Safe and secure

24 June 2022 Written by Michael Lynch

Any time horses move on or off their home property or mix with new horses, disease can spread. Having standard biosecurity protocols industry-wide and at a trainers’ own stable is therefore vital to the health of the horses, and the industry.

Horses tend to move around a lot in the racing industry. They may be arriving at a new home, having been bought at the sales as a yearling purchase or tried horse. They could be heading off to the racecourse stables before competing and then returning home having mixed with hitherto unknown horses. Or they may go for a trackwork gallop where they will be in close proximity to those from other stables who may, unbeknownst to their owners, riders or trainers, be nursing an illness.

All situations – and several more – can harbour viruses, diseases and potential ailments. At best, they put your horse off its feed for a few days and means they have to be lightened off their work for a while, perhaps costing them the chance to run in a big race. At worst, it can render them seriously ill or even threaten death.

Hence the need for all involved in the equine sector to be acutely conscious of protocols of biosecurity to mitigate as much as possible against the risk of infection. It means adopting management and hygiene practices that minimise the movement of disease onto, off, or within a venue or facility.

The key to a happy horse – and therefore one which will run, jump, gallop or go through its paces most efficiently and effectively – is for it to be healthy.

It is self-evident, but, says Dr Richard L’Estrange, Veterinary Operations Manager, Companion Animal and Equine at the animal welfare and products company Zoetis, those involved in animal husbandry must never lose sight of the fact.

“Poor biosecurity can damage the health of horses and can ultimately cost people money, so it’s in everyone’s best interest for the horse to stay healthy. That means owners, breeders, veterinarians, farriers and everyone else involved in the equine world  have to be conscious of biosecurity for the horse’s sake,” said the Queensland-based veterinarian.

“Awareness is the key factor. If people are aware and have plans and protocols, that’s great. Essentially, biosecurity is the minimisation of the risk or spread of infection, just like we as communities have been managing with COVID for the past two years.”

Vaccination, says L’Estrange, is the most fundamental tool in the biosecurity kitbag, but it is not a silver bullet against a Pandora’s Box of potential threats. Prudent safety and cleanliness measures should of course be adopted, as well.

“Have quarantine procedures for horses coming and going, so they don’t accidentally bring something in with them and you find that it has spread before you realise the horse is sick. Within a property, everyone needs to be conscious that when they touch the horse or any of the equipment, they could effectively be touching bacteria and viruses and putting them on to their hands, clothing or other equipment. If they then go to the next horse and touch it or use the same equipment, it is very easy to spread a virus or an illness.

“If it is practical to have separate yards for incomers, then that would be a good thing, but not everyone can do that,” said L’Estrange.

Some other suggestions he makes are that good disinfection procedures are adopted between animals, and the sharing of equipment minimised, also.

Visitors to the property who are hands-on with the horses should also be aware, and be sure to clean their clothes, boots, and hands, and possibly use disposable equipment.

L’Estrange also has another piece of advice for those working with horses and biosecurity. “Get veterinarians involved early …get to know them well and tap into their local knowledge and experience when designing your protocols.”