Five biosecurity tips to keep your traveling horse healthy

If you’re taking your horse off farm for any reason, follow these easy tips to reduce your horse’s risk of becoming ill.

Every horse owner understands that there are biosecurity risks associated with taking your horse off farm. Whether it be for competition, trail riding or sale, each time horses move on and off farm, they are exposed to new environments, new people, new horses and potentially new germs. Although risks will never be completely eliminated, the following tips can help reduce the chance of your horse becoming ill.

  1. Be sure your horse is healthy before leaving. Consult your veterinarian and be sure that your horse has had its complete suggested immunization protocol. Additionally, pay close attention to your horse’s behavior, as well as the behavior of the other horses at your barn, to be sure that no sudden changes in appetite or energy level are missed. If your horse is showing any signs of illness, you should never travel off the farm.
  2. Clean the stall or area that your horse will be housed in at the show/sale. Upon arriving at a show, trail ride, exposition or sale, be sure to inspect the area that your horse will occupy for the next several hours or days. The first step would be to remove any and all organic matter (feces, bedding, feed) that may have been missed by the clean-up crew following the previous event. This is absolutely the most crucial step in ensuring a clean area. Other precautionary measures, such as spraying down the stall with a broad-spectrum disinfectant, can also eliminate some germs on surfaces. Additionally, if the stall or area includes buckets, feed pans, etc., those should ideally be removed and replaced by your own.
  3. Maintain separate traveling items and home items. If you’re looking for an excuse to buy new, shiny brushes, sheets, blankets and buckets, here it is! Keeping these items separate and used only for traveling purposes (store them in your trailer when not in use) is a good way to keep germs out of your barn and away from your other horses. Another benefit is having all of your traveling equipment matching, and therefore more difficult to misplace or leave behind. Along those same lines, thorough cleaning of your own apparel (boots, jackets, gloves) will help prevent the spread of germs from place to place. You should be cautious of any clothing that you wear at the off-site event and then wear into your own barn. Simply taking off your jacket or spraying the organic matter off your boots is a great first step.
  4. Minimize the amount of feed and bedding that returns to the farm. It’s commonplace to bring extra hay, grain or bedding to the show or event with you, but be careful to not unload everything upon arrival. Leave the hay stored in your trailer until feeding and then you’ll have less concerns about packing up any unused hay at the end of the event. Although it may be tempting to bag up any clean, unused shavings or bedding at the end of a show, it is not ideal to take that back to your farm.
  5. Keep traveling horses and on-farm horses separate, if possible. While this may not be the easiest tip to implement, it is ideal to keep horses that often travel away from horses that remain on the farm. The traveling horses are going to be exposed to a variety of germs throughout the traveling months, where the non-traveling horses may have immune systems less prepared to handle the new pathogens.

Michigan State University Extension has many resources to help you better understand biosecurity. Check out the Animal Science Anywhere lesson, Building on Biosecurity: Reducing the Risk. Additionally, this 4-part MSU Extension news article series further explores biosecurity measures you could be taking. Lastly, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development created a great resource on best cleaning and disinfecting practices.

Remember, biosecurity works best when you take several initiatives to reduce risk; there is no one magic practice. Instead, do the best you can and take small, manageable steps to reduce the risk to you and your animals.

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