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Equine disease prevention

All equestrians can help horses to stay healthy by taking simple steps to promote good biosecurity and help prevent the spread of disease, both at home, and when out and about.

  • Last reviewed: 31st May 2022
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Disease can seriously impact equine health and welfare. Disease outbreaks can also be costly, especially if an equestrian business is affected, as serious outbreaks may mean a whole yard being on ‘lockdown’ for weeks or months until the disease has been fully eradicated.

What is good biosecurity?

Biosecurity refers to practices equestrians can use to minimise the risk of introducing disease, as well as preventing disease spread. Good biosecurity should always be practised, not just during a disease outbreak, as it protects all horses as well as your own. Remember that ill horses may not immediately show symptoms or signs of disease but might already be infectious.

Prevent disease spread

Caring for your horse
  • Monitor your horse’s normal temperature – a rise could indicate illness. 
  • Keep your horse’s vaccinations up to date.
    • As a minimum equine influenza and tetanus are recommended.
    • 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.
    • A strangles vaccine is also available.
    • Speak to your vet for further details.  
  • Have a targeted testing and treatment worming programme in place for all horses on the yard and test all new arrivals. 
Preventing direct contact
  • Prevent nose to nose contact while off the yard, and don’t share water sources. 
  • Ensure all boundary fences are secure especially where the neighbouring premises keep horses. To prevent nose to nose contact over neighbouring fences, use well-spaced double fencing. 
  • If dealing with horses other than your own, wash hands before and afterwards.  
  • Non-resident horses visiting a yard must be kept away from resident horses e.g. external visitors hiring an arena.  
Ensuring good hygiene
  • Have separate grooming equipment for each horse, and clean regularly 
  • Clean feed bowls and water buckets daily 
  • Disinfect boots and change outer clothing after visiting other yards 
  • Regularly clean tack, rugs and vehicles used to transport horses 
Good communication
  • Ensure all yard regulars and visitors are informed of your biosecurity procedures and explain the importance of following your yard protocols. 
  • Routinely monitor that all biosecurity procedures are being followed. 
  • Reassess any biosecurity protocols yearly or following a disease outbreak to highlight any new areas of risk. 
  • Request a free A4 or A5 disease prevention poster for your yard – contact welfare@bhs.org.uk or call 02476 840517. 
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Direct Contact e.g. nose to nose

Isolation of New Arrivals

Isolating all new arrivals to your yard is a vital disease prevention measure. 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. 

Quarantine

Quarantine new arrivals for a minimum of 21 days, ensuring they have limited shared air space and are downwind of the main stabling area. Ideally new horses should be kept on a separate area of the yard. 

Enrichment

Use enrichment to provide mental stimulation and keep the horse occupied. This can include visual enrichment such as placing other horses in their sightline, or feed enrichment like hay balls, which encourages foraging and extends time spent eating. This short-term situation for your horse is better than a whole yard going down with disease. 

Testing

Testing – ideally prior to arrival (or once at the yard), tests are available to help detect a horse silently carrying strangles. As a minimum, a faecal worm egg count to check the horse’s worm burden will help assess if the horse requires treatment before being turned out to pasture 

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.

Caring for isolated horses separately

Ensure that any isolated horses are cared for separately, or after other horses have been attended to.

Wash hands and disinfect boots

Wash hands and disinfect boots when you have attended to the quarantined horses with one of DEFRA’s approved list of disinfectants. 

Vaccines

All new horses should be up to date withequine influenza and tetanus vaccines (tetanus is not contagious, but is extremely likely to be fatal). Seek veterinary advice for unvaccinated horses or those whose vaccinations have lapsed. 

Muck Management

To prevent any spread of disease via contaminated muck, keep the quarantine muck heap separate.

Temperature Checks

Monitor each horse closely and take their temperature dailyto help spot problems early. 

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Indirect Contact e.g. shared equipment

Yard Visitors

You can help limit the risk posed by yard visitors such as farriers, vets, equine dental technicians, physiotherapists and coaches by: 

  • Having access to only one entrance and exit into your yard. 
  • Where possible, keeping parking away from horses. 
  • Asking all visitors to wear clean clothes and shoes, and where possible using foot baths to disinfect boots on entry and exit to the yard. 
  • Recording the dates and contact details for all yard visitors in case of a contagious disease outbreak. 

Get in touch – we’re here to help 

The Horse Care and Welfare Team are here to help and can offer you further advice with any questions you may have. Contact us on 02476 840517* or email welfare@bhs.org.uk – You can also get in touch with us via our social media channels. 

Opening times are 8:35 am - 5 pm from Monday – Thursday and 8:35 am - 3 pm on Friday. 

*Calls may be recorded for monitoring purposes.