You don’t have to be involved in the equine world to see the ramifications of contagious illnesses that go undetected or uncontained for any length of time. We see it all around us, and it affects both humans and animals. SARS, swine flu, strangles, equine influenza…most of us have heard of all of these, because they were diseases that got out of control.

Time and time again, we see what happens when quarantine protocols are not in place, or are breached. So what can you do to protect your horse and your facility? What are your responsibilities, as the guardian of your own horse and/or those belonging to others?

Knowledge Is Power; Communication Is Key

The horse world is very small. It does not take much to start a rumor, or set forth panic. When dealing with any type of contagious disease, it’s important to not only know what you are dealing with, but to communicate it effectively. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a simple case of snifles turn into rampant facility-ostracizing rumors about strangles. While it is certainly better to be safe than sorry, starting an unfounded rumor can have widespread effects.

That said, I think some people’s tendency to “sound the alarm” stems from facilities that don’t keep the equine community informed when dealing with a contagious disease. It only comes out later, when people discover they competed at a show with horses from the affected facility, causing concern and outrage.

I have also seen the opposite side of the coin – facilities that step up and inform the public straightaway when dealing with anything contagious. Press-type releases are issued so nothing gets misinterpreted, website posts are created, vet contacts are given for anyone wanting to verify facts, and competitions are postponed. The facilities give updates, stay accountable, inform everyone of quarantine measures, prevent horses from leaving/entering the property, and verify that their horses are healthy before allowing anyone to go anywhere.

This should be the status quo, but there are many cases where facilities or riders get careless for the sake of getting needed points at a horse show, or because they’re worried about how a disease outbreak will affect their reputation if everyone inds out. Others simple don’t know any better.

Wash Your Hands!

Proper hand washing after handling quarantined horses is important. Here is the right technique; anything less doesn’t do the trick.

  1. Wet hands with warm water.
  2. Use liquid soap.
  3. Rub your hands together for 15 to 20 seconds, being sure to do the backs of your hands and in between your fingers.
  4. Rinse well.
  5. Dry with disposable towels.

Set Up A Quarantine Area

Ideally, every facility should have some type of quarantine area – for new horses coming in, a horse that comes back from a show ill, and everything in between. It can be as simple as a temporary paddock set well away from other horses, with its own speciied water buckets, feed buckets, mucking equipment and so on. It can also be a separate block of stalls, whether in another building or separate area, again with its own equipment and tools.

Permanent, approved quarantine facilities are also available to the general public in most areas.

Protocols and Procedures

It’s typically recommended that new horses arriving at a facility be quarantined for 30 days. They should come in with adequate health records and protocols for your facility (i.e. proof of vaccination and Coggins). The horses should be observed for the 30 days, and their temperature, food and water intake, manure output, physical appearance and temperament monitored.

Turnout is possible in a separate designated paddock, as long as it is far enough away from the main facilities and turnout areas that nothing can be spread by air, and that all equipment is designated and kept separate, manure is disposed of separately, and all surfaces (fences, troughs, etc.) are cleaned between horses. Should the paddock at some point contain an infected horse, be prepared (depending on the disease) to leave the paddock vacant for a period of time (depending on climate and disease) and/or disinfect the soil.

Visiting Hours

Anyone entering a contaminated facility or visiting a quarantined horse should be required to wear clean clothes and to change before visiting other horses or facilities. They should be required to follow the same protocols as anyone else coming into contact with the horse(s). This might include a foot bath, shoe covers, gloves, etc., depending on the attending veterinarian’s recommendations.

If your facility does have a contagious disease in its midst, inform any visiting farriers, veterinarians, coaches, trainers and so on so they can take necessary precautions and/or perhaps not visit for awhile unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Off-Property Precautions

Whenever you take your horse to a competition or an event off property, take precautions to protect him and every other horse back at your facility. Bring your own buckets, water and equipment. Do not allow your horse to drink out of a communal water trough, or come into close contact with other horses at the event. Do not share equipment such as bits and saddle pads.

Tips For A Quarantine Area

  • It should be easy to thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces, including floors and walls.
  • Insects can assist in spreading disease – use screens to minimize their movement through the quarantine area.
  • To help prevent contamination, color coded buckets, muck forks, lead ropes, tack and so on can make it much easier to keep track of what belongs solely to the quarantine area and/or each specific horse.
  • Help prevent the spread of airborne disease by limiting the air shared by potentially infected and healthy horses. In this case, a separate building is ideal, especially if it’s downwind from the rest of the facility.
  • If possible, one person should be designated to look after the quarantined horses, and those horses alone. If this is not possible, healthy horses should always be handled first, and potentially ill or ill horses last.
  • Precautions should always be taken while handling quarantined horses, including disposable gloves and foot baths or shoe covers. Depending on the severity of the illness, you may also need to wear coveralls or scrubs and change before handling other horses or leaving the quarantine area.
  • Any contaminated item or piece of equipment should be taken care of within the quarantine area, and not transferred to another area of the facility. This includes affected bedding and manure – these should be disposed of in closed bags or containers, not added to the manure pile.

Plan Ahead

Have a plan in place about what you would do if a horse at your facility became ill. Make sure all boarders and riders are aware of the plan and the importance of following the protocols.

When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for recommendations on quarantine plans, protocols and facility planning. Should you have concerns about a horse on your property being infectious, maintain close communication with your vet about precautions, protocols, quarantine length, the disinfecting process and so on.

Infectious diseases are nothing to mess around with. Never assume anything, and make sure you are well informed. Educate and inform everyone involved with your facility, stick to your quarantine plan, and listen to your veterinarian. All things willing, your facility should be back to normal in short order.

Clean Surfaces Properly

Any surface an infectious horse comes in contact with must be cleaned. This goes for floors, trailers, tack, equipment and more.

  1. Remove any loose material, dirt, caked-on manure, etc. The cleaning agent cannot reach the surface through these barriers.
  2. Wash, rinse and dry the surface thoroughly with warm water and an appropriate cleaner.
  3. Disinfect the surface.