Employ these biosecurity tactics to keep your horse healthy this show season.
By Joe Carter, DVM, With Kaycie Timm, Photos by Kaycie Timm
The COVID-19 global pandemic heightened awareness of virus-prevention methods, such as social distancing and protective gear, for people around the globe. While we’re all excited to see the gradual resumption of horse shows (read more about that on page 67), it’s important to heed safety guidelines to stay well. Just as practicing good hygiene helps keep you healthy, taking biosecurity measures to protect your horse can prevent him from contracting an illness that could keep him out of the show pen.
Start Healthy, Stay Healthy
Keeping your horse healthy during show season begins by starting out healthy. Before hauling to a show, check with your horse’s veterinarian to ensure your horse is up-to-date on all of his vaccinations. The most important vaccines to protect your horse during show season are those that target respiratory illnesses, the most common of which are equine influenza, rhinopneumonitis (commonly called rhino), and strangles. Consult your horse’s veterinarian to determine what specific respiratory vaccines your horse might need, then plan to vaccinate accordingly so your horse is healthy when you head to a show.
Depending on where you’re planning to travel, your veterinarian may also need to issue a health certificate for your horse. Part of your veterinarian’s job is to stay aware of federally managed infectious diseases, like vesicular stomatitis (VS) or equine herpesvirus, so they’ll know if any additional documentation or precautions are required. For example, during a VS outbreak, travel regulations differ if your horse lives in a county where there’s been a known case. Trust your vet as a source for updated information and tips to manage those situations for your horse’s best health.
Most major show venues regularly clean and disinfect all stalls and aisleways between each event. But it doesn’t hurt to take extra disinfection measures.
I recommend that you inspect and clean your stalls when you move in before a show. Look for any organic material—such as nasal discharge or mucus—left on the stall walls, especially where you’re going to put feed or water buckets for your horse. Clean those areas with soap and water first, then spray the entire stall with disinfectant before adding bedding. One-gallon garden sprayers are ideal for spraying the stall with your choice of disinfectant. That extra step offers additional security to ensure that your horse stays well.
Once you’ve cleaned and sanitized your stalls and the surrounding area, consider how you can protect your horse in common spaces like the wash rack or the warm-up pen. If you see a horse coughing or showing any clinical signs of a respiratory disease, avoid that area, or clean it before taking your horse into the space. Using hot water and soap generally denatures viruses effectively, but still be cautious. You’ve heard recent social distancing guidelines suggest staying 6 feet apart, and that advice can apply to your horse, too. Diseases are transmitted through nose-to-nose contact or aerosolization, such as if an infected horse coughs near your horse. Avoiding direct contact between horses, especially any showing signs of illness, gives your horse an additional barrier to disease.
Sharing Isn’t Caring
Another key biosecurity step is proper management of tack and equipment, starting in your own barn. In addition to the danger of respiratory viruses your horse can contract, he’s also at risk of picking up skin funguses. Sharing grooming equipment between horses can transmit fungus or infectious disease from one horse to another, even if they never come in direct contact. Using the same tack—especially bits and bridles that hold potentially contaminated saliva—on multiple horses also allows viruses to be easily transmitted. While it’s not always possible, having separate tack for each individual horse is always best. If that’s not an option, carefully sanitize all your equipment before using it on another horse.
Although it’s often impractical to quarantine show horses after they return from an event, separating horses that might have been exposed to illness is always worthwhile. If you’ve taken your horse to a show and return to a facility with other horses that haven’t been off the property, try to isolate and monitor your horse for a short period of time. If you introduce a new horse to the barn, quarantine him for 10 to 14 days, and watch for any nasal discharge, cough, and other signs of disease. Using caution and taking extra safety measures can mean the difference between an isolated, treatable illness and an epidemic that affects the whole barn.