By now you’re probably familiar with general equine biosecurity rules: Vaccinate your herd, isolate sick horses, disinfect tack and equipment between uses. But not all disease prevention practices are made equal. How you protect your field of retirees or your breeding stallion from disease differs from what you do when you haul your riding horse to a combined event. Three veterinarians passionate about preventing infectious disease spread among horses have shared their best biosecurity suggestions for three scenarios: on the farm, at a horse show, and in the breeding shed. With each instance, we’ll show you exactly what good biosecurity for horses looks like.
Dr. Brault is a postdoctoral fellow in veterinary epidemiology and house officer in infection control and biosecurity at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in Fort Collins.
DO keep horses in segregated groups of the same use or life stage. For example, horses that travel off the premises frequently for shows should be kept separately from nontraveling resident horses or broodmares, says Brault.
DON’T let horses touch noses in the barn or over fencelines. However, if horses are residents, segregated into use groups, and have not been off the property, this step isn’t usually necessary, says Brault.
DON’T allow horses to share water sources.
DON’T share grooming supplies, tack (such as bits), and equipment.
DO wash hands between handling horses, if possible. Again, if your home herd hasn’t been off the property, this might not be needed, says Brault.
DO ensure your horse gets all core and risk-based vaccines.
DO know how to take your horse’s temperature and what his baseline is.
DO ask farriers, trainers, veterinarians, and visitors to wash their hands before entering the barn.
DO wash and dry saddle cloths, towels, bandages, halter fleeces, and wipe rags between uses.
DON’T use multiple-dose medications (oral pastes, ophthalmic ointments, topicals) on multiple horses.
DO have on hand contact info for your State Department of Agriculture Veterinarian, USDA Area-Veterinarian-In-Charge, and area practicing veterinarians in case of an outbreak.
DON’T allow horses onto the property without a health certificate and Coggins, plus proof of required vaccinations. Isolate new arrivals from resident horses for at least two weeks, and monitor them for signs of illness, checking temperatures twice daily, Brault says.
DO monitor horses that travel off the premises for signs of illness for two weeks after their return—again, checking temperatures twice daily. Try to handle these horses last each chore session (after the nontraveling resident horses) in case they are incubating an illness, and wash your hands after contacting them, she says.
DO isolate sick or febrile horses immediately and call the veterinarian.
Dr. Flynn is an equine staff veterinarian with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in Sacramento.
DON’T travel with sick horses; only take healthy horses to shows or events. This means no animals with fevers, nasal discharge, or abnormal feces get on the trailer, says Flynn.
DO consult your veterinarian to ensure your horse is current on vaccinations before you hit the road.
DO travel with a current negative Coggins test, health certificate, and proof of required vaccination for all horses.
DO disinfect show stalls upon arrival at the facility and before moving your horse in, if possible.
DON’T let horses touch noses.
DON’T share communal water sources.
DON’T allow the hose to touch bucket surfaces when filling buckets.
DON’T submerge the hose in water buckets while filling them.
DON’T share grooming supplies and tack (such as bits) unless cleaned and disinfected between uses.
DO disinfect equipment (lead shanks, lip chains, bits/bridles, twitches, thermometers, grooming supplies, etc.) between horses, if you must share.
DON’T share cleaning equipment such as wheelbarrows and stall mucking tools.
DON’T share nose rags or towels.
DO ask people to wash hands or use hand sanitizer before handling your horse.
DO wash your hands or use hand sanitizer between handling or riding other people’s horses.
DO take horses’ temperatures twice daily while at the show and know each one’s baseline.
DON’T share needles or syringes, and dispose of them properly in designated medical waste containers.
DO secure feed in a vector-proof container (to keep out mice, etc.) at the show.
DO store feed and hay off the ground and away from the elements.
DO use mosquito repellents during mosquito season.
DO Restrict dogs from stabling areas.
DON’T take unused hay or shavings back home with you from the show grounds once an event is over, Flynn says. It could be harboring pathogens.
DO isolate horses from the rest of the herd (ideally, for two weeks) upon returning from a show.
DO clean and disinfect all tack and equipment used at the show.
DO clean and disinfect horse trailers between uses.
Dr. Holyoak is the Bullock Equine Reproduction Endowed Professor and Head of the Veterinary Clinical Sciences Department at Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater.
DO require mandatory negative Coggins for all incoming horses.
DO require testing for venereal diseases such as EVA and contagious equine metritis, and have all horses arrive with a current vaccination status of major pathogens of concern, says Holyoak.
DO isolate new arrivals for at least seven but ideally 14 days to prevent contact with resident horses (especially pregnant mares).
DO make sure all personnel understand and follow biosecurity measures.
DO wear barriers such as disposable gloves and protective clothing.
DO wear disposable gloves when opening a shipping container and handling packages of shipped semen.
DON’T let horses touch noses.
DO wash hands after each procedure, between handling horses, and before leaving the breeding shed.
DO use sterile disposable equipment for insemination and discard it promptly and properly after use.
DO disinfect all semen collection/processing/insemination equipment between horses. Clean the artificial vagina and its cover promptly after collection, rather than leaving it on a countertop or in a sink, says Holyoak.
DO use separate, dedicated equipment such as halters, lead ropes, and blankets for each horse.
DO cover a breeding roll during a live cover breeding with a disposable plastic sleeve and change this sleeve between horses.
DO apply a disposable plastic cover to the breeding phantom before each use, and disinfect the phantom between uses. Avoid difficult-to-disinfect cover materials, such as fleece, says Holyoak.
DO disinfect a twitch, if used to restrain a mare during a live cover, prior to use on another horse.
DO clean and disinfect all facilities used to handle and breed mares after each breeding session, as well as the stocks and the shed itself, if possible.
The risk of disease spread between horses differs depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Keep these distinctions in mind, and always practice smart biosecurity, no matter the scenario.
Alexandra Beckstett is the managing editor of The Horse. She’s a lifelong hunter/jumper rider and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.