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Horse Show Biosecurity

by Dr Clair Thunes PhD Nutrition
Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET
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It’s that time of year that those who have been competing on the winter show circuit are close to wrapping up and those who have not been out yet are gearing up for the spring season. No matter what time of year it is when you show, moving your horse to new facilities always comes with the risk that they may catch some kind of transferable disease. In fact, we have already seen outbreaks of EHV-1 in horses that have been on the winter circuit and this should serve as a reminder to stay up on your biosecurity measures.

Even if your horse does not catch a transmissible disease from another horse, the stresses of the show season can lead to a less robust immune system increasing the risks of colds and other respiratory disease.

Here is a list of simple things you can do to reduce your horse’s risk of developing one of these conditions. It is no way exhaustive so feel free to share with us anything you do that you think others might benefit from doing as well.

  1. Vaccinate your horse – in conference with your veterinarian get your horse on a comprehensive vaccination strategy for the areas that your horse will be traveling in and that are the greatest risk. Do not forget staples such as rabies. Also consider having your veterinarian give your horse the necessary vaccinations. This way if there should be a negative reaction the company that provided the vaccine is more likely to financially compensate you for any associated medical costs.
  2. Travel your horses loose – research conducted at the University of California Davis has shown that horse that are able to put their heads down while traveling have stronger immune systems than those whose heads were tied-up while in transit. It is thought that this is due to the respiratory systems ability to clear itself when the head is lowered. Whenever possible transport your horse in a box stall configuration especially when traveling longer distances.
  3. Do not allow your horse to visit with unknown horses – limiting contact with unfamiliar horses reduces the risk of disease transmission. Those same researchers from the University of California Davis found this to be especially true for the first 48 hours post transit.
  4. Disinfect stalls – some diseases such as Corona virus and Salmonella are transmitted from feces. It is therefore very important that all traces of a previous horse’s feces be removed from a stall before housing your horse. Stalls should be disinfected and to be effective feces must be physically removed from walls etc. Just washing over the top of the feces is not effective. Similarly consider lyming the floors of diet stalls.
  5. Do not share equipment – some diseases are transferred very easily on equipment. Groom brushes are an obvious choice but even sharing hoses with the neighboring barn when filling water buckets can be a route of transmission. Infected horse drinks from bucket, groom puts hose in bucket and fills it with water, infectious agent is spread from bucket to the hose and subsequently into your bucket when you fill your bucket.
  6. Take temperatures twice a day – catching potential outbreaks quickly is very important for limiting spread but also for getting your horse veterinary care quickly before long term damage occurs. Taking temperature twice daily allows you to catch a potential illness before other more obvious symptoms may be visible.
  7. Feed a balanced diet with digestive support – feeding to insure that all your horse’s nutrient needs are optimal gives him the best chance of having a fully functioning immune system. For example zinc plays a vital role in immune function and is often low or poorly balanced when commercial feeds are fed incorrectly. This can leave your horse with a less than fully functioning immune system. Digestive stress is often high in competition horses due to the rigors of training and as hay sources change frequently. The digestive tract is one of the largest components of your horse’s immune system and therefore insuring a robust gastrointestinal tract is one more line of defense against potential pathogens. Feeding a digestive supplement such as GastroBalance Plus that offers bioavailable trace minerals as well as ingredients to support a stable gastrointestinal environment should be considered as part of your overall biosecurity plan.

Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine Dr. Clair Thunes is passionate about her profession—one that she decided upon at the age of 14. After earning a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Edinburgh University, and a Master of Science in Animal Science and a PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Thunes went on to found Summit Equine Nutrition LLC an independent consulting company in 2007. An experienced nutritionist and accomplished scientist, Dr. Thunes understands the vital role that nutrition plays in managing horses today. Most importantly, she believes in making nutrition accessible to everyone and removes the guesswork so that owners have the peace of mind that their horse’s diets are optimal for maximum health and peak performance.  Her clients include all horses from competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics to retired pasture friends, mules and miniature donkeys. She writes a weekly online commentary for and her nutrition articles have been published in noted publications including: The Horse, Equine Wellness, Trail Blazer, Horse & Rider and The Horse Report. Besides consulting she teaches equine nutrition and equine exercise physiology in the Animal Science Department at UC Davis and equine health at Cosumnes River College.  Clair continues to be involved with The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. and she is currently the Regional Supervisor for the Sierra Pacific Region.

Top Photo: © Can Stock Photo / castenoid