Horse Events: Biosecurity guidelines for organizers and competitors

An outbreak of an infectious disease during or subsequent to an equine event has the potential to significantly impact the horse industry through loss of horse health and potentially life, loss of performance ability of individual horses, cancellation of events during disease outbreaks, increased veterinary costs, cleanup costs and emotional stress.


The information on this document is intended to serve as a reference for horse owners, event participants and organizers. This document focuses on disease prevention through biosecurity and vaccination.

What is a horse event? For the purpose of this document a horse event is a gathering of 10 or more horses from three or more properties. A horse event or activity could be a sale, fair, parade, race meet, clinic, competition or any event where horses from multiple properties are commingled.

Horses may be at increased risk for infectious diseases while at events due to the commingling of animals of differing age, health status and many different source farms. As well, stress of competition and transportation has the potential to decrease immunity. Infections of the respiratory tract are a major concern in some of these situations (e.g., strangles, equine influenza virus, equine rhinitis virus).


All equine event organizers and participants have a responsibility to maintain good biosecurity and not put the health of other horses at risk.


Biosecurity can be thought of as the precautions taken to minimize the risk of introducing infectious disease and also preventing the spread of infection should disease occur.

Enforcement of strict biosecurity measures and hygiene practices is likely to be the most effective means of preventing spread of disease during an equine event.

A sick horse at an event can spread disease to other horses if effective biosecurity is not in place, which can result in a multiplier effect when exposed horses return home. Transmission of infectious diseases can occur via direct contact such as nose-to-nose touching over a stall but also indirectly by people (e.g., contaminated hands or clothing) or equipment (e.g., sharing of feed buckets or tack).


Additional guidelines for handling of situations where infectious disease is suspected or identified can be obtained from your veterinarian. Biosecurity protocols for individual facilities should be developed in coordination with a local veterinarian.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EVENT ORGANIZERS


Event organizers have a duty of care to participants and their horses. They should analyze the potential disease risks and impacts of a disease outbreak at an event and develop a biosecurity strategy to manage and minimize those risks.


Event organizers must make it clear they expect participants at their events to manage their own biosecurity risks.


For example, event organizers should:

  • Organize a veterinarian to be on call and place contact information in prominent areas of the event facility

  • Appoint a ‘Horse Health Steward’, who understands the biosecurity risks of horses coming together at horse events

  • Provide a number to call in an emergency, or an alternative method of communication and ensure all participants are aware of it

  • Manage and/or minimize public access to stable areas

  • Identify stabling allocation to minimize nose-to-nose contact between horses from different locations

  • Create a single point of entry and exit from the grounds

  • Provide adequate horse washing facilities

  • Provide adequate hand washing facilities

  • Provide taps for filling water buckets for horses; if a communal hose must be used post signage to encourage people not to touch the hose end to buckets

  • Never use communal water troughs

  • Designate an isolation stall that a horse can be moved to should it become ill during an event

  • Sanitize stalls between events

  • Develop a contingency plan in the event that a stop movement order is put in place.

Event organizers may consider requirements for health certification and/or vaccination (e.g., EIA negative Coggins test). These pre-entry requirements should be broadly communicated

to all participants. Participants can be asked to sign a declaration of horse health to assure freedom from clinical disease in their horses within a specific time frame (e.g., 30 days) prior to an event; a declaration to this effect may be required prior to check-in, see Appendix A. See Appendix B for a sample letter to registered exhibitors.


Horse Event Management

It is highly recommended that event organizers collect and retain information on all horses attending the event. The minimum information recommended includes:

  • The name, address and telephone number of the owner, custodian or person in charge of the horse

  • The premises ID of the location the horse normally resides

  • The name and identification of the horse

Event organizers should keep horse event attendance records for a period of six (6) months. These records should be made available to the attending veterinarian upon request.


Premises Identification

The premises identification program is used to track the location of animals in case of a health emergency occurrence, a public health emergency or an emergency such as a natural

disaster affecting animals and people.


Having a premises identification number for your operation allows for traceability information to be accessed quickly for the protection of animal health, public health and market access for your industry.


If you keep horses on your property or operate a “commingling site” you must register your premises. Visit Government of Canada Premises Identification page for more information on the program. If you keep your horse at a boarding or other property you should be aware of the PID number of that property.


