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Tips on caring for your horse during Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown

Read our helpful guide

During this period of uncertainty and with many of us self-isolating and in lockdown, some of our clients have been asking questions about COVID-19 in relation to their horses and also how to manage their upkeep and general care during this time.  We have pulled together this guide which we hope you’ll find useful.

Daily care

  • Travel to take care of your horse is categorised as ‘essential’.  Therefore, if you are the only person who can look after your horse and you are not self-isolating, then you can continue to do this.
  • However, if you keep your horse(s) on a livery yard then it is vitally important that you follow any rules the yard owner/manager has put in place. These rules will have been based on a number of factors including:
    1. The safety of yard staff and horse owners
    2. The safety of any vulnerable people living at the yard premises or with yard staff
    3. The type of yard: either fully DIY or able to provide livery
  • If you are on a DIY livery yard, consider a ‘buddy-up’ scheme, where horse owners are put into pairs who then share the care of both horses. This reduces the number of people who need to attend the yard each day. Your buddy may also be able to help if you need to self-isolate at any stage.
  • Help to limit the number of visitors to the yard. Any visit by a professional that can be delayed, should be. This includes physiotherapists, chiropractors and saddlers. Vets are currently only undertaking emergency work following advice from our governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), where the welfare of an animal is compromised. Farriery and dentistry should follow a similar rule: if delaying a trim will have no negative impact then this is ideal. However, if your horse has very specific shoeing requirements that impact their soundness, then this should be discussed with your farrier and a visit may be necessary. You should only have the dentist if your horse’s welfare will be impacted otherwise.

Biosecurity  

  • Again, it is important you follow rules set out by your yard manager with regards to biosecurity
  • However, the general advice is:
    • Wash your hands regularly, particularly on arrival at the yard and before leaving
    • Maintain social distancing at all times
    • Do not share equipment (staff may need to colour-code equipment to avoid inadvertent swapping)
    • Do not eat at the yard
    • Avoid communal areas such as kitchens and tack rooms where possible
    • Minimise your time spent at the yard as much as possible

Exercise

  • Exercising of horses is not prohibited, but many factors affect whether a horse can or should be worked at this time
  • Does it break “essential travel” rules? For example, a sharer who rides but does not provide daily care would not be able to claim that travelling to the yard is “essential”.
  • Does it break yard rules? Yard managers may decide to ban all exercising of horses if they feel that this creates too much of a risk of spreading the virus. For example, the risk of horse owners coming into close contact in the tack room.
  • Would riding your horse present a higher risk of injury than ground-based exercise? While the answer to this is “yes” in almost all cases, it could apply more strongly to youngsters or green horses. The NHS is currently under massive strain, so we should all be trying to limit their burden as much as possible. If you decide not to ride, consider lunging, long-reining or free-schooling as an alternative.
  • If you do decide to ride, you must maintain social distancing at all times. This means you should ride alone (or only with people from your household). All organised sporting activities are currently banned by the government, so you should not be attending lessons.     

Enrichment

  • Turning horses out more may be an option for some owners, as a way to minimise the amount of time they must spend at the yard. It also provides exercise for horses who are not able to be exercised currently. Turnout provides excellent enrichment for horses, particularly if they have company.
  • However, if you are unable to increase turnout and are unable to exercise your horse, you may want to provide some enrichment in the stable. This could include:
    • Treat balls
    • Stable mirrors
    • Root vegetables hung on ropes
    • Licks
    • Radio/music
  • However, do bear in mind the increased calories that some of these ideas provide. You may need to reassess your feeding plan to accommodate them (see below).

Feeding

  • Every horse is different, so there is no firm rule on what you should or should not be feeding. You should do works for your horse, with input from your vet if necessary.
  • If your horse’s routine has not changed greatly, then you should not need to change their feeding routine.
  • However, if your horse is being exercised much less than usual or spending more time at grass, then some changes should be made. This is to prevent weight gain, laminitis and tying up. You could consider soaking their hay for 6-8 hours, reducing the size of their feeds or removing the more calorie-dense parts of their feeds.
  • The most important factor when altering your horse’s feeding is to make all changes gradually.
  • It is also worth ensuring you have two weeks’ worth of feed (and bedding) ready, in case you need to self-isolate. However, it is important not to stockpile unnecessarily.

As a group of practices, we are committed to delivering exceptional care to you despite these unprecedented times. The health and wellbeing of our patients, clients and staff is our number one priority. We are taking precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our clients and dedicated staff.

Please ensure you call us or read our latest guidelines in case of an emergency.