National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity User Guide for the Equine Sector
Section 6: New horses, returning horses, visiting horses, movements and transportation

Goal: Movement of horses is done in a manner that minimizes the risk of introduction and spread of pathogens.

Description: New horses may pose a significant risk for introducing disease to resident horses. It is important to determine the health of new horse(s) and ensure you have sufficient space and people to perform routine care prior to adding them to your herd.

6.1 New horses (purchase consideration), new arrivals, and returning horses

Goal: Determine the health status of new horses and align the health status with the resident herd. This will direct the procedures that may need to be taken before introducing horses to the herd. Separate and implement measures for newly arriving and returning horses to protect the health of other horses.

Description: New horses may bring disease to your herd. While it is easy to identify visibly sick horses and separate them from other horses to reduce disease spread, the sub-clinically infected horses (they appear healthy, yet carry a pathogen) pose a challenge. This is why routine measures to Separate All Incoming horses from resident horses are important. Although measures can be taken to reduce this risk (for example, testing for diseases and veterinary health exams prior to arrival), some infected horses will not be identified through these methods, depending on the tests used and the stage of infection.

Returning horses may also pose a risk for introducing disease depending on their potential exposure while off the farm or facility. Be sure to consider the length of time your horse has been away and the risks associated with the activities and locations of your horse(s) prior to, and on return to, the farm or facility of origin.

Separating all incoming horses for a period of time is a good strategy for reducing the risk of introducing disease to resident animals

Best practices:

  • prior to new horses arriving, obtain proof (documentation) of the vaccination, deworming history and other health tests as required (for example a recentFootnote 11 negative test for equine infectious anemia {swamp fever} and other diseases). When this is not feasible, perform these tests while the horses remain separated from other horses (Refer to Annex 9 for a sample Incoming Horse Protocol Record);

At large events, require official documentation of health status (certified by a veterinarian)

A biosecurity sign that has been posted in a field. Description follows.
Description for image – A biosecurity sign

The biosecurity sign contains text that states: "WHOA. This Facility requires a negative Coggins (EIA) test prior to off loading or entering the premises with your Horses. Contact Area Management." There are spaces provided to write the contact information of the area management. At the top of the sign there is a red hexagon on either side of the word WHOA. Each hexagon has text inside it written in white letters that states "STOP".

This large sign makes it clear that a negative Coggins test for EIA is required for entry to the premises. Having contact information for the arena manager is a good practice for addressing issues. For privacy reasons, the phone number has been removed from this photo. Photo courtesy of Alex McIsaac DVM

A square, white biosecurity sign. Description follows.
Description for image – A square, white biosecurity sign

A square, white biosecurity sign. The border of the sign is outlined with a solid red line. In the middle of the sign is a red square. There is text inside the red square that states: ATTENTION in white, capital letters. Above the word attention and overlapping with the red square is a drawing of a person riding a horse. The drawing is solid black. There is text written above the drawing that states: "Cambridge Meadows Equestrian Centre". Below the red square there is text that states: "Preventing the spread of disease is important to Cambridge Meadows. Only healthy horses allowed entry to grounds. Only clean equipment and tack allowed on-site. On arrival all participants must present health certification to event officials. A negative EIA test within the last 6 months is required. Horses must be presented on entry for a health check. Participants to report signs of horse sickness to event officials immediately. Failure to adhere to these requirements may result in disqualification."

This facility leaves little doubt as to their commitment to managing horse health. They have identified the disease risks posed by equipment and tack and the need to report sick horses to event officials.

The sign is a good reminder to participants of their responsibility for establishing the health of their horses and the consequences for failing to comply may result in their disqualification. Ensuring boarders and participants/visitors are aware of the requirements helps to protect the health of all horses.

Ideally, the requirements are provided to horse owners and custodians prior to the event and again on arrival at the facility.

Image courtesy of Daniel Schwartz DVM

  • review the health records detailing past sickness, treatments, veterinary exams and travel history when available;
  • ensure horses are distinctly identified: records of distinct and unique markings can be helpful;
  • when purchasing multiple horses, purchase from as few sources as possible to minimize exposure to disease. When this is not feasible, as at yearling sales, more emphasis will need to be placed on biosecurity during transport and at the home location;
  • when purchasing multiple horses, consider managing them as groups based on similar risks. Possible groupings might include previous ownership, health status, age, and type of use;
  • if using semen and embryos, ensure donor animals are free of venereal disease and acceptable veterinary methods were used for collection, processing and storage of semen and embryos;
  • separate new arrivals from the resident horses on the farm for a period of time sufficient to give you confidence that they are free from disease. There are a number of factors that influence the length of the separation period. Consult your veterinarian to identify an appropriate time;
    • The separation period normally recommended exceeds (is longer than) the time frame for clinical signs to develop following exposure to the diseases of concern. Health management practices including vaccination and deworming protocols and the travel history of new horses are important in determining potential diseases risks. Proof of vaccination and negative test results should be obtained;

Some suggested time frames for separation are:

  • 5 to 7 days for horses of known high health status, which includes no known recent contact with sick horses, a thorough medical history and a recent veterinary exam with negative results;
  • 14 days for horses of a similar health status and from a similar facility or farm health management program;
  • 21 to 28 days for horses with undetermined health status or arriving from facilities where the horse health management program is unknown or components of the health program are absent.

You may be able to shorten the period of separation if you obtain:

  • negative test results for key diseases;
  • a thorough medical history; and
  • a recent veterinary health exam with negative results.
  • ensure farm or facility managers obtain a certificate of veterinary examination completed within 7 days prior to entry to determine the health status of the horse and the biosecurity procedures that are appropriate (for example, vaccination and disease testing where possible; this may not be feasible at a sales auction);
  • vaccination: (Refer to Annex 10 for additional guidance on vaccination)
    • assess the vaccination needs of your horse(s) with your veterinarian. Some factors to consider are the: horse's age, vaccination history, exposure to and prevalence of disease in their environment and their travel history.
      • note: vaccination does not provide immediate protection from disease and many vaccines require two or more doses over a period of three to four weeks. Horses that have not been properly vaccinated against a specific pathogen can be vaccinated prior to entry to the farm or facility. When this is not feasible, these procedures may also be performed while horses are separated on the farm or facility;
    • vaccines should be administered according to the label instructions;
    • only obtain vaccines from reputable sources to ensure they have been handled and stored appropriately;
    • keep records of vaccination (date administered, vaccine type and manufacturer's specific identification such as lot number); and
    • report any adverse effects that occur to your veterinarian and the manufacturer of the vaccine.

Some provinces regulate and restrict who can administer vaccines. Ensure you are aware of and comply with the regulatory requirements.

Vaccines are best administered by your veterinarian who has knowledge of their benefits, risks and appropriate use to protect the health of your horse(s).

  • manure testing of new horses should be done using fecal egg counts to determine the horse's worm burden prior to deworming and enrolling in the farm's parasite control program;
A photograph of two riders administering oral medication to a horse cross-tied in a stall.
Parasite treatment should be based on a fecal egg count to target the horses requiring treatment with the appropriate products. Photo courtesy of Equestrian Canada
  • fecal egg count reduction (FECR) testing should be considered to evaluate response to deworming and detect any resistance of the parasites to the dewormer; (Refer to Annex 11 for additional guidance on parasite control)
  • physically separate horses to prevent direct or indirect contact between the new animals and resident horses. When physical separation is not possible, procedural barriers can be used. This involves limiting the number of people who enter the horse's stall to dedicated staff only, the use of gloves or hand hygiene (hand washing), clean or dedicated clothing for those handling the horse, and preventing nose to nose contact with neighbouring horses. Keep in mind that procedural barriers do not decrease the risk of disease spread to the extent of physical separation. Similarly, physical barriers are insufficient to prevent disease if procedures to minimize cross contamination are not applied. When using either physical separation or procedural barriers, dedicate equipment or clean and disinfect equipment for these horses. Restrict access and control the movements in the area where the new horses are located;
  • monitor new horses daily for any change in their health including daily body temperature assessments and record these findings in a log book; and
  • immediately separate and have a veterinarian examine any horse suspected of having a contagious disease such as diarrhea, respiratory disease or a fever of unknown origin (Refer to Annex 13 for additional guidance on separating sick horses).

Important considerations:

  • Crowding and the stress of transport and unfamiliar herd mates can reduce a horse's resistance to disease and result in the shedding of pathogens.
  • Breeding centers can pose a risk to the health of stallions, mares, semen, and embryos through horse-to-horse contact during live cover breeding and from contaminated equipment. Appropriate hygiene is necessary to minimize transmission of pathogens during these processes and contamination following the collection and storage of embryos and semen.
  • Horse sales and auction barns can pose significant risks to horse health where there is the opportunity for commingling, the shared use of halters, lead ropes, water troughs and stalls. Additionally, be aware of the historical health status of the facility (for example, endemic strangles).

6.2 Visiting horses

Goal: Decrease the risk of disease transmission from horses visiting the farm or facility for a short period of time (for example, lessons, training, day events, recreational riding and breeding).

Description: Visiting horses that do not share the same health status of the resident herd may pose similar risks as new arrivals to a farm or facility if permitted to commingle. Visiting horses that will be housed on the farm or facility require the same biosecurity considerations as new horses.

Best practices:

  • the health status of the visiting horses should be determined before they arrive, and should be consistent with the health management program at the farm or facility;
  • equipment accompanying visiting horses should be clean and used only for those horses (for example, trailer, tack, grooming equipment, feed and water buckets). This may include the following: ensuring that the trailer has not been exposed to a horse that has a disease (clean and disinfect when appropriate i.e. a borrowed trailer) parking in a designated area, bringing clean and disinfected buckets to water and feed visiting horses (Refer to section 8.5 and Annex 15 for additional information on cleaning and disinfection), and not permitting commingling;
  • ensure paddock and stall areas are available that allow for separation of the visiting horse(s) from the resident herd;
  • do not allow horses to have direct contact during activities; and
  • at facilities that have all or a large percentage of the population coming and going such as with racehorses at training facilities, separating horses may not be practical or accommodated with the facility design. In these situations, separate the resident horses that never leave the premises (for example, teaching or retired horses) or young horses such as yearlings or breeding mares from those coming and going. Racing horses should be kept together in adjacent stalls and separate from yearlings and two-year-old horses in training.

