Healthy Horses at Equine EventsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 20, 2007
Taking a horse to a show, trail ride, lesson, parade, or other event is something many horse owners do on a routine basis. Most of the time, everything is fine: horse and owner arrive, participate, return home, and get back into the normal routine. Sometimes, however, by a few days later the horse has a cough, runny nose, fever, or another sign of illness. Where did the disease originate, and how many horses have taken the infection home with them, possibly to far-flung states and even other countries?
The United States Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Veterinary Services/National Animal Health Monitoring System carried out a study of health-related management strategies at equine events in six states during 2005. The objective of the study was to identify factors that could impact the occurrence and spread of infectious diseases. Factors were identified by looking at attendance figures, the health requirements in place at various shows, and the degree to which these requirements were enforced. Information from the study can help to identify areas where event regulations and enforcement policies may need to be updated or changed.
Events in California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, New York, and Texas were included in the study. Information was collected from a total of 3227 events over the course of one year. National, regional, and state functions were included.
Is health certification required at equine events?
Of all events, 57% did not require a health certificate for animals attending the event; 20% required health certificates for all horses attending; and 22% required a health certificate only for horses from outside the host state. National events were more likely (65%) to require some type of health certificate compared to regional (35%) and state events (25%). A negative Coggins test for equine infectious anemia was required for horses attending 65% of all events. Again, national events were more likely (80%) to require a Coggins paper than were state events (47%). Only 14% of events required proof that a horse had been given certain vaccinations. In general, events in Kentucky, polo events, and racing events were more likely than others to require some sort of health documentation for participating horses.
Events where health documentation had to be produced at the gate before horses could enter the premises made up 45% of the total. 24% of events required documentation to be received by mail or electronically before the event occurred. The remaining events (38%) required owners to submit papers before horses were allowed to compete or be offered for sale. Thus, at more than one-third of events, the possibility existed for a non-vaccinated, disease-carrying horse to be unloaded and led or ridden around the premises, potentially coming in contact with other horses, before any documentation of health status was required.
Just under half of all events verified that the animal entering the premises matched the animal described on the accompanying health papers. Identification was most often by tattoo, brand, equine passport, or comparison of description and physical appearance.
What sort of housing is provided?
Just over 80% of events provided some type of housing (stalls, pens, and so on). Of these, 82% did some type of routine maintenance between horses. Virtually all removed bedding and manure, but only about two-thirds washed or disinfected stalls.
Is insect control practiced?
Because some equine diseases are transmitted by insects, control of these carriers can limit the spread of illness between horses, especially when horses are concentrated in a small area. About half of all events indicated some form of insect control was used on the premises, but of these, fewer than half used sprays or other widely applied controls. In 77% of events, “control” indicated that the owner was responsible for using fly spray on his or her own animals.
What security is in place at the event?
At first glance, security has little relationship to disease control. However, on premises that have no provisions for security, horses can enter and leave the grounds without restriction, including horses that are not actually competing; horses can be moved between barns and stalls, or even removed from the grounds, without any challenge as to the owner's permission. About 75% of events had some type of security (guard, cameras, locked gate at entrance) while 25% did not have any security measures in place.
What records of participation are kept?
Managers of an event hope that problems with illness do not arise, either during or after the event. However, in cases where disease is reported, it's vital to know which horses were at the show and may have been exposed to illness. About nine out of ten events kept a written or electronic record of participants listing owner's name and contact information at minimum. Some events also gathered information on trainers, riders, and handlers if these were different from the owner.
Where do horses go after the event?
More than half (55%) of events had horses leave the state after participating, and almost 10% had horses leave the country when the event was over. With this amount of dispersion, the figures point out the importance of keeping records and being able to contact owners easily following a competition.
Is a method in place to contact participants after the event?
About three-fourths of event coordinators indicated that, if necessary because of a health issue, they would contact participants by telephone following an event. Mail and e-mail were also mentioned as possible contact methods. One-fourth of coordinators said they had at some time contacted participants after an event, usually by telephone.
How can owners help competition horses stay healthy?
Avoiding illness is far preferable to treating sick horses. Veterinary expenses can be high, and training schedules suffer when illness strikes. To minimize health problems for horses that travel and compete, remember these tips:
• Keep horses well-nourished and healthy at home.
• Check into health management strategies of an event before registering.
• Use fly spray or other insect control at events.
• Keep horses from making nose-to-nose contact.
• Avoid sharing buckets, tack, and grooming items at shows.
• Check with a veterinarian to be sure your horse is vaccinated in time to develop a strong immunity well before events are held.
• Watch horses for disease signs after they return from a show or event, and contact the event organizers if illness develops.
Equine 2005, Part II: Changes in the U.S. Equine Industry, 1998-2005 was a cooperative effort between the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Questions and requests for additional copies of the report should be sent to USDA-APHIS-VS-CEAH, 2150 Centre Avenue, Bldg. B, MS 2E7, Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117. The telephone number is 970-494-7000.