By Bill Finley
A number of foals born on the Sayre, Pennsylvania standardbred farm operated by Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural over the last three years have developed an affliction known as dysphagia, which prevents them from swallowing properly. And investigators are trying to figure out what is behind the problem and, in particular, whether it has anything to do with fracking.
The story was first reported by the Ithaca Journal.
Gural said the farm’s water supply is behind the problem and that the water has a high concentration of manganese. However, he wasn’t 100 percent convinced that a gas well drilled directly next to the farm was the culprit.
“The jury is still out,” he said. “That’s what we’re really trying to figure out. I am suspicious. My wife isn’t and she’s a geologist. We have a difference of opinion.”
Over three years, 17 foals born at Gural’s farm have developed the problem and last year 11 of 12 had the issue. Gural estimated his farm has produced 30 foals over the three-year period in question. No mares came down with the disorder.
Each affected foal was sent to the Cornell University Equine Hospital, where they were successfully treated. Gural sells most of the horses he breeds at yearling sales and said that each one was 100 percent healthy and over the problem by the time they entered the sales ring.
“Once the foals come back they are fine, but this has cost me a lot of money.” Gural said. “It’s a question of the costs of having to send them to Cornell, which is not cheap.”
Even though it has been able to heal the horses, the Cornell team wants to know what caused the problem. It has received a $240,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and has launched a study.
“Everyone wants to know if fracking is a factor and Cornell is doing a study,” Gural said. “I assume that at some point we will get to the bottom of this.”
A previous study done by Cornell concluded that “dozens of cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in cows, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, dogs, cats, fish and other wildlife, and humans” could be “the result of exposure to gas drilling operations.”
Dionne Benson at the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium said it was difficult to pinpoint the normal percentage of foals born with dysphasia, but that there were dozens of possible causes for it.
Gural said he put in a water filtration system on his farm last October and he believes that has solved the problem.
“Everything seems under control now,” he said. “So far this year we’ve had two foals with problems and one is unrelated to the water. Next year is when we’ll know for sure. The mares now giving foal were drinking the water while pregnant before we dealt with the water. That won’t be an issue next year, so, hopefully all the foals will be born without any problems next year.”
A study by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection concluded that fracking had nothing to do with the problems Gural’s farm was having with its foals. Gural has appealed that ruling to Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board.