Q.Is my farrier a biosecurity risk? Regarding disease spread, we are told not to share our equipment with different horses, but what about the farrier? He goes from barn to barn using the same equipment for all of the horses; he might touch your horse; and his shoes or boots could have some kind of disease on the soles. Should I have my farrier clean his equipment before using it on my horses, or should I not worry?
—Jane McNeely, Sylmar, California
A.This is an excellent question: How can horse owners help farriers prevent disease spread among horses? This speaks directly to what we recognized as biosecurity—the management strategy used to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious and other disease-causing agents into a group of animals or people. This strategy is generally accomplished by isolation, traffic control, sanitation, and vigilance.
There are two sides to practicing good biosecurity: The horse owner’s responsibility, and the caregiver’s (such as the farrier’s) responsibility. Each side has to commit to the biosecurity strategy.
Communication is the most important key to a successful strategy. If either party has concerns about a horse or notices a physical condition, he or she should speak up and begin documenting the horse’ clinical signs to establish a history.
Farms should have a quarantine procedure for traffic control of personnel and other animals. The arrival of any new horse is a reasonable cause for separation that many facilities do not always observe. If there is a need for farrier service during quarantine, the horse owner or property owner must make the farrier aware of the situation. Rarely is farriery considered an emergency service. But if a quarantine extends long enough that horses warrant hoof care, then attention to sanitation becomes everyone’s concern.
It is a firmly held belief that your farrier can find everything good, bad, and ugly in your horses hoof. Simply keeping a horse from wiping his nose on your farrier’s back does not prevent exposure to a possibly contagious agent. Most bacterial agents are going to find their way to the ground surface and onto hooves. This is also true of human feet. If your horse requires farrier service during an outbreak, sanitizing tools that contact the hoof is easy enough disease spread prevention.
The best autoclave around is your shoer’s forge. A few minutes in the mouth of the forge will help sterilize all the tiny surface areas, such as on a rasp, that can carry pathogens. The best transportation for many bacteria are porous materials. Aprons, shoes, shirts, and some tool boxes and hoof stands are all items that can’t go in the forge and will require sanitation.
The farrier should remove and clean any of these items with an antibacterial solution before leaving the isolation area and certainly before visiting another horse or farm. Farriers might consider bringing along a foot bath for sanitizing shoes and keeping a spray bottle of a bleach solution on their service unit to spray items with when a bath or other disinfection methods are not available. A horse owner should also have sanitation materials available for immediate use at any location of concern.
Vigilant attention to detail is the most difficult aspect of biosecurity. The best practice is to be overly cautious of others and the welfare of the horses and humans we are charged to care for. Most contagious agents are neutralized in open air and direct sun in just a few hours. The brief time spent allowing for contagious agents to be exposed to open air and sunshine is a very small price to pay when considering disease spread. Be patient in these conditions.
The greatest help a horse person can provide a farrier when dealing with contagious agents is very simply patience and minimizing contact. When this is not possible, everyone involved must practice vigilant sanitation and communication of conditions—these are the catalyst of an effective biosecurity strategy.