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Viktoria Sander: “We went to Valencia with five horses, and returned with three”

Tuesday, 06 April 2021
EHV-1 (neurological form)

Photo © private collection Viktoria Sander lost her horses Smokey and Quintano in the EHV-1 outbreak in Valencia, Spain. Photo © private collection.


Text © World of Showjumping



Viktoria Sander of Jumper Horses Sweden lost two of her horses in the EHV-1 outbreak at the Valencia Spring Tour in Spain. Two weeks into the outbreak, the 6-year-old Smokey, by Stakkato Gold x Espri, lost the battle against the virus and then – at the very end of March – the 9-year-old Quintano, by Quality Time TN x Carthago Z, also had to be euthanized. 

In the middle of February, Viktoria’s horses – Smokey, Quintano, Secret Star, Casanova and Kendrick – left Sweden to compete in Valencia with their daily rider Thomas Ryan (IRL). “The horses competed four days – Thursday to Sunday – before the show was cancelled in the middle of the Grand Prix on Sunday, just before Quintano was supposed to jump. Earlier that day, Smokey won the 6-year-old final,” Viktoria tells.


It was unreal to see your horse win a class one day and then eight days later having to take the decision to put him down because he was suffering so much.

“Before this experience, I thought that this virus mostly affected horses that weren’t in such a good shape and didn’t think it would hit so hard on well-trained top athletes. It was horrific to see these horses just fade away. It is not something we ever could have imagined, when we packed the truck and loaded our five horses to drive down to Spain,” Viktoria says. 

Four out of five horses got ill

Viktoria left Valencia on the last day of competition to be home for a week and returned the next Monday. “I didn’t experience the most horrible week and the two days when horses died left and right. Still, the situation was very serious when I got back – horses could not stand up by themselves, nor walk, and there was a 24-hour monitoring of them since the virus went from bad to worse so fast,” Viktoria tells. 

No one in Valencia could be prepared for what would happen next; it was impossible to imagine what was waiting for us. You could only try to extinguish the fires as they occured.

“The first of my horses got sick on the Monday after the show was cancelled. In the end, I had four sick horses and it was only Secret Star who didn’t get affected at all and could stay in the green zone. He returned to Sweden three weeks ago and will be released from his quarantine after Easter. Kendrick and Casanova only had a fever, while Smokey and Quintano both developed neurological symptoms,” Viktoria details. 

Smokey was the first of Viktoria’s horses that lost the battle to EHV-1. “He was in the clinic as well as in intensive care for about 24 hours before we had to take the difficult decision to let him go. Unfortunately, Smokey didn’t respond to the medications and he was suffering. I know my horses and could see in his eyes that this was really not good. Smokey was such a fun and happy horse that always did his best. He never pushed himself more than needed, but always did just enough to deliver perfectly. He loved to compete and to do his job and was a perfect horse in many ways. I bought him from Mario Stevens and his father Erich was the breeder,” Viktoria tells. 

Horse no. 18

Quintano was horse no. 18 that lost his life in Valencia. “Quintano also had neurological symptoms, and was in recovery when he fell so badly that he injured himself. After the accident we had him in the stable in Valencia for a couple of days before we went to the clinic in Barcelona for a proper examination. It became clear straight away that he had to be euthanized. The autopsy is not completed yet, so while the cause of death is not clear, his accident was in my opinion a 100% caused by the virus. Without the neurological symptoms, he would not have had the fall,” Viktoria says. “Quintano was such a fun horse. He had competed up to 1.50m level and we had high hopes for him.”

To lose two horses in such a short time under such circumstances has been emotionally challenging – and a hard financial blow. “My horses are insured, but only for veterinarian costs and up to a certain limit, so of course this is a huge economical loss. These were two horses that never disappointed anyone during their careers. Now it is just to pull together and try to look forward,” Viktoria says.

Casanova and Kendrick arrived in Sweden last Thursday so finally Viktoria’s three remaining horses are back on home soil. “The horses are doing really well and are now in quarantine. We will carefully bring them back to work. Even though they didn’t develop any neurological symptoms, they have been through a lot,” Viktoria says. 

To go from well-trained horses in full show condition to end up in a stable not able to move is an extreme adjustment.

 "Just the travel back home to Sweden from Spain must have been exhausting for them after the weeks they had,” Viktoria says.

The tragedy brought people together

“I must say that all the riders, grooms and horse owners in Valencia were united. It was amazing to see how everyone worked together and supported each other,” Viktoria tells. “If one horse had experienced problems moving, it was such a genuine joy among everyone when this horse could walk properly again – no matter who the horse belonged to. This tragedy really brought people together and I think many got friends for life after they fought together for the sake of the horses. It has also been very emotional to see how the equestrian community came together, and sent food, shavings and supplements to Valencia. Then there is also the money that has been donated to help with the veterinarian costs – it is really touching.”

After having experienced the outbreak in Valencia, Viktoria is anxious about future shows. “I can’t stop thinking of what we can do to not end up in a situation like this ever again. I’m also thinking about if we really have to travel so far. It is very far from Sweden to Spain and maybe it would be enough to choose shows within a one-day trip. How far is it really worth to travel?”

Last year we were at the Mediterranean Tour in Oliva when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and we quickly had to put the horses on the truck to leave. Now, exactly one year later in Valencia it got a thousand times worse… 

"When things like this happen, you really feel that you are a long, long way from home,” she points out.  

“We will see what FEI’s investigation leads to when it is completed, but I think the whole equestrian world has learned a lesson about how horses should be stabled at shows. You simply can’t have this many horses under one and the same roof,” Viktoria says.  

“If an outbreak like this would ever occur again, I wish it would be better managed. From the moment there was a suspicion that there was a contagious disease, there should have been an open line of communication with the riders. There should also have been protocols in place on how to contain and control the spread; in this case many left with their horses without knowing whether they were positive or not. In my opinion, the moment it was clear that something was not right, everyone should have stayed at the show ground until their horses were cleared and it was safe to leave. You have to remember you might leave with infected horses, which means you take the risk of spreading the virus – not only to your own horses at home, but also to other horses at overnight stables. We all have to do what we can to stop diseases from spreading like it did this time,” Viktoria closes off.


No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of

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