Equine health: You are the key to keeping your horse healthy

With recent EHV-1 concerns, horse owners should educate themselves and take the proper precautions to keep their horses healthy.

Photo | MSU Extension
Photo | MSU Extension

The last few weeks have been rocky, to say the least, in the Michigan horse world. The swirling of rumors, part fact and part fiction, has been at the heart of the Equine Herpes Virus-1 (EHV-1) issue after two horses tested positive for the virus in March. Many resources are available online to help horse owners understand EHV-1.

Michigan State University Extension’s Judy Marteniuk published the article “What the horse owner should know about Equine Herpes Virus-1,” which provides a solid overview of what EHV-1 is, how it spreads, symptoms and prevention techniques. Additionally, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has issued a “FAQ: Regarding Equine Herpesvirus (EHV)” about EHV-1. Both of these articles contain great information for horse owners.

There are many things you can do as a horse owner to take the proper precautions when there is concern about your horse’s health.


Vaccines for common infectious respiratory diseases, such as influenza, equine herpesvirus (EHV-1 and EHV-4) and rhinopneumonitis can be an important part of prevention. Keeping your horse up to date on their annual vaccinations is important, especially if you are traveling or coming into contact with other horses. The AAEP has published recommendation guidelines on vaccines including core vaccines for horses and risk-based vaccines for horses. Remember that vaccines are inexpensive preventative measures compared to the cost of treatment of illnesses.


Practicing proper and appropriate bio-security practices at home and when hauling your horse also helps prevent the spread of disease. Simple practices can be used on farm and off farm.

  • Wash your hands after handling animals. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in a gear bag, trailer or truck so that you can easily and quickly clean your hands.
  • Clean your equipment. Wiping down tack after use, disinfecting buckets and feed pans frequently and not sharing brushes, buckets and tack with others are methods that are essential in prevention. Do not use community water troughs.
  • Avoid nose-to-nose contact with other horses. This is challenging especially because most shows this time of year are inside and sometimes tying horses to the trailer is not optimal. Do your best. If you need to tie in the barn, give yourself plenty of room between horses. Also, in the warm up or holding pen, keep distance between horses.
  • Separate horses that travel off the farm from horses that do not travel, if possible. This can be a very real challenge for some as pasture and barn space may be limited. Do the best you can by alternating turn out times, disinfecting water and feed buckets and closely monitoring your herd’s health.

Know your stuff!

Educating yourself about equine health and issues that are currently occurring in the industry is extremely important and can help quell the ever churning rumor mill. Social media can help keep you up to date as well. Be sure to “like” the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Equine News Facebook pages to easily stay up to date.

Also, reading publications from the American Association of Equine Practitioners will help you understand what the signs, symptoms, treatments and preventative measures are for a variety of equine health topics.

Visit the 4-H Youth Development website to learn more about Michigan 4-H Animal Science Programs.

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