It is probably safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s life to some degree. In an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, we created new rules and guidelines to keep people safe. While we are implementing new safety measures for humans, this might be the perfect time to talk about minimizing the risk of your horse contracting a contagious disease. Two elements are equally important to successfully minimize the risk of contagious equine diseases: increasing your horse’s resistance to diseases and practicing biosecurity. Following are tips on how to master both.
In order to building up and strengthen your horse’s resistance to diseases, start by reinforcing the following aspects of your horse’s life:
Vaccinating is the most important step to minimize the risk of contagious diseases. There are certain vaccines all horses should get (e.g., tetanus, rabies, etc.) and some that can be necessary depending on your horse’s specific circumstances. You should talk to your veterinarian and discuss a vaccination plan tailored to your horse’s needs, based on your horse’s general health status, the region you live in and other specifics like the amount of travel and the associated risk of exposure.
This includes making sure to fulfill all your horse’s nutritional needs with adequate feed and necessary supplements as well as weight management. Vitamin deficits, malnutrition or being underweight or obese will weaken your horse’s ability to fight off diseases. Talk to your veterinarian and barn manager about the amount of feed and supplements or vitamins your horse might benefit from due to age, workload or living situation.
Adding too much stress to your horse's life can compromise the immune system, resulting in your horse getting more susceptible for diseases. Stress for horses often comes in form of experiencing too many or frequent changes e.g., changing their home location by moving from barn to barn, making frequent changes to their feed or putting an unmanageable workload on them.
Practicing biosecurity is the second element to successfully minimize the risk of contagious equine diseases. Practicing biosecurity means determining which aspects of your horse’s life pose a risk to be exposed to contagious diseases and establish practices to reduce those risks. Following are tips on how to practice biosecurity at home, away from home and for a new horse moving into the barn.
- Vaccinate horses regularly and monitor daily for any symptoms of sickness.
- Don’t share grooming supplies, tack, coolers, etc. with other boarders at your barn. Use separate, dedicated equipment for each horse e.g., separate halters, lead ropes and blankets for each horse.
- Ask visitors to wash their hands before entering the barn and touching horses. This not only applies to guests your boarders/riders might bring along but more importantly vets, equine dentists, farriers, chiropractors, etc. since they probably already visited a different farm, handling horses before coming to you. Provide liquid soap or hand sanitizer to make it easy for people to follow this rule.
- Avoid using multiple-dose medications e.g., oral paste or eye ointments on multiple horses.
- If you allow outside horses in to use your facility or amenities, they should present a Coggins test and proof of required vaccinations prior to entering the facility.
Away from home
Taking your horse off farm to compete, breed, train, or go to a veterinary hospital is always associated with the risk of exposure to diseases. Practicing biosecurity helps to prepare accordingly and be mindful about the risk.
- Wherever you are taking your horse, don’t let your horse touch other horses, especially nose to nose.
- Avoid sharing equipment (such as buckets, brushes, sponges, or hoses) with horses from other farms.
- If possible don’t hand-graze your horse where other horses have recently grazed.
- Don’t let strangers touch and pet your horse or feed them treats.
- If you touch other horses, wash your hands with soap and water, and dry them well. Use disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
New horses moving in
Every new horse should ideally come with a health certificate, Coggins test and proof of required vaccinations. A horse moving in without these papers should be quarantined without any contact to other horses. According to the Equine Disease Communication Center, new horses should be isolated for 7-14 days. In reality this is unfortunately not always the case. However, you should at least evaluate the risk of bringing in a contagious disease by thinking about where the new horse came from? A small barn close to your home location where all horses are vaccinated, picked by the new owner him-/herself? The risk of bringing in a contagious disease is probably low. If the answer is a busy sales barn at the other side of the country and a multiple-day-trip in a trailer with other horses, the risk is probably moderate to severe and you should really consider a quarantine.
The main goal is always to keep our horses safe. Strengthening your horse’s resistance and practicing biosecurity will help minimizing the risk of contagious equine diseases. For more advice on how to keep your horse safe check out Barn hazards to avoid.
Tanja Schnuderl is a team member with The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm with expert equestrians offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases and legal matters. Tanja is an expert on Barn Management and Horse Behavior. She is the Barn Manager for Moon Rising Farm just outside Washington DC and Principal of Sigma Equine LLC, an equine appraisal business. Tanja grew up in Germany and was a paralegal for many years. For more information on Tanja Schnuderl email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.theequineexpert.com