even higher.

In order to prevent the spread of dourine, any horses showing symptoms had to be put down. So the fatality rate was 100% in detected cases. You could see why ranchers, farmers, and others who depended on horses were concerned. Crewe assured them that they would be compensated, with the state and federal governments splitting the cost.

Crewe was right to be optimistic. By that summer in 1915, there were very few cases of dourine in North Dakota. It continues to be a concern worldwide, but a small one around here, and they repealed the chapter about it that was in the North Dakota Century Code in 1965.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Grand Forks Herald: “To Fight Dourine: All Horses to be Inspected Again This Year by Department.” 24 March, 1915

University of Iowa. "http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/dourine.pdf" http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/dourine.pdf Accessed 16 March, 2016.

The American Equestrian. “The Demographic of the U.S. Equine Population.” "http://www.americanequestrian.com/pdf/us-equine-demographics.pdf" http://www.americanequestrian.com/pdf/us-equine-demographics.pdf Accessed 16 March, 2016.