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Show season safety: How do you protect your horse?

While you cannot guarantee that no animal will get sick while traveling to and competing in the show ring, there are some steps that can be taken to minimize the risk.

By Daniel H. Grove, DVM - June 2nd, 2016 - Ask the Vet

AskTheVetShow season is in full swing, and with the recent outbreaks of various infectious diseases, owners and trainers are concerned about how  to participate without our animals getting sick in the process. While you cannot guarantee that no animal will get sick while traveling to and competing in the show ring, there are some steps that can be taken to minimize the risk.

The first step has to start with what you do at home before you leave.  Vaccines are designed to help the body fight off an infectious agent if it comes into contact with it.  They usually require 10 to 14 days to work.  The body is exposed to the antigen and has two ways it can work to fight it off.  The first is to develop antibodies, the second is what is called “cell mediated immunity.”  Different vaccines have different protocols to follow for them to be their most efficacious, so either read the full label or have your veterinarian perform the series properly so they are able to give you the best protection possible.

The additional precaution that can be taken before you even depart is to look at your horse.  If your horse has a cough, fever, nasal discharge, or just general malaise, do not go.  It is not worth it.  Before traveling out of state, it is REQUIRED to get a Coggins test and veterinary certificate of health.  The Coggins is a test for the disease equine infectious anemia.  It caused by a virus related to the HIV virus.  Once a horse has it, it has it for life.  It is transmitted predominately by the horse fly.  This quick inspection and test by your veterinarian can stop an outbreak before it begins.  Several years back, a horse was allowed to go to a show when it already was under the weather.  That mistake cost the lives of many horses at the event that died from the neuropathogenic strain of the equine herpes virus.  If the horse was left at home, the outbreak could have be avoided.
Now it is time to travel.  Make sure, if you are using a commercial hauler for your animals, that you specify you want the stall disinfected prior to loading your horses.  The previous horse may have left some bugs behind!  If you are hauling yourself, clean and disinfect your trailer. Simple steps like these often are not thought of.

What can you do at the event to protect your horse?
1) Disinfect your stalls.  If they have not been stripped, first strip them of any manure and old bedding.  Then, using a phenol compound, spray down the entire stall.  Make sure to clean out the waterer prior to allowing your horse to drink from it.
2) Limit the contact your horse has with other horses.  Do not share community watering troughs. Organisms can be left from previous visitors for your animal to ingest and become infected.
3) When booking your stalls, consider booking two extra stalls so there can be a space between your horse and the neighbors
4) Do not allow your horse to have nose-to-nose contact with others.  Nasal secretions are going to harbor many of the respiratory viruses and bacteria that can infect your horse
5) Fly control — battery-operated fly sprayers and removal of the manure to minimize flies and other insects will limit their ability to transfer organisms to your animal
6) Do not share bridles, brushes or other equipment with others
7) Limit your exposure to other horses at the events.  There are organisms you can transfer from your clothing and skin to your horse if you are around horses that are infected
8) Do not allow people to pet or feed your horses.  Chances are they were just touching another horse and could transmit something to yours.
This is just a summary of some key points I feel are important in protecting your horse.  This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a good guideline to help you realize some potential problems when attending sporting events.  Use this as a guideline along with your veterinarian’s guidance to do your best to keep your animals safe.  While there is no way to ensure 100 percent safety in attending horse shows, minimizing your risk can help tremendously.

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