Whether you are a horse owner, handler or the manager of an equine facility, biosecurity plays an important role in keeping horses under your care safe and healthy.

Horses can be affected by many different transmissible diseases, including equine infectious anemia, strangles, and equine influenza.

Any time a horse comes into contact with new animals, people or environments, they may be exposed to novel pathogens. Biosecurity measures involve actions and protocols to protect livestock health by reducing disease transmission.

Examples of biosecurity guidelines include controlling access at equine facilities, designating quarantine areas for newly arriving or ill horses, practicing good hygiene, and using pest control.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine your horse’s risk of exposure to different infectious agents and to develop biosecurity strategies to reduce risk factors.

Biosecurity for Horses

Establishing and following effective biosecurity practices is important for every equine facility to protect the health of the horses residing and visiting there.

Biosecurity describes any action that is intended to protect a population from harm due to biological or biochemical agents.

In the equine industry, biosecurity involves the precautions taken to reduce the risk for and transmission of illness among horses within a herd, facility, or community.

Equine facilities that host events, have a frequent turnover of horses in residence, or that see horses from different regions comingling, need to be especially vigilant. [4]

Biosecurity involves managing a facility’s structural components and establishing operational procedures to minimize or prevent the spread of disease in the facility.

For example, facility managers can design stalls and turn-out areas including paddocks and pastures to reduce the risk for disease transmission between individual horses and groups of horses.

Examples of operational biosecurity protocols include controlling access to the facility, disinfecting stalls, vaccinating horses, and using disposable clothing and footwear.

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Reducing Equine Disease Transmission

Infectious disease can spread quickly between groups of horses. But effective biosecurity practices can contain the disease within a group and help to prevent large-scale outbreaks.

This is essential for preventing financial losses due to equine illness and may help to reduce or eliminate reportable equine diseases such as: [3]

Disease or illness may be passed between horses via vectors (living entities that carry pathogens including bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms that can cause disease). Examples of vectors are people, dogs, cats, other horses, and wildlife.

Microorganisms are also spread via contact with fomites (inanimate objects that carry organisms on their surface). Examples of fomites are brushes, halters, buckets, horse trailers, saddle pads, and stall doors.

Potential Threats to Biosecurity

Any time your horse is exposed to new horses, they are at risk of encountering novel infectious agents. Some examples of potential biosecurity risks at equine facilities include:

  • Visits from veterinarians, farriers, and visitors that unknowingly carry pathogens on their clothing or boots
  • New horses coming to live on or visit the property with an unknown health status
  • Horses moving in and out of the facility to attend shows or visit the property for training
  • If horses on the premises can physically touch horses on neighboring yards
  • Wildlife, pests, or domestic animals entering the property

How to Establish an Equine Biosecurity Program

The first step to developing a biosecurity program is to consider how your horses are at risk for contracting and transmitting disease.

Consulting with your veterinarian can help you identify what areas or aspects of your equine facility have sufficient biosecurity measures in place and where the potential risks are.

Once you have identified those risks, you can make changes to daily operations to improve disease prevention and control.

It is critical to establish a robust biosecurity program before an outbreak occurs. If you are working with other horse owners or managers to establish a biosecurity protocol, some factors may contribute to their willingness to implement measures. An Australian survey found that younger horse owners with no horse-related income are less likely to comply with biosecurity measures. [5][6]

Control Access to and Within Your Equine Facility

Restricting access to certain areas of an equine facility can prevent disease transmission. Consider the following strategies for controlling access to and within your facility:

  1. Designate a controlled access zone around barns, pens, and handling areas restricted to horse owners, handlers/grooms, employees, and biosecurity-educated facility users.
  2. Reduce or eliminate contact between resident horses and horses that are visiting. Ideally, only one entry should be used in an equine facility to control access.
  3. Designate a clearly identified area for visiting horse trailers to park away from the facility’s main entrance, barn, and turn-out areas.
  4. Don’t allow pets access to horses kept at your equine facility. Pets can carry diseases between different groups of horses and properties/farms.

Quarantine Incoming Horses

A quarantine area should be established as a temporary living area for new horses that are arriving on the property or when returning from a site such as a show or clinic.

Quarantining for two weeks or longer allows barn managers to evaluate the health status of incoming horses before they are introduced to a resident herd on the property.

Quarantine areas should be clearly identified with signage. Facility staff/owners visiting a quarantine area should wash their hands and clean and disinfect their boots on entry and exit.

Prevent nose-to-nose contact between horses. Restrict facility use (wash rack, arena, alleyway) by horses in quarantine until this period is completed.

Waterers, feed bins, buckets, tack, and equipment used for quarantined horses should be clearly labelled to identify the horse it is used for. This equipment should not be used for other horses, especially those kept outside the quarantine area.

People who are handling horses in quarantine should change and launder their clothing before having contact with other horses.

Cleaning equipment such as shovels and manure forks should be labelled and designated for use in quarantine areas and not used for cleaning other areas of the facility.

Isolate Sick Horses

Sick animals should be isolated away from healthy animals. Isolation areas should have the highest level of biosecurity protocols in place.

Horses should not be taken out of isolation or quarantine areas until they are cleared of their disease or illness by a veterinarian. Some horses may still be infectious even if they are not showing outward signs.

Manage Risks Posed by Visitors

Any visitor(s) to your facility can pose a biosecurity threat of introducing illness to horses on the property. Restricting visitor access to horses when possible helps to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Visitors that provide health services (for example veterinarians and farriers) may pose an increased biosecurity risk because they are in contact with multiple animals on a routine basis.

