Aqueos - New horse on the yard? Here’s what to do to protect your horse.
Most of us have experienced moving our horse to a new yard, either temporarily or permanently – or perhaps you have had to relocate multiple times – and there is often much to think about in the lead-up to the move. We are usually focused on our own horse or pony’s needs at this point, but it is equally important that steps are taken to protect the existing horses and ponies at a yard when any new horse or pony arrives.
You may want to consider what facilities for new arrivals are available at a yard you are planning to keep your horse or pony at, and what biosecurity measures they have in place, or will be put into place when a new horse arrives. This will not only affect you when moving there but also protect your horse or pony once you have moved and others join the yard. Yard owners or yard managers should have a written policy in place for all new arrivals, which they may well have discussed with the veterinary practice providing their veterinary care.
On yards of any reasonable size, vaccinations against equine influenza and tetanus should be recommended as a minimum. Depending on the circumstances, you can also choose to vaccinate against equine herpes virus and/or strangles.
A large proportion of livery yards now have requirements for screening tests (typically strangles blood sampling) to have been performed before a new horse or pony moves there. However, it is important to understand the limitations of such testing and to remember that these tests do not replace the need to isolate new arrivals – see the section on isolation below.
Although frequently requested by yards before a new horse arrives, a one-off strangles blood test is not completely guaranteed to rule out the risk of a horse bringing strangles onto the yard. The blood test checks for relatively recent exposure to strangles bacteria (i.e. within approximately the last six months) by measuring the antibody response to strangles bacteria. A one-off blood sample can miss cases if they have been exposed to strangles very recently, where there has not been enough time for the horse’s immune system to respond to infection (i.e. within the last 2-3 weeks).
To increase the chance of catching cases that have been recently exposed, a follow-up blood sample 2-3 weeks following the first can check for an increasing level of antibody response. Strangles blood testing can also miss “carriers” of strangles, as they may not show a high titre reading on a one-off blood sample, nor a rising titre on paired samples. Performing a “wash” of the guttural pouches is more accurate for detecting carriers and can also be used to rule in/out active and current infection if a high or increasing antibody response is identified on bloods.
Although testing is seen as an inconvenience by some, if the yard you move to is requesting strangles screening for all new arrivals, going forward it will ultimately protect your horse or pony and your fellow liveries.
Isolating new arrivals for a minimum of 2-3 weeks is recommended. This allows careful monitoring of the horse or pony during this period for any new clinical signs of disease, in particular respiratory disease (e.g. strangles, equine herpes virus, equine influenza virus) or skin disease (e.g. ringworm). Isolation stables or fields should be as far as is practicably possible away from the rest of the yard (although ideally in sight of other horses or ponies).
For a bacterial disease such as strangles, or a fungal skin disease such as ringworm, either direct contact with an infected horse is required for transmission, or there must be a transfer of the bacteria/fungus on a surface, e.g. clothes/hands/boots/equipment. However, for airborne viral diseases such as equine influenza or equine herpes, where the virus can potentially travel up to 50 metres, the benefit of having isolation stables a long distance from the main yard becomes clear. Horses’ temperatures should be checked once or twice daily (normal range 26.5-38.5°C) whilst they are in isolation.
Isolation stables should be thoroughly cleaned between new arrivals with a multi-purpose disinfectant or a disinfectant and sanitising fogger. Each isolation stable should have its own mucking out equipment, water and feed buckets, haynets, grooming kit, etc., which should also be disinfected between each new arrival. It may be helpful to have hand sanitiser available at the entry/exit points to the isolation area (or soap and handwashing facilities), a foot dip and disinfectant wipes. Ideally, tack or other equipment should not go between the main yard and isolation, but if this is unavoidable, tack should be cleaned with disinfectant spray or wipes before being used again on any other horses.
Yard worming programme
A worming plan should exist for all horses on the same yard, or, as a minimum, those who are turned out in a group together should be following the same regime. When a new horse or pony joins the yard or group, a worm egg count should be performed before the horse is turned out to establish whether a high/moderate/low worm burden is present. Depending on the time of year (and the horse or pony’s worming history), dosing or testing for tapeworm and/or encysted redworm may also be required.
Consider any disruption to groups of co-grazing horses and ponies, should a new arrival be introduced – disagreements and fighting are often inevitable, but these can unfortunately lead to bite or kick wounds, which can be very serious. Sometimes stabling horses close to each other in the yard or barn, then turning them out either side of a fence line can allow them to get used to each other, before then being completely turned out with each other. You may want to consider whether to remove hind shoes during the initial introductory period to minimise the severity of any kicking matches.
Summary checklist for livery yards
Article written by Dr. Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS