As Covid-19 restrictions ease, many equine competitions are starting up again. It is important to plan ahead for getting out and about again with your horses and ponies, not only from the point of view of Covid-19 and your own health, but also in terms of ensuring your horse or pony is not at risk of contracting disease when you leave the yard. Let’s take a look at how you can keep on top of your horse’s health at equine events.

Before the Event – Preventative Biosecurity

Tetanus and Flu Vaccinations

One of your first considerations should be whether your horse or pony is up to date with their preventative healthcare measures. As a minimum, it is recommended that all horses should be vaccinated against tetanus, however for those leaving their yard to go to competitions and as such mixing with lots of other horses, vaccination against equine influenza (‘flu’) is also paramount. In fact, many competition organisers and venues will insist upon flu vaccinations in order to enter the showground, and some transport companies also require proof of vaccination in order to travel with them or hire their vehicles. Largely speaking, to be considered “up to date” with their flu (or combined flu/tetanus) vaccinations, a horse will need a primary course of vaccinations consisting of:

  • a 1st vaccination
  • a 2nd vaccination 21-92 days later
  • a 3rd vaccination 150-215 days after the 2nd

Horses and ponies will then need booster vaccinations every 6 or 12 months, depending on the rules they are competing under. For example, Pony Club Area competitions, Riding Club Qualifier and Championship competitions, and FEI competitions all require 6 monthly booster vaccinations. If competing under affiliated rules, it is absolutely vital to check the requirements of your individual affiliated society, as there are some affiliated societies with vaccine intervals slightly different to those outlined above. Check your competition organiser’s website for their specific requirements.

Strangles and Herpesvirus Vaccinations

Some owners will also choose to vaccinate their horse’s against strangles, especially if regularly leaving their yard to go to competitions. The vaccination schedule for strangles is as follows:

  • a 1st vaccination
  • a 2nd vaccination 4-6 weeks later
  • booster vaccinations every 6 months thereafter

In recent times, awareness of another important respiratory virus in horses and ponies has also grown.  An outbreak of equine herpes virus (EHV) originating from the CES Spring Showjumping Tour in Valencia, Spain has led to questions about whether we should also vaccinate our horses against equine herpes virus.

The outbreak in Spain was an outbreak of the neurological form of EHV-1, rather than the respiratory form of the virus which we can vaccinate against. Herpes virus is present worldwide and endemic within the UK, though not all outbreaks are the neurological type and most outbreaks do not make the headlines. Unfortunately, the EHV vaccine we have available for use in horses does not protect against the particularly concerning neurological form of the disease, however it can reduce viral shedding and therefore reduce spread. If you do choose to vaccinate against EHV, a primary course of vaccinations is advised as follows:

  • a 1st vaccination
  • a 2nd vaccination 4-6 weeks later
  • booster vaccinations every 6 months thereafter

Strangles vaccinations and EHV vaccinations are ideally given at least 2 weeks apart from each other, and also 2 weeks apart from any other flu vaccination. This is in order to optimise the immune system’s response to each individual vaccination. It is also recommended (and often a requirement) for a horse or pony not to have received any vaccine in the 7-14 days prior to a competition. Therefore, if your horse is not up to date and you need to start or re-start a vaccination course, get organised as soon as possible to make sure your horse or pony has received their vaccination in plenty of time ahead of a competition.

You may well be asked to provide proof of your horse or pony’s vaccination status at a competition. Be sure to have your passport present when your vet attends to vaccinate your horse or pony, so that any vaccine can be entered into the passport. You could potentially be turned away from a showground without proof of up-to-date vaccinations.

Biosecurity at the Event

Try not to share feed or water buckets with any other horses, and avoid horses touching nose-to-nose with other horses which they do not normally mix with. This includes not allowing horses to co-graze with other horses at a showground and keeping your distance from others in the collecting ring, and communal exercise areas.

Do not share grooming brushes, sponges, sweat scrapers, tack, numnahs, or boots with other horses or competitors. These items are all potential fomites for a number of skin and respiratory infections e.g. ringworm, strangles, flu, EHV, and therefore it is always recommended to ensure that you have all of the equipment you may need whilst you are away from the yard competing.

Returning Home – Biosecurity after the Event

If possible, disinfect anything which you have used at the competition using an animal safe bactericidal/fungicidal disinfectant spray or solution. You should also disinfect your lorry or trailer.

 Know the signs and symptoms of the common skin and respiratory infections which your horse or pony could have potentially contracted, and consider taking your horse’s temperature twice a day (a temperature of above 38.5 degrees Celsius in a horse is considered a fever).

 If you have been unlucky and picked something up, the sooner you isolate your horse at home, the less chance of it spreading throughout the rest of the horses and ponies on the yard. Have a plan of how you would isolate your horse or pony when you return home, should this be required.

Equine Competition Checklist

So, you’re off on your first post-COVID equine event! But what should you take with you on the day? These things will help you to keep your horse safe from diseases whilst you’re at the competition.

  • your horse’s passport (and FEI documentation if appropriate) – to ensure you have proof of vaccination should this be required – it is also a legal requirement to carry your passport when traveling with your horse or pony
  • microchip details – current legislation is now for all horse and ponies to be microchipped, and this may also be required for identification purposes alongside your passport
  • face mask and hand sanitiser for the humans!
  • clean water/feed buckets
  • hay/haylage and any hard feed or supplements which you need for your horse
  • adequate water for the length of your trip (this may not be possible if you are staying away at a competition over a number of days)
  • your own grooming kit/sponges etc. and mucking out equipment
  • your own tack, numnah(s), girth(s), boots etc.
  • first aid kit – equine and human!


There are many things which you can do to protect your horse or pony contracting unwanted disease at a show or competition. If you are staying away at a competition, then vaccinations to prevent your horse contracting respiratory illness are even more important, as when stabled there is likely to be some degree of shared airspace – a particular concern with respiratory viruses.

Travelling long distances can also put your horse or pony at increased risk of respiratory illness. The measures outlined above will not only protect your own horse, but will also protect other horse and ponies around you attending the show. Enjoy getting back out on that competition circuit, but think smart and be safe; good luck to you all.

Article written by Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS – 31st May 2021