Rising levels of coronavirus infection mean that almost all parts of the United Kingdom are now under lockdown restrictions. There are variations in the regulations among the four home nations so it is important to consult your own country’s guidance before making decisions. However, leaving your home to care for horses is allowed in all jurisdictions.
You are allowed to leave home to care for horses
Keeping ourselves, those around us, and our horses safe is important. To do this requires a real balancing act but it is important to remember to:
- Make a plan for your horse’s care in case you suddenly become ill or have to self-isolate. See ‘Do I need to plan ahead?’ below
- Make any changes in horse management gradually. This includes changes in feed, turnout, and exercise
- As far as possible, keep up to date with routine healthcare such as vaccinations, dentistry, farriery, and physiotherapy. Be guided by your professional about which services can be carried out and which should be rescheduled
- Be aware of the risk of injury when working with horses
- Act on the core messages that help to reduce spread of the virus: HANDS – FACE – SPACE
Riding and exercising horses
To avoid putting extra pressure on the health services, it is important that none of us put ourselves at unnecessary risk of an accident. So if you continue riding, consider your risk level – jumping or riding unpredictable horses may be best postponed until the National Health Service is under less strain.
Protect the NHS: Consider how risky your planned equestrian activity is
If you choose not to ride, remember that there are other activities you can do to keep your horse active, and to keep their weight in check. These include:
- In-hand polework
- Free schooling
- Walking out in-hand
These non-ridden activities can increase the horse-human bond and have substantial benefits when carried out safely. Any riding, training, or exercise should be carried out in line with government advice on social distancing.
Visits to care for horses
It is vital that your horse’s needs are met during the restrictions, and that their health and welfare are not compromised.
If your horse is not kept at home:
- Maintain social distancing when you are at the yard
- Avoid sharing any equipment such as wheelbarrows or mucking out equipment (if this is not possible, thoroughly disinfect all equipment between users)
- Wash your hands regularly after touching equipment or your horse
Where possible, combine visits to your horse with other essential journeys to minimise the number of times you leave home. Alternatively, set up a buddy system with other owners. This will reduce the number of people who visit the yard, as well as the number of journeys made. If you do this, make sure that you disinfect equipment between visits.
Care from vets and other professionals
During lockdown, it is not ‘business as usual’ for vets and other professionals such as farriers, dentists, and physiotherapists. Where possible, visits should be deferred but equally remember that it is important to maintain routine healthcare (such as vaccinations and footcare) as far as possible.
It is important to call vets and other healthcare professionals prior to any appointment. They will undertake a risk assessment to decide whether a visit is necessary and possible. If they do attend your horse, they may ask you to put additional measures put in place such as tying the horse up rather than having it held (where this is safe to do) and providing hand washing facilities.
Phone consultations may be an option. If you arrange a phone consultation with your vet it can be helpful to have to hand as much information as you can (e.g., your horse’s temperature, respiration rate, and heart rate). Photographs of the problem area (e.g., a wound or swelling) may also be helpful.
It is important to plan ahead in case you suddenly become ill or have to self-isolate.
Prepare a ‘care plan’ for your horse that includes:
- What feed (if any) they receive
- Their current daily routine
- Where key items are kept
- Contact details for your vet, farrier, and insurance company
- Your wishes about referral, euthanasia, etc., in case you are not contactable during an emergency
Always have enough hay, medication, and other provisions for your horse to last a fortnight.
If you are looking after someone else’s horse, make sure you have the details listed above.
What to do if you have symptoms of Covid-19
If you develop symptoms such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss (or change) in your sense of taste or smell, current government guidance is that you must get a coronavirus test as soon as possible.
- You should do this no matter how mild your symptoms are
- Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital
- You and anyone you live with should stay at home, without any visitors, until you get your test result
- 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 and you feel well enough, you can care for them yourself as long as you will not come into contact with anyone else.
If you keep your horse away from home, they must be looked after by someone else until it is safe for you to leave your home. In this situation, 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 tell them that you are unable to attend a horse in your care. They should be able to advise you on local charities or organisations that can assist.
Returning from abroad
If you have returned to the UK from abroad, you need to follow government guidelines. It is likely that you will need to self-isolate for up to 10 days after your return. You will not be able to care for your horse yourself until your self-isolation period is over. If you develop coronavirus symptoms while you are self-isolating, you should follow government guidance. Further details of the government’s travel advice can be found here.
Now, more than ever, it is important for us all to follow the guidelines on hygiene, social distancing, and self-isolation, whilst providing our horses with the care they need.
REMEMBER: HANDS – FACE – SPACE