Health guidelines target horses on show circuit

Show horse owners must be particularly vigilant in following regulations and guidelines designed to keep diseases from spreading.  |  File Photo

Close proximity at events Keep an animal that isn’t feeling well at home ‘for the greater good of the horse community,’ says veterinarian

The need for preventive measures became clear to horse owners and veterinarians when 28 horses be-came ill with the equine herpesvirus at a horse show in Utah.

Alberta’s horse owners now have a new guide available to do just that.

The guide, which was developed by the Equine Industry Biosecurity Outreach Program, focuses on what organizers and horse owners should do to protect their horses from disease at horse events.

The free, eight page document can be found online.

Dr. Krista Howden, a veterinarian who treats horses, said the suggestions are simple, inexpensive ways for horse owners to keep diseases from spreading at events. The easiest way to do that is to keep any animal that isn’t feeling well at home, she added.

“It does limit that individual person’s participation (in an event), but they’re doing it for the greater good of the horse community,” she said.

Howden said a large equine herpesvirus outbreak in Utah in 2011 showed how hard it is to stop a disease from spreading once it starts.

Twenty-eight positive cases were found at the horse event, and 29 horses that weren’t at the show were later infected. Thirteen horses died from that one infection.

The Alberta Equestrian Federation decided to a take proactive step based on the idea that prevention is the best course of action.

“It’s something people need to think about,” said Mikki Shatosky, manager of the outreach program, which was developed by the Alberta equestrian industry and the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.

“It’s not only a financial stress but also an emotional stress that is hard on people.”

Shatosky said a particularly good tip at horse shows is to make sure horses aren’t sharing water from a communal trough. She compared it to a child with a water bottle. If a child shouldn’t share their water bottle, why should a horse?

Horses should also not be able to touch noses when they are in their stalls. If necessary, put up cardboard, plywood or a tarp to keep horses away from each other.

Organizers of horse events should make sure they have a veterinarian on call or on site and give the emergency number to horse owners.

As well, stalls should be cleaned out after every event to prevent the spread of lingering diseases.

The program’s first phase, which started in 2011, featured workshops for equine owners.

The second phase, which began last year, reached out to the next generation of horse owners through 4-H programs.

“We estimate our reach to be about 6,000 horse owners,” said Shatosky.

The veterinarian-led workshops educated farmers about how to manage the risk of disease among their horses.

They discussed certain illnesses and the basic principles on keeping horses healthy.

Shatosky said the guide can be used across Canada.

For more information, visit albertaequestrian.com/Download/Industry/Biosecurity-equine-events.pdf.

  • Keep horses at home if they show signs they might be sick.
  • At events, check temperature of horse twice a day, every day.
  • Don’t let horses share water at troughs. Instead, use individual buckets.
  • Don’t share bits or anything else that goes into a horse’s mouth.
  • Don’t let horses touch noses in and out of stalls.
  • Don’t share water buckets.
  • Be knowledgeable about what your horse’s “normal” looks like so that you can notice the difference when the animal is sick.
  • Don’t share brushes and be sure to disinfect them.

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