Updated 13 May: How to look after your horse during the current restrictions
We have now entered a new stage in the country’s efforts to limit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which, whilst heading in the right direction, still involves significant restrictions on our daily lives. So, 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 sometimes regulations) for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can vary considerably, so do refer to your country’s own national 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:
- Any easing of restrictions is conditional – and so we need to be prepared for them to be tightened at any stage – possibly to even a greater extent than they were originally
- 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
- Every action and activity we do with our horses creates risk – so we need to take personal responsibility for managing these risks
- Any change in management of our horses during these challenging times needs to be done gradually – especially when roughing off or bringing a horse back into work
- Managing risk is especially important around our approach to riding – only do this if you feel confident that it is safe to ride – risk assess every time
All horses are individuals and what may work for one may not work for others. Equally, decisions about your horse’s day-to-day care, and any adaptations you make in line with these latest changes, will depend on your situation and the needs of your horse.
Visits to care for my horse
If your horse is not kept at home, do look to minimise the number of visits you make. A buddy system will help share visits, ensuring your horse is seen as regularly as they need (especially if they have EMS or laminitis) and reduce the number of people visiting a yard throughout the day. 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.
Can I ride my horse?
In terms of assessing risk, riding is one of the most significant activities you need to consider. You know your horse so can balance the benefits of riding (such as maintaining your horse’s mobility and joint suppleness and improving your fitness) against the risks (principally of getting injured and needing medical support) – for both you and your horse. In terms of practical guidance in assessing risk – backing a young horse, going out on the roads or riding in very windy conditions – are just some examples that could increase risk. What is risky for one horse/rider combination is not necessarily risky for another – so do consider your own situation – and if you have a coach, consider seeking their opinion.
Make any changes gradually, taking into account your horse’s fitness (or lack of) and stick to activities you know your horse can do safely. Even the most sensible and trustworthy horse might be feeling a bit fresh after the recent growth of spring grass and, if your horse’s feeding has been reduced, remember to increase their exercise before increasing their feed intake. Keep yourself safe and don’t feel you need to rush back into riding – there are plenty of other activities you can be doing to keep your horse moving without being on-board if you have experience of them: lunging, long-reining, free-schooling or walking out in-hand. But be careful of getting your horse very fit, as this could cause problems if restrictions are increased again.
My horse is still turned out for now, what do I need to be aware of?
- If your horse is turned away, or on extended turnout with little or no exercise, be particularly mindful of laminitis, weight gain or loss, colic and sweet itch
- Continue to monitor your horse regularly and try to keep on top of basic stable and field maintenance duties, such as poo-picking
What about health and veterinary care?
Over the period of lockdown, vets and farriers have settled into ways of delivering their services to horse owners and attending where possible or in emergency. As we continue through this period, arranging visits may become easier, but talk to your vet or farrier in the first instance:
- If you require the services of your farrier or vet and have not already had contact with them during this time, we advise you to contact them directly to discuss what protocols they have in place if you need them to visit your horse
- Consultations via phone are possible and to help with that 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?
For sure, yes. There is the chance that we may have to return to more restrictive lockdown conditions again – and we must also still be aware 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, 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 developed possible symptoms and am self-isolating, but I feel well enough to look after my horse. Can I continue to look after him as normal?
If you develop symptoms such as a raised temperature or persistent cough, current government guidance is that you should self-isolate for a minimum of seven days:
- 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 to abide by the guidelines on hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation to prevent a surge in cases of Covid-19 precipitating a return to lockdown conditions.