Horse Show Biosecurity

Horse show season has arrived!! Here are some questions and answers that will help get you thinking about how to keep your show horses safe this year. While health begins at your annual visit as you discuss vaccination with your veterinarian, your actions while at shows can be paramount in protecting your animals.

In 2011, an outbreak of Equine herpes myelopathy (EHM) at a national cutting horse event resulted in over 700 potentially exposed horses moving to 21states and provinces, exposing 242 premises. Spread from primary, secondary or tertiary exposure to the initial event resulted in 62 premises becoming infected with EHM.

What is your horse show biosecurity knowledge level?

What is the main route of contamination of pathogens from one horse to another at horse shows?
a) Riders, show officials, and spectators passing bacteria and viruses on hands from one horse to another.
b) Dogs trafficking pathogens from one area of the barn to another and initiating infection from one horse to another.
c) Flies transmitting bacteria and virus particles on their feet from one horse to another.
d) Horses directly coming into contact with other horses.

All these are possible routes of infection. Ideally, spectators would not be allowed in barns and there would be minimal intermingling of participants outside their barn affiliate horses. Show officials should use gloves and hand sanitizer when washing hands is not possible. Show veterinarians need to use proper biosecurity at all times. Dogs should be prohibited from the barn area or leashed near their owners’ stalls and not allowed to roam into other areas. Fly sprays and repellants can help reduce transmission of Strangles in particular, but many transmissible diseases. Finally, horses should remain separate as much as possible. EHM can be airborne but is not thought to have a particularly long travel distance in air (15 ft). Influenza, on the other hand, can spread over 35 meters and can survive longer than 24 hours aerosolized.

Horses only shed pathogens when they appear ill or when they have a fever. True/False.

While it is a wonderful rule of thumb that horses with a fever are likely infectious, some carriers of diseases do not have a fever at all and some diseases are transmissible and shed before fever arrives. This is the classic dog-poodle case. All febrile horses at shows should be quarantined and presumed infectious, but not all infectious horses have fevers.

If a horse in a 120-stall barn under one roof was diagnosed with Equine Influenza, one of the most common equine respiratory diseases, how many stalls away would your horse need to be to be considered “not exposed?”

All horses in that barn would be considered exposed.

If a horse in a 120-stal barn under one roof was diagnosed with Strangles, how many stalls away would your horse need to be to be considered “not exposed?”

Only the immediate stalls and any animals who had shared tack, buckets, or had a common handler would be considered exposed.

Ideally, stalls would be disinfected between horses by removing all bedding and sweeping floor clean. Then washed with soap and water, not using high-pressure water, from the top down. The clean surface, after rinsing, would be sprayed with a 1:10 bleach:water solution and that allowed to sit for 10 minutes. This process would be repeated 3 times for stalls with known sick individuals. True/False.

Sadly, this is true. Of course, most shows come nowhere near this level of scrutiny. They may have dirt floors and have only had shavings removed. You can clean your own stalls before moving horses in. Focus on areas where horses keep their heads: where the water and grain buckets hang, where the feed is tossed, the door.

Beyond not sharing communal water troughs, the following precautions should always be made (select all that are true):
a) Water buckets should be filled without dipping the hose into the bucket.
b) Horses should not be permitted to drink from hoses
c) Water buckets should be cleaned daily and left to dry at the washrack where water drains are in place to prevent water pooling in stall areas.

Indeed water buckets should be filled without the communal hose entering the bucket. Horses should not be permitted to come into contact with hose ends and owners should wash hands after handling communal surfaces. Water buckets should not, however, dry near the washrack. That would leave them open to contact with many other horses as competitors file through the common space.

The single best thing that show participants can do to protect all the horses at the show is to:
a) Take rectal temperature of their horses 2 x daily and immediately report increases to the show official.
b) Avoid nose to nose contact with other horses.
c) Do not share communal water buckets.
d) Use fly spray liberally and frequently.

All of the above!! But (a) is really important. Even though animals can shed when not sick, identifying the early low-grade fevers can go a long way toward protecting entire show horse populations. Before he is off feed, you will notice that your horse has a 100.9 instead of a 99.2 temp in the morning. Monitor for inconsistencies. I encourage everyone to make serious efforts to promote 2x daily rectal temp recording at shows for all horses on show grounds.

Leave a Reply