Updated 14 August: How to look after your horse during the current restrictions
With the majority of the country continuing to see restrictions eased, the “new normal” is still placing significant changes on our everyday lives. We are still being challenged to do things differently to continue to protect ourselves and those around us, while also protecting the health and welfare of our horses.
Guidelines and regulations between, and also within certain parts of, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can vary, with some areas in a local lockdown. Often any changes are being made at very short notice, so it is important you refer to your area’s own guidance before making decisions. However, the key principles that we all need to constantly keep in mind to minimise risk as we care for and manage our horses are:
- Restrictions may be tightened again – so be prepared – especially maintaining a contingency plan for looking after your horse if you are unable to (see below)
- Remember and act on the core messages of restricting the spread of the virus – regular hand washing, maintaining social distancing and self-isolating when required
- Any change in management of our horses needs to be carried out gradually
- Keep up to date with the routine care of our horses – such as vaccinations, dentistry and farriery visits
- All horses are individuals and what may work for one may not work for others
Visits to care for my horse
If your horse is not kept at home, ensure that social distancing is maintained between yourself and other horse owners when attending the yard or premises. Continue to disinfect any shared equipment, such as wheelbarrows or shaving forks, between users and – most importantly – wash your hands regularly after touching any piece of equipment and your horse.
Riding and exercising my horse
Many horses that were turned away due to the initial Covid-19 restriction have now been brought back into some form of work – although ground conditions, depending on where you are in the country, may not have helped.
Continue to make any changes gradually, taking into account your horse’s fitness (or lack of) and try not to be tempted to push your horse to do too much too soon. It is unlikely that much harm will come to a horse who has had an “easier” year, whereas a horse that has been pushed to make up for lost time is more likely to become injured. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your horse safe and don’t feel you need to rush back into riding or competition – if you have experience of them, there are plenty of other activities you can be doing to keep your horse moving, and their weight in check, without being on board: lunging, long-reining, free-schooling or walking out in-hand all have huge benefits, when carried out safely, and can help to increase the bond between horse and rider.
What about health and veterinary care?
The majority of vets and farriers have settled into ways of delivering routine as well as emergency services to horse owners. Speak to your veterinary practice or farrier in advance of a visit to find out if they want any additional measures put in place such as ensuring the horse is tied up, so you don’t have to hold them, or whether they will require hand washing facilities (although most will carry their own disinfectant).
Consultations via phone continue to be offered. If you arrange a phone consultation with your vet it can be really helpful to have as much information available to hand as you can (e.g. your horse’s temperature, respiration and heart rate) when you contact them to discuss your horse’s requirements.
Do I still need to plan ahead?
Yes. There is the chance that some or all of us may have to return to more restrictive lockdown conditions again – and we must also bear in mind that we could fall ill – Covid-19 has not gone away.
- If not already in place, prepare a ‘care plan’ for your horse(s), outlining what feed (if any) to provide, their current daily routine and where key items are kept
- Ensure that your vet’s contact details are included and what steps you want taken in case of an emergency if you are not contactable
- Have enough hay, medication and any other provisions for your horse to last a fortnight
- Make sure you have these details if you are looking after someone else’s horse
I have been on holiday; can I continue to care for my horse as normal on my return?
If you have been on holiday, either within the UK or to a country or territory exempt from advice against ‘all but essential’ international travel, then as long as you are not experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms you are fine to care for your horse on your return, ensuring social-distancing and regular handwashing are maintained. For the current up-to-date list and relevant guidance for each devolved country, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-countries-and-territories-exempt-from-advice-against-all-but-essential-international-travel.
If you have been to a country which is not on the exempted list, then you need to follow government guidelines, meaning that you must self-isolate for 14 days from when you arrive in the UK. Under these guidelines, this means that you will not be able to provide the care for your horse yourself and they must continue to be looked after by some else until the 14 days is over, providing you do not experience any Covid-19 symptoms. Further details of on the governments travel advice can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus .
I have developed possible symptoms and am self-isolating, but I feel well enough to look after my horse. Can I continue to look after him/her as normal?
- If you develop symptoms such as a raised temperature, persistent cough or a loss (or change) in your sense of taste or smell, current government guidance is that however mild your symptoms, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have Covid-19. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. For more details on “Test and Trace” and to arrange for a test visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/testing-and-tracing/
- If you keep your horse at home you should be able to continue to provide your horse with essential maintenance care, so long as you will not come into contact with anyone else
- If you keep your horse away from home they will have to be looked after for your period of self-isolation by someone else. This is where your care plan will be vital
- If there is no-one else to look after your horse contact your Local Authority (or the SSPCA if you live in Scotland) and advise them that there is a horse in your care that you are unable to attend. They should be able to advise you on local charities or organisations that can assist
Now more than ever it is important for us all to follow the guidelines on hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation to prevent a surge in cases of Covid-19 triggering a widespread return to lockdown conditions.