Horse shows and events are prime places for a horse to catch an infectious disease. In recent years, there have been reports of disease outbreaks at horse shows - thus simple measures to protect your horse could mean the difference between coming home with a blue ribbon or a sick horse.
Contagious diseases significantly endanger the well-being of horses in addition to having potentially devastating financial and emotional effects. Horses that travel are exposed to conditions outside the normal including enclosed spaces, poor ventilation, fluctuations in ambient temperatures and co-mingling of a large number of horses from different areas, states or countries. In addition to abnormal conditions, horses that travel are stressed thus resulting in a decrease in immunity making them likely to develop clinical disease when exposed to common pathogens (germs).
There are simple steps deemed to be the ABCD's of biosecurity for the traveling show horse that will help to assure the health of your horse is not compromised. These steps involve proper health care, disinfection and an awareness of day-to-day hygiene.
"A" stands for appropriate health care which starts at home. This refers to establishing the best practices to maintain the general health of your horse and includes appropriate vaccinations, proper deworming, a suitable diet and proper exercise. The goal is to keep the immune system healthy. An appropriate vaccination schedule can be discussed with your veterinarian who will know of the possible contagious diseases in your area and the area you are traveling to.
"B" refers to the best form of transportation for the horse. The ideal means to transport your horse is in a properly cleaned and disinfected trailer, preferably your own. If commercial transportation is the only way you can ship your horse, research the company and ship only with a company that appropriately cleans and disinfects the trailer. If you can "smell horse" in the empty trailer, then it has not been cleaned and disinfected properly. It is best not to ship with other horses of unknown health status. Good ventilation when shipping is important as is tying the horse loosely in the trailer. Research has shown that tying a horse's head up makes it more prone to respiratory disease because it is harder for the horse to clear the airways of debris and mucous.
"C" refers to cleanliness especially of the show grounds. Stalls should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses either by the event coordinator or by the participants. Prior to putting the horse into the stall, note if the stall has been cleaned. If there is old bedding or feed material in the stall, you know it has not been properly cleaned and disinfected. There are times when it is nearly impossible to appropriately clean and disinfect a stall because the material the stall is made out of is porous (i.e. wood) and the floor is dirt. In a perfect world, the best cleaning method is to remove all bedding, scrub the walls and floor with a detergent, rinse, allow walls to dry, and then spray with a disinfectant.
"D" refers to day-to-day hygiene. This refers to many day to day activities at the show that put your horse at risk for exposure to germs. Closed or heated show grounds may be comfortable for you but usually result in poor ventilation and exposure for your horse to temperature fluctuations. Good ventilation and temperature control can help to reduce stress on the respiratory tract and circulation of germs/pathogens. Although it is impossible to restrict traffic around your horse, it is possible to limit direct contact to only essential people. Don't let unfamiliar people pet or handle your horse because they may have just been touching another horse that was sick. Alcohol based hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes are an effective means to reduce the amount of germs on your hands. Do not loan or borrow equipment including buckets, towels, brushes and mucking equipment. If you need to borrow equipment, appropriately disinfect it prior to using it on your horse. Avoid taking your horse to community water or grazing areas. Communal water hoses can be a source of contamination, thus bring your own hose. In general, do not submerge the end of the hose into the bucket because the end could be a potential way to transmit germs from bucket to bucket. Monitor your horse's temperature several times a day. Be aware of other horses stalled near your horse. Listen for coughing and observe for nasal discharge because this may be a sign of an infectious disease. Don't let your horse touch other horses, especially nose to nose because this is a common way to spread contagious organisms. Wearing rubber soled shoes allows for proper disinfection of your footwear.
Biosecurity does not stop once you leave the show grounds. Before leaving the show grounds, clean and disinfect tack, boots, equipment and grooming supplies. Once at home, change your clothes and boots prior to handling resident horses. Isolate the returning horse from your resident horses for 14 days and monitor for clinical signs of an infectious disease. Appropriate biosecurity is important for the traveling show horse. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.