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Tips for Preventing Equine Infectious Disease Transmission During Show Season

Updated on March 6, 2013
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Horse shows and infectious diseases

Horse shows bring large numbers of animals together in one place. It's not surprising, thus, that they can be a hotbed for infectious diseases. Horses can come home from shows with coughs and colds, the flu, pink eye, or even external parasites such as lice.

Because of this, it's wise to take precautions to protect both your show horse and any other horses you have at home. Nothing is perfect, but here are some tips that will significantly reduce your chance of having something nasty go through the barn.

Quarantining Show Horses

Many vets recommend that a horse that goes to a show be kept in isolation for the next two weeks.

Unfortunately, small barns and owners can often not manage this, and the risk of disease needs to be weighed against the available facilities. For example, it is not good to keep your horse in a stall 24/7 just to keep "quarantine." If you are showing actively, this could mean locking him in all summer.

Larger facilities often keep their show horses in a separate aisle or even a separate building from horses that leave the property less often, such as broodmares. If you have two pastures, consider putting horses that are showing in one and horses that are not in the other.

Separating Equipment

Even if you can't keep your show horse separate, then you can certainly keep its equipment separate.

In any case, I recommend that every horse has its own grooming kit, kept separate (small buckets are useful for this) and clearly marked with its name. Avoid sharing tack between horses if at all possible. If you must share a saddle, then use a separate saddle blanket for each horse. Wash bits in boiling water before moving them to a new horse (bits are particularly high risk).

Always disinfect any equipment, such as brushes, that has been used on a sick horse. Wear disposable gloves when handling sick animals, especially if they have a fungal or bacterial infection that might be transmissible to humans. Ideally, a horse that is known to have something highly contagious should be handled by a separate person. If this is not possible, always care for the sick horse last.

Best practices at the show ground

It's impossible to completely keep your horse from contact with others at a show, but these tips will minimize cross-contamination:

1. Do not lend or borrow tack or grooming equipment to people from a different barn. The same goes for clothing. If you absolutely have to (it's an emergency) then spray the gear with disinfectant.

2. Spray at least your boots, and if possible the rest of your clothes, and sanitize your hands before and after catch riding or helping with somebody else's horse.

3. Avoid going down the stall isle petting every nose. It's tempting, but don't do it. Never touch a horse that appears to be sick, especially if it has a skin condition (the most common equine skin infections are contagious and potentially transmissible to humans). Also, do not allow strangers to pet or feed your horse.

4. Do not let your horse touch noses with another horse.

5. Bring your own water and feed buckets. Avoid communal troughs.

6. If tying a horse in a common area use (your own) cross ties...this prevents the horse from touching the wall or post, which may have been touched by other horses.

Always use common sense.

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Final Notes

If there is sickness in your barn, do not go to a show. Even if the horse you plan on taking is healthy, if there's something 'going around' it is likely to be a carrier.

On the same note, if you are at all worried about what other people might bring, consider staying home. Responsible show officials will cancel if there's an epidemic of EHV or similar circulating, but not everyone is responsible.

One of the most important things you can do is clean and disinfect your boots (I do this every time I go to any horse property other than the barn I normally ride at, whether it is on another continent or ten miles away).

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