Consider providing a disinfectant foot bath or disposable boot covers and disposable coveralls for visitors to wear while at your equine facility. This will limit the risk of pathogenic organisms being passed to your horses.

Keep a logbook for visitors to record their names in, list their history of any prior animal contact within the previous two weeks, and inform you of any out-of-country travel to be able to track any potential biosecurity risks.

Biosecurity Precautions When Travelling

Ideally, horses that travel away from their home facility should be quarantined upon arrival. However, this may not always be possible if they travel frequently.

Consider taking the following precautions to reduce the risk of your horses contracting and bringing an illness home when travelling.

  • Ensure your horse is up to date on vaccinations.
  • Horses that don’t leave your facility but are in contact with horses that travel should be vaccinated.
  • Bring your horse’s water buckets along when travelling to avoid using communal water sources away from home.
  • Tie your horse to your own trailer, if possible, when away from home.
  • Disinfect any stalls that your horse will be using while away from home before they enter.
  • Remove any used bedding in stalls when away from home and replace it with clean bedding.

Housing and Turn Out Areas

Horses that do not leave your property should be housed and turned out separately from those that do.

Prevent nose-to-nose contact and do not share common water sources or feeders between these groups.

Management Tips for Biosecurity

Consider the following biosecurity measures to reduce cross-contamination and disease transmission at your facility. [2]

  • A veterinary examination is recommended prior to purchasing any horse that will be brought to your facility.
  • Limit the movement of equipment between facility areas. If unavoidable, clean and disinfect this equipment thoroughly.
  • Plan specific routes to move sick animals. These routes should not be through commonly used areas such as alleyways, tie areas, or the arena.
  • Clean and disinfect horse trailers prior to transporting horses.
  • Wash your hands after handling any sick horses and before handling horses from different groups on the property.
  • Handle healthy horses before sick horses. Alternatively, consider assigning a specific person to take care of any horses that are sick.
  • Monitor all animals daily to check for changes in behavior and health to detect illness as soon as possible.
  • Don’t put the manure or bedding from the stalls of ill horses onto manure piles/pits that are open to the air. Dispose of contaminated manure and bedding into a lidded dumpster.
  • Don’t spread soiled bedding and manure from ill horses onto pastures.
  • Use a disinfectant/detergent product to clean non-porous surfaces (varnished wood, metal, painted concrete, asphalt, poured textured floors, stall mats etc.) that ill horses have been in contact with.
  • When selecting a disinfectant, consider product claims regarding the spectrum of activity.
  • Regulate the movement of pedestrians, vehicles, and manure handling to reduce cross-contamination between different areas of your facility.

Control Pests, Insects, and Parasites

Pests, insects, and parasites can spread diseases at equine facilities. A pest control program involving traps, repellants and/or insecticides/rodenticides will help to mitigate risks.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for any pest control products you are using. Remove horses from areas treated with chemical products intended to eradicate pests.

Ensure feed is stored in rodent-proof containers and clean up any spilled feed to avoid attracting pests.

Maintain a deworming program for all horses on the premise.

Educate Staff and Facility Users

Use highly visible signage in your barn to indicate your biosecurity protocols. Inform visitors of biosecurity protocols before they arrive at your facility.

Provide staff with training on biosecurity protocols and document their completion of this training.

Participate in Traceability Programs

Check to see if the region in which your equine facility is located has a traceability program to provide information on disease outbreaks and response efforts.

These programs track the movement of livestock animals to rapidly respond to animal health threats due to disease outbreaks.

Reduce Risks During Outbreaks

In the event of a disease outbreak, advise recent visitors to your property to monitor their own animals for signs of disease.

Avoid traveling with any horses that may have been exposed to an infectious disease until their health status has been assessed by a veterinarian and they are determined non-infectious.

If there is a disease outbreak at a site where horses from different areas comingle, do not allow horses to leave or arrive until the disease has been eliminated or controlled through a quarantine or isolation program.

A veterinarian should be consulted to ensure there are no biosecurity risks before allowing the movement of horses to and from the facility.

Support your Horse’s Immune Health

Good biosecurity practices can significantly reduce the likelihood that your horse becomes sick, but not every infectious agent can be mitigated.

You can also enhance your horse’s resistance to disease by ensuring they are in good general health and have regular veterinary care.

Vaccinate: Consult with your veterinarian to determine an appropriate vaccination program for your horse. Vaccinations should be based on your horse’s current and past health status, amount of travel, discipline, and location.

If your horse has a history of systemic vaccine-associated adverse events, your veterinarian may recommend laboratory testing to measure the level of antibodies to disease in their blood. [1]

Veterinary Care: Address health problems promptly to ensure your horse’s immune system is prepared to fight off any pathogens.

Optimize Nutrition: Nutritional deficiencies can impair your horse’s immune function. Ensure that your horse is fed a balanced diet with adequate levels of the mineral zinc and the amino acid lysine.

Minimize Stress: Manage your horse’s care and activity program to reduce stress. Stress from trailering, shipping and high-intensity exercise can have a negative impact on your horse’s immune system function.

Summary of Key Biosecurity Measures:

  • Control access to your equine facility
  • Quarantine horses upon arrival
  • Manage risks posed by visitors
  • Participate in traceability programs
  • Handle healthy horses before those that are ill
  • Clean and disinfect equipment prior to and after use
  • Maintain a health record for your horse(s)
  • Seek veterinary advice about vaccination protocols for your horse(s)
  • Isolate sick horses as soon as possible and consult your veterinarian
  • Communicate biosecurity protocols clearly using signs
  • Control pests and pets
  • Encourage the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

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