Covid Security for Horse Riders and while at the Yard
2020 has been an unprecedented year for us all, with unexpected changes in many aspects of our lives due to Covid-19. However, the animals and pets in our lives have, in many cases, kept us grounded throughout. Horses are thankfully blissfully unaware of the risks of Covid, of national lockdowns and the more recently introduced three tier alert system – they just want to know where their next haynet is coming from!
So, although it may feel like the Covid restriction goal posts keep moving, it is important to remain vigilant when visiting and caring for your horse.
Can my horse catch Covid-19?
Luckily, there is no evidence to suggest that horses can catch Covid-19, nor give it to us. Any measures and precautions you take at your own yard at home, or the yard where you keep your horse or pony, are to protect yourself and other people – rather than due to concern regarding us passing Covid to any of our equine companions.
Do I need to social distance when looking after my horse?
Despite the majority of stables being either outside or reasonably ventilated, the risk of aerosol transmission of Covid-19 between horse owners and those visiting your horse still exists. It is therefore important to ensure that you follow social distancing guidelines with fellow horse owners outside of your household or social bubble, and also with anyone visiting your horse.
Those visiting your horse or yard are likely to include veterinary surgeons, farriers, physiotherapists, equine dental technicians, chiropractors and other paraprofessionals. Such visitors to the yard will no doubt appreciate you wearing a face covering during any appointments – and may increasingly insist upon this. Do not be offended if your help carrying equipment, or restraining your horse, is declined at this time. There may be moments where it is difficult to keep a two-metre distance, but it is likely you will be asked to tie your horse up and keep your distance instead.
Will my horse be able to receive veterinary care during the pandemic?
The short answer is “yes”. This year has been a juggling act for veterinary practices; striking the balance between continuing to provide appropriate veterinary services to ensure the health and welfare of patients, and also working in a Covid-secure way to protect their vets, support staff and clients, has been a continuous challenge. Vets do, however, have a duty of care to their patients and have had to find ways of continuing to work during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have become increasingly used to working within the social distancing guidelines, so you may notice some differences when they visit your yard to examine and treat your horse. For example, if restraint using a handler is avoided to allow for social distancing, sedation may be required to allow your vet to examine your horse safely where it may not have been needed previously. Behind the scenes, visits and procedures will have been risk-assessed to ensure that they can be carried out safely, so do respect your veterinary practice’s decision if they ask to postpone a procedure – they are trying to continue to provide veterinary services without interruption for as long as possible.
Can I still ride my horse?
It is important to continue to exercise your horse or pony. However, to avoid any unnecessary pressure on the NHS, you should think carefully about what riding activities you are doing at this time. In the three-tier alert system (applicable from 2nd December 2020), all lessons, training, arena hire, and competitions are permitted. Remember that the rule of six should be followed when arranging hacks out with other riders from your yard. When out hacking also be mindful of opening gates and consider sanitising your hands afterwards.
What can I do to prevent the risk of catching Covid-19 at my yard?
Many yards will have introduced policies to help to keep their livery clients safe, but you may wish to take your own additional measures to reduce the risk of catching Covid-19. Think about the following points:
- Consider the time that you visit the yard – on large yards it may be sensible to create a rota of what time people should come to the yard to reduce large groups of people gathering.
- Consider buddying up with a fellow horse-owner to split morning and evening stable duties, to reduce the number of people on the yard at any one time.
- If there are hand washing facilities available, wash your hands on a regular basis when at the yard (or alternatively use hand sanitiser) – this is particularly important after using any shared facilities or equipment, however this should be avoided wherever possible. For example, you should wash your hands or use hand sanitiser after touching gates to your horse’s field, filling water buckets at the tap, or using the hose.
- Consider taking your own refreshments to the yard with you if you are likely to need them – yard kitchens or tack rooms may be where we all want to huddle for a brew during the colder months, but sharing kitchen facilities is not recommended at this time.
- You may wish to open gates/stable doors for visitors such as vets to reduce the number of surfaces they need to touch.
- If tack is shared between riders of different households or social bubbles, this should be disinfected between every user. The same applies to any shared yard equipment such as mucking out tools, wheelbarrows, taps and hosepipes etc.
- Try to plan ahead when professionals are visiting the yard. If you know others on your yard use the same farrier as you, try to get horses trimmed and shod at the same time wherever possible. The same goes for veterinary appointments; for example, try to get vaccinations due around the same time done on the same vet visit. Nominate one person to be present during the appointment, both to reduce the number of people your vet/farrier etc. has to come into contact with, but also to avoid unnecessary gatherings of multiple groups of people at the yard.
What else should I be doing differently during the pandemic?
As we enter the winter months, many horses and ponies will now be stabled for at least some of the time. Ensure that you have plenty of bedding, hay or haylage and any other supplementary feed, in case you suddenly need to self-isolate. If your horse or pony is on long-term medication, ensure you have plenty in stock. Bear in mind that ordering or collecting medication from your veterinary practice may differ at this time, and that it may take longer for medication to be ready for collection.
If your horse is kept away from home at a livery yard, make sure that you have a plan in place in case you become unwell with Covid, or need to self-isolate. You will need to arrange someone else to care for your horse during that time, and if you are due to have any visits from vets or farriers etc., you will need to organise someone else to attend for you.
Article written for www.aqueos.co.uk by Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS