How To Keep Your Horse Safe From Infectious Diseases

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Most owners vaccinate their horse for Equine Influenza, and are aware of the implications of a Strangles outbreak, but biosecurity on many yards remains very poor. Owners tend to rely on Equine Influenza vaccinations to protect their horse, but vaccinations are only half of the story.

Does your yard have an isolation procedure for new horses? Or are new horses simply popped into the nearest stable, turned out the next day with full access to all the shared facilities?

I think part of the reason that owners and yard managers don’t take biosecurity as seriously as they could is because disease pathways are not fully understood, and also it is easy to think that it won’t happen to me.

One of our vets uses the rather unusual analogy of glitter, to help owners and riders understand how infectious diseases can spread through a yard.

If you have ever opened a card with glitter on the front (or had a small child get heavy handed with a pot of glitter) you continue to find bits of glitter weeks later, even though it looks like it’s all been cleaned up. Bacteria, such as Streptococcus equi equi which causes Strangles can work in a similar way. You can’t see it but it can still be lurking, hence the need to take biosecurity seriously. With viral diseases such as Equine Influenza it can be even more challenging as particles can travel a significant distance in the air (with some estimates of up to 5 km).

With that in mind here are five ways you can reduce the spread of infectious diseases for your horse.


1. Keep new horses separate

New horses need to be kept separate for 2-4 weeks on arrival, ideally four weeks but two weeks would certainly be better than none. Many of the Equine Influenza outbreaks in Spring 2019 resulted from a new horse arriving onto a yard. Keeping a new horse in some form of isolation keeps the rest of the horses on the safe, and should the new horse have any kind of illness (Equine Influenza, Strangles, Equine Herpes Virus, Ringworm) this will be limited and much easier to manage.  

You can try:

  • a separate barn or isolation stable away from the rest of the horses
  • a separate paddock, double fenced with a separate water source away from other horses

Too often owners and yard manager dismiss the need to isolate new horses as too difficult, or not do-able’ without a separate block of stables. It is possible to keep a new horse separate in a field, but clear communication amongst owners is essential and isolation should mean no use of shared facilities such as wash down areas or the arena as well.

2. Temperature checks

Temperature checks are an ideal way of monitoring the health status of a new horse, and of the current horses in a yard. Daily or twice daily checks are recommended for at least 14 days. This is a cheap, simple measure to put in place, and would be a sensible step in a busy yard where horses are at camps or stay away shows frequently. 


3. Separate rugs and tack

If you have a new horse, or a horse on trial, it is easy to just use the same rugs, tack and brushes on all your horses. This could be a source of infectious diseases such as ringworm. Unlike Strangles or Equine Influenza Ringworm doesn’t make your horse ‘ill’ as such, it is a self limiting condition and should clear up on it’s own. However it can live in wooden stables for years and can be a right pain to get rid of. Ringworm is also zoonotic (meaning it can be passed on to humans) so it is best avoided.

4. Limit fomites

Many yards have an isolation stable or two, and may well separate new horses on arrival which is great. However the efficacy of the isolation procedure can be compromised by people, equipment and other animals passing freely between the two areas. A fomite is a person or animal which can pass infection, and this could be a well meaning member of the public, the farrier or the yard cat. 


A horse in isolation needs separate tools and equipment, and should be attended to after the other horses. Yard staff should be changing their clothes, washing their hands and washing their boots between attending the two areas of the yard. Limiting the access to yard cats, dog (and even goats, yes I have met a free range yard goat before) is also essential as bacteria can be carried on them.


5. Be a bit anti-social

If you’re competing your horse, or taking part in clinics, it’s worth thinking about how you can reduce your horse’s risk of picking up an infectious disease such as Strangles. When your horse is travelling it will experience a degree of stress which will also lower it’s immunity

  • Be anti-social , it’s lovely when you see a friend at a show but catch up later when are you aren’t both sitting on your horses
  • Avoid nose to nose contact with other horses
  • Take your own buckets and equipment to shows
  • Pick a temporary stable on grass if you’re staying away. If you have a permanent stable it’s worth taking out the old bedding that so often is left in there
  • Don’t share water sources, communal water troughs become a ‘bacteria soup’ at Showgrounds and are certainly best avoided. 


Whilst it might not be possible to put all of these suggestions in place I would strongly recommend the temperature checks as a minimum when a new horse arrives. You can learn more about the signs of strangles and coping with this disease on our Horse First Aid Course join the online course at this link https://www.nkcequestrian.com/product/online-horse-first-aid-course/.

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