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Caring for horses through the COVID-19 pandemic

A few things will change, but most of what you will need has been designated an essential service

Caring for horses through the COVID-19 pandemic

The current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the horse community as a balance is sought between optimizing human welfare and horse welfare.

This situation is rapidly evolving as new and relevant information continues to be integrated into practical applications for both humans and horses.

Many horse owners are well educated regarding the principles of bio­security for their horses. In this context biosecurity refers to precautions and preventive measures taken to limit the spread of disease amongst horses. In many ways the principles of biosecurity regarding horse welfare are equally applicable to the spread of disease agents in human welfare. Two powerful and effective biosecurity practices common to both the horse or human environment are those of responsible distancing and hygiene.

Currently the spread of COVID-19 is recognized to be the result of human-to-human transmission and there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. So it is that the measures being implemented at this time wherever horses are involved target, recognize and primarily ensure the importance of minimizing the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

Providing basic needs to horses is considered an essential service and thus the pathways that support the health of horses remain open and available to caretakers. Many provisions and allowances are in place to ensure that the horse’s needs can be met properly throughout these times. Feed store operations, farrier services, and veterinary care have been declared essential to respect the needs of the horses and remain available to caretakers. Business is most certainly not as usual. However, each of these service providers can be commended on the creative and ingenious ways they have found to deliver services within the precautionary measures and regulations considering the best interests of both the human and the horse.

The best scenario assumes that the primary caretaker for horses remains in good health. Unfortunately this may not always be the case. Therefore it is advisable that horse owners have a contingency plan in place to alleviate worry and ensure peace of mind should they need to self-isolate, quarantine, or in the event they become hospitalized.

If the horses are kept upon the premises it is all right to continue to provide essential care for horses, so long as the caretaker will not come into contact with anyone else.

Horses kept away from home will need arrangements to be cared for by another party until the period of self-isolation, quarantine or hospitalization for the primary caretaker has passed. This plan of action to care for the horse will depend upon the circumstances and the environment that the horses are in.

It is advisable that horse owners create a sensible care plan that documents the daily routine and needs of their horse under the current circumstances. The care instructions can be directly shared with the alternative caretaker ahead of time or communicated when necessary. This will allow a second party to easily transition into care if necessary.

In an effort to minimize the transmission of coronavirus, federal, provincial, territorial, and local governments, Equestrian Canada and many insurance carriers for equestrian facilities have recommended best practices for equestrian facility operations.

These recommendations state that all facilities that host equestrian-related activities, including but not limited to boarding stables and lesson barns, cease public-facing and non-essential activities until further notice.

They suggest that a core group of caregivers which includes facility owners, facility managers, equine caretakers, providers of equine-related essential services, and boarders or owners provide equine-related minimum standards of care.

Non-essential personnel, including students, friends, family, the public, and boarders or owners who are not providing equine-related minimum standards of care are encouraged to remain off the premises. Those allowed onto the site are to be respectful of the specific biosecurity and precautionary measures in operation.

Facilities are also encouraged to set up husbandry and management systems which require minimal human interaction. Such examples are pasture turnout if possible, staggered scheduling and/or shifts, and employing a buddy system designating caretakers working together to attend multiple horses. These efforts will greatly reduce the human traffic within equestrian facilities. Agreements can be made within the facility’s community regarding social distancing and the appropriate hygiene measures to be taken in common areas.

Finally, be aware of horse owners who may be struggling in some manner to meet the needs of their equine companion whether this be a difficulty with resources, finances or physicality. It is truly heartwarming to see the horse industry come together and become a community during these uncertain times as we collectively do the best to care for the horses and people.

If possible, spend some extra quiet time with your horses. Their kind, aware and sensitive nature offers a welcoming calm presence and respite during these times.

About the author


Carol Shwetz is a veterinarian focusing on equine practice in Millarville, Alberta.

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