HORSE OWNER RESPONSIBILITIES


The primary responsibility for biosecurity at events lies with horse owners, custodians and riders. Horse owners and custodians should inquire in advance respecting specific protocols that the event organizers may have in place and be prepared to adhere to the protocols.


Horses that are suspected of suffering from an infectious or contagious disease or have been in contact with other animals suffering from such disease MUST NOT be brought to horse events.


Owners and those providing boarding should have biosecurity plans for each property where horses are kept. For details on completing a biosecurity risk assessment and setting up a biosecurity plan review the Equine Biosecurity Policies and Best Practices Book or the National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector.


Basic Principles

  • Minimize the risk of disease by planning to avoid introduction to new horses, prior to leaving for an event

  • Maintain current vaccinations on all horses

  • Observe good hygiene around horses especially after handling other people’s horses

  • Wash hands with soap and water, or use disinfectant hand solution after handling horses, especially after contact with the mouth or nose

  • Consciously monitor your horse’s health; especially in the 3-5 days leading up to and following an event - Check horses are eating and drinking normally - Check for any change in behavior - Check for any unusual nasal discharge - Check for any coughing - Check for any signs of discomfort or unusual stance or weight shifting - Check for any signs of swelling or lameness - Check your horse’s temperature for 3 days before and following an event (a horse’s normal temperature at rest is between 37 and 38.5 degrees Celsius)

  • Wash your horse and horse trailer prior to departing

  • Assemble and carry a mobile biosecurity kit including disinfectant

At the event:

  • Check your horse’s temperature twice a day

  • Do not share feed or water containers

  • Do not use communal water troughs

  • Only share cleaned and disinfected tack and equipment (e.g., bits)

  • If stabling is not assigned and is not full, leave an empty stall between your horses and those from other locations

  • Sanitize your assigned stall prior to bringing your horse in

  • If stables are full, assess the risk from nose-to-nose contact with horses from other locations, and consider placing tarps or other physical barriers to prevent contact

  • If you horse develops a fever or signs of illness contact a veterinarian and event official immediately

EXAMPLES OF INFECTIOUS HORSE DISEASES


Colds/Flu/Respiratory Diseases

These are viral diseases caused by common viruses like Equine Herpes Virus, Equine Rhinitis Virus, Equine Adenovirus, and Equine Arteritis Virus. These diseases are common among young horses especially when they are first mixed or exposed to other horses. While they mostly have a low impact on the horse’s long term health, they may cause considerable inconvenience and cost by interrupting training and showing as well as veterinary care.


Complications can occur if horses are exercised, trained or caused to exert themselves too soon after an infection.


Strangles

This is a contagious, upper respiratory tract bacterial infection. Cases are identified each year in Canada including significant horse health impact as well as deaths. Recovery and treatment are often prolonged. A vaccine is available, but not appropriate for all horses (contact your veterinarian).


Other infectious equine diseases can be spread during events such as ringworm, diarrheal diseases and equine infectious anemia.


VACCINATION & TESTING REQUIREMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EQUINE EVENTS


It is highly recommended that all horses participating in equine events be vaccinated for all current diseases including but not limited to Equine Influenza Virus (EIV) and Equine Herpes Virus (EHV).


It is important to remember that vaccination is only part of an infectious disease prevention program and cannot make up for lack of effective biosecurity. Vaccination will not prevent all cases of disease with either EIV or EHV and vaccination is not known to result in protection against the neurological form of equine herpes virus (nEHV-1). However, vaccination is thought to reduce the amount of viral shedding in infected horses, which can decrease the potential for further spread.


It is also recommended that all horses participating in equine events be tested for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) with negative results reported within the past six (6) months. EIA is an infectious and potentially fatal viral disease affecting the immune system of horses, donkeys and mules. Most EIA-infected horses show no clinical signs of disease; however, they remain carriers of the virus for life and can be a source of infection for susceptible animals.


It is the responsibility of all horse owners and custodians attending events to be aware of criteria required by the venue, country/province/state.


In Canada, there are reportable diseases under the Health of Animals Act. Accordingly, it is the responsibility and duty of the horse owners or custodians to inquire or report and suspected disease to a veterinary practitioner and / or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

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