Disease can be a real threat to any horse, pony, donkey or their hybrid and can seriously impact their health and welfare. Disease outbreaks can be costly, especially if it affects a business such as a riding school or competition centre. In serious outbreaks the whole yard may have to be on ‘lockdown’ for weeks, or even months until the disease has been fully eradicated.
The British Horse Society urge everyone involved with horses to take simple steps to promote good biosecurity and help prevent the spread of disease at home and when out and about. In the event of an outbreak, it is vital correct procedures are put into place and followed accordingly.
What is good biosecurity?
Biosecurity refers to a set of management practices used to minimise the introduction and prevent the spread of disease. Good biosecurity should be practised at all times, not just during a disease outbreak and is vital in the protection of not only your own horse, but those around you too.
Steps to help prevent disease spread at your yard:
Request a free A4 or A5 disease prevention poster for your yard - contact email@example.com or call 02476 840517.
- Clean feed bowls and water buckets daily
- Regularly clean grooming kit, tack, rugs and vehicles used to transport horses
- If dealing with horses other than your own, wash hands before and after
- Ensure all boundary fences are secure especially where the neighbouring premises keep horses. To prevent nose to nose contact over fences, use well-spaced double fencing.
- Vaccination against Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) can help prevent both respiratory disease and abortion caused by EHV-1 and/or EHV-4 and is especially recommended for horses under the age of five as they may be particularly susceptible to respiratory disease caused by EHV-1. There is no vaccine registered to prevent EHV-1 neurological disease-for further advice speak to your vet.
- Ensure all who have access to your yard are informed of the biosecurity procedures you have in place, explaining the importance of following your yard protocols.
- Routinely monitor that all biosecurity procedures are being followed properly.
- Reassess any biosecurity protocols yearly or following a disease outbreak to highlight any new areas of risk.
- Non-resident horses visiting a yard must be kept away from resident horses e.g. external visitors hiring an arena.
- Ensure to have a structured worming programme in place for all horses on the yard and test all new arrivals
New Arrivals – Setting up isolation areas
Isolating all new arrivals to your yard is a vital step in ensuring you have the most effective measures of disease prevention in place. Although the new horse may appear healthy, they could be harbouring disease and not yet showing any clinical signs. To protect all horses on your yard, new arrivals should have no direct or indirect contact with the resident horses.
Direct Contact e.g. nose to nose
Indirect Contact e.g. shared equipment
- Quarantine new arrivals to your yard for a minimum of 21 days, ensuring they have limited shared air space and are downwind of the main barn. Ideally new horses should be kept on a separate area of the yard to all resident horses.
Use enrichment to provide mental stimulation and keep the horse occupied. This can include visual enrichment, preferably with other horses in sight or, feed enrichment which encourages foraging and increases the time spent eating, for example; hay balls. Remember this short-term situation is much better than a whole yard going down with disease.
- Field environment - Designate an area away from the other horses and provide a separate water supply. If space is limited, use well-spaced double-electric fencing as a minimum to prevent nose to nose contact.
- Ensure that any horses in the isolation facilities are cared for by separate staff or after the other horses have been attended to.
- Wash hands and disinfect boots when you have attended to the quarantined horses. See DEFRA’s approved list of disinfectants here.
- It is advised that as a minimum, all new horses should be up to date with equine influenza and tetanus vaccines (tetanus is not a contagious disease, but is extremely likely to be fatal). Seek veterinary advice for horses who have not previously been vaccinated or whose vaccinations have lapsed.
Ensure each horse has dedicated equipment and tack to prevent the potential spread of infection between horses.
Muck management – To prevent any spread of disease via contaminated muck, keep the quarantine muck heap separate. If the horse is given the all clear, the muck can then be added to the main muck heap.
Monitor each horse closely and take their temperature daily to help spot problems early. See our video on how to correctly take your horse’s temperature.
Silent Carriers of Disease
A strangles carrier looks healthy on the outside but carries bacteria with the potential to infect others. To help prevent a strangles carrier from entering your yard, speak with your vet to screen all new arrivals. This can usually be done by a blood test. Further investigation and testing may be required depending on the result.
Learn more about strangles.
Equine Herpes Virus
Equine Herpes Virus can lie dormant in the horse following first infection, meaning they will carry the virus as a ‘silent’ infection. The horse will often appear healthy and show no signs of disease, but occasionally the disease can reoccur at intervals throughout its life. The virus can be reactivated during stressful conditions, such as travelling, moving yards or attending a competition. The horse will shed the virus but may not show any signs that they are ill, and in the process, potentially infect other horses.
Learn more about Equine Herpes Virus.
Your yard will likely be subject to many visitors including the farrier, vet, equine dental technician, physiotherapist and coach. Follow these simple steps to help limit the spread of any possible disease on to your yard:
- Have access to only one entrance and exit into your yard.
- Where possible keep parking away from horses. In some circumstances closer access may be required due to necessary equipment e.g. vet or farrier.
- Ask all visitors to wear clean clothes and shoes and where possible use foot baths, so boots can be disinfected on entry and exit to the yard.
- Record the date, time and contact details for all visitors on to the yard so they can easily be traced in the event of an outbreak of contagious disease.
Learn more about common contagious diseases in the UK