As of the 13th February 2019 the British Horseracing Authority decided to resume racing. Thousands of samples where taken and tested by the Animal Health Trust and they are cautiously optimistic that the current outbreak of equine flu is relatively contained to a small number of cases.
The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) continues to closely monitor the situation and assess the risk to health of UK horses whilst in regular consultation with specialist vets and experts in equine influenza and epidemiology with experience of managing previous outbreaks. Their assessment remains that it is not necessary to cancel other equine events subject to local disease status and local veterinary advice.
The BEF continues to urge horse owners to be vigilant for symptoms of equine flu – coughing, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, lethargy – and call their vet if they think their horses are showing signs.
The BEF also suggest that ‘All owners must ensure that their vaccination records are up to date – and if it has been longer than six months since the last vaccination, we recommend you discuss a booster with your veterinary surgeon. As has been demonstrated in this outbreak, vaccinations are vital in tackling the spread of the disease. Therefore, we also recommend strongly that unvaccinated horses do not mix with other horses.
The advice remains that you MUST NOT take your horse to an event or competition if horses at your yard are showing any symptoms of being unwell.
So what are the usual vital health signs of a horse or pony. Please remember that each horse and pony are different and you need to determine what is normal for your horse.
Vital Health Signs
A normal healthy horse would have the following set of vital signs:
• Temperature 36.5-38.5C
• Breathing rate 8-15 breaths/min
• Heart rate 25-45 beats/min
General Health Examinations:
• Look for eye or nose discharges
• Observe how the horse is standing
• Check for consistency and number of droppings
• Check consumption from water buckets and feed bowl
• Assess horse’s general appearance
We recommend that you keep the records in a diary and that rectal temperatures are taken twice daily.
These checks can be done for a week at a time and it is a good idea to do them 4 times a year in the different seasons. You then have an idea of your horses’ vital signs and when they are ill you have a base to work from.
When we look at what we can do to help stop the spread of different viruses and diseases isolation procedures start to come into play.
The Codes of Practice often refer to the isolation of horses. In its strictest sense, ‘isolation’ means a separate facility with separate staff, separate protective clothing, separate utensils/equipment and thorough steam cleaning and disinfection of stables between each occupant.
Below are some points that you can refer to and consider for your isolation procedure. In some yards these points can be adapted, and you can carry them out to your best as not everyone has the money to have a totally different yard. But you can use your common sense and add as many of the points as possible:
1. Isolate new arrivals for a period of 10 days or introduce horses from properties with a known high health status only. Isolate and pay particular attention to horses from sales/competition complexes, from unknown mixed population properties and those that have used commercial horse transport servicing mixed populations.
2. Verify the vaccine status of new arrivals.
3. Keep records of horse movements so that contacts can be traced in the event
of a disease outbreak.
4. Regularly clean and disinfect stables between different horses and also clean
and disinfect equipment and horses transport between journeys. Remember to remove as much organic material as possible before disinfection.
5. Maintain good perimeter security for your premises and maintain controlled
access for vehicles and visitors.
6. Ensure that everyone understands the hygiene principles. This includes
visitors and service providers such as veterinarians, farriers and physiotherapists.
7. Eliminate the use of communal water sources. Instruct staff not to lower the
hose into the water when filling water buckets.
8. Horse specific equipment (feed and water buckets, head collars etc.) should
be clearly marked as belonging to an individual horse and only be used on that horse.
9. Any shared equipment (lead ropes, bits/bridles, twitches, thermometers,
grooming kits etc.) should be cleaned of organic debris and disinfected between horses.
10. Equipment that cannot be properly disinfected (like sponges or brushes)
should not be shared between horses.
11. Cloth items such as stable rubbers, towels, bandages etc. should be
laundered and thoroughly dried between each use. Disinfectant may have to be used as part of the rinse cycle.
12. Isolate horses at the first sign of sickness until an infectious or contagious
disease has been ruled out.
13. Contact your veterinary surgeon if any of your horses show clinical signs of
14. Do not move sick horses except for isolation, veterinary treatment or under
veterinary supervision. Attend to sick horses last (i.e., feed, water and treat) or use separate staff.
15. Provide hand washing facilities and hand disinfection gel for everyone handling horses and provide separate protective clothing and footwear for those handling and treating sick horses.
16. The isolation/quarantine unit should have a changing area for staff so that
clothing and footwear worn in the restricted area are not worn elsewhere.
17. Barrier clothing, waterproof footwear and disposable gloves should be used
when working with sick and in-contact horses and after use they should be disposed of or laundered and disinfected.
18. When using disinfectants, always follow the instructions on the label. Select
a disinfectant that is approved by your national veterinary authority (or equivalent official organisation) and chose from the general disinfectants that have documented effectiveness in the presence of 10% organic matter, works in the water hardness of the locale and is safe to use in the environment of horses and people.
19. Stables, feed mangers and yards/paddocks should be kept clean, free of
standing water and thoroughly scrubbed and cleansed with an appropriate detergent/disinfectant after use and then allowed to dry.
20. Take care when using pressure washers as those set at greater than 120psi
can produce aerosols that spread infectious agents through the air.
What to do when you have worked out what you are dealing with.
Once you have spoken with the vet and you are familiar with what is required to look
after your horse or pony. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Your horse will need frequent visits to check that there is no deterioration in its condition, but visits should be made with a minimum of disturbance. You need to quietly check without disturbing your horse.
2. Regular checks should be made and write down the horses Temperature, pulse, and respiration. Also, it is a good idea to keep a record of condition; for example, how much the horse is eating, if there is more or less swelling whether the horse is lying down more or less, etc.
3. Remove droppings regularly and keep the bed level, with good high banks. Short straw, or shaving, allow for ease of movement. Shaving can stick to woods, however, and should be avoided for this type of ailment. Full muck out may not be possible if the horse has limited movement. Use the deep litter system in this case, or look at the options that can help you. Possible shavings under the bed and straw on top or, keeping the bed clean is essential.
4. The stable needs to be well ventilated but free from draughts.
5. You need to keep your horse warm but not weighed down with heavy clothing. Use leg bandages to keep extremities warm. Light quilted rugs are good to use.
6. Do not groom vigorously if the horse is weak. Pick out the feet twice daily. Sponge eyes, nose and under the dock each day. Lightly brush over, being careful not to let the horse get cold.
7. If bandages are worn, remove bandages daily and hand massage the legs to improve the circulation.
8. Monitor the horses’ water intake and keep the supply very fresh.
9. Give light, tempting but laxative feeds. Remove any uneaten food immediately. Stale food and water will discourage the horse and possibly delay recovery.
10. Follow veterinary instructions carefully.
11. If the horse has an eye injury, keep the stable darkened and avoid bright lights.
12. Unless the vet advises otherwise, give an ad lib supply of hay.
Remember that keeping your horse or pony as comfortable as possible and following the advice and treatment that your vet has supplied is paramount.
The Complete BHS veterinary manual.
The BEF Guidelines, which was put together with the British Veterinary Association
HBLB codes of practice 2019
Article by Sam Goss BHSI/PCCHL5. MSc Coaching Science
Tel: 07875 311983