Westernaires launches GoFundMe after contagious disease spreads through horses, ponies

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- Nearly 60 horses and more than 20 ponies owned by the Westernaires have been infected with a highly contagious equine disease called strangles.

The Westernaires is a nonprofit organization in Jefferson County that teaches horsemanship and “the best traditions of the West” to people ages 9 to 19. They have performed in Wild West shows, parades and rodeos for 68 years.

“Our real job is to raise kids up teach them a little responsibility,” director Glen Keller said.

He said they focus on horsemanship, responsibility and teamwork. In turn, they produce very skilled precision drill teams.

“I know for me, when I’ve had difficult times and struggles, this has always been a place that I can come back to and it’s really peaceful and it’s like home in a lot of ways,” said Laura Guerra, who has been riding at Westernaires since she was 8.

The program is struggling because of a rare outbreak of strangles. The symptoms are similar to strep throat and are extremely contagious.

“They get it by contact, either by touching each other or drinking out of the same waters,” Keller said.

According to the Westernaires, strangles is a bacterial infection that has a long incubation period and requires an isolation period of four to six weeks.

“Westernaires is working closely with their trusted veterinary team for booster inoculations and state-of-the-art care,” organizers stated. “The Westernaire Wrangler teams have been tireless in their round-the-clock care of both the healthy horses and the quarantined ill horses.”

During quarantine, those horses can’t be ridden. With more than a third of the herd infected, it is causing a serious revenue hold for the organization.

“Westernaires is experiencing a financial hit like they never have before,” the Westernaires Alumni Association said on a GoFundMe page that has been set up.

On top of the expense of caring for the ill horses, organizers said they are losing about $5,000 a week that they would normally bring in by renting the horses.

“Westernaires are flexible, perseverant, and optimistic,” organizers stated on the GoFundMe page. “This is the spirit of Westernaires."