6.3 Movement within the farm or facility

Goal: Horse movements within a farm or facility are managed to reduce exposure from higher-risk horsesFootnote 12 to horses with lower disease resistanceFootnote 13.

Best practices:

  • house horses of similar risk groups (health status, use, and age) together and limit cross-contact between personnel, equipment and exposure to common environments (paddocks, pastures);
  • house mares and foals separately from the remainder of the herd; and
  • maintain the physical separationFootnote 14 of sick, new, returning, and visiting horses from the resident herd.

Horses that play together should stay together.

6.4 Attendance at events

Goal: Minimize risks for disease transmission from horses and equipment (buckets and tack) taken to and returning from events.

Description: Commingling of horses at events pose a significant risk for disease transmission. Participants and event organizers share responsibility in minimizing these risks and have complementary roles.

6.4.1 Responsibility of the custodian

Best practices:

  • review health requirements (for example, is a negative EIA test required?);
  • ensure horses are healthy and properly vaccinated. Consult your veterinarian regarding timing of vaccinations;
  • manage horses from the same barn or farm as a group and stall together at the event;
  • minimize contact between riders, grooms, trainers and coaches with horses that are not their own;
  • dedicate equipment to your horses and prevent sharing amongst horses. This includes, but is not limited to, blankets, feed tubs, water buckets, tack, grooming supplies, and stall cleaning equipment (Note: riders' pant legs and footwear should be cleaned prior to switching horses)
  • visibly identify equipment to prevent sharing;
  • ensure supplies, such as hand sanitizer, soap, brushes and disinfectant for cleaning and disinfection are provided or brought to the event and the assigned stalls cleaned if necessary;
  • check with the event organizer or racetrack to determine what methods are used to clean and disinfect the stall or paddock area between use by different horses (refer to Section 8.5 Annex 15 for additional information on cleaning and disinfection);
  • monitor your horse's health including body temperature daily while at the event. Report any abnormalities to the event organizer (and veterinarian; event designated or other). Keep the event organizer informed of any changes to the horse's condition;
  • avoid any form of direct (for example, nose-to-nose) and indirect (for example, common surfaces in wash stalls) contact between horses;
  • consider using your own water hose; and
  • do not submerge the end of a common use water hose into a water bucket.

6.4.2 Responsibility of the event organizer

Best practices:

  • it is the responsibility of the event organizer to establish health requirements for entry (for example, risk-based testing may be required prior to entry to the grounds [e.g., EIA, strangles and EHV-1]);
  • restrict spectator access to the stabling area or to the trailer area;
  • ensure stall areas have complete barriers between horses;
  • provide specified stalls and areas for sick or suspect horses;
  • ensure stalls are cleaned and disinfected prior to arrival and between each horse (post a visible record of cleaning);
  • ensure wash stalls are cleaned and disinfected frequently and ideally, between horses (post a visible record of cleaning);
  • provide approved sharps containers in adequate numbers;
  • provide hand sanitizers or hand wash stations in the stabling area;
  • establish veterinary services for the event (for example, on-call or on-site);
  • recommend that horse custodians take and record resting horse temperatures at least once per day and the record be made available for verification by event officials; and
  • ensure all equipment used at or brought to an event is cleaned and disinfected (for example jumps, portable stalls).

(Refer to Annex 7 for a sample horse participant declaration and Annex 8 for a sample event letter to horse participants)

An industry best practice is to have the person with legal authority for the care of the horse sign an agreement that requires informing the event organizer of a health issue that is potentially infectious. The event organizer, with veterinary guidance, will implement the biosecurity protocol that has been developed.

A photograph of the inside of a large horse facility.
Photo courtesy of Equestrian Canada.

Tips for trail riders:

  • When trail riding with friends or neighbours, it is good practice to know the health status and history of the other horses beforehand. This may be as simple as ensuring horses are of the same health status and have no signs of sickness prior to gathering.
  • Avoiding nose-to-nose contact with other horses and maintaining a distance of 2 m from other horses while on the trail can reduce opportunities for disease spread.
  • Avoid sharing tack, equipment, water buckets and feed.
  • Manage what your horse eats - Prevent them from consuming feed or water supplied to other horses.
  • If staying overnight along the trail or in a campground, ensure all previous feed, bedding and manure from the horse stabling area is removed prior to unloading or bedding down your horse.
  • Wipe down common contact surfaces such as hitching rails and tie lines, and leave space between horses.
  • Remove and dispose of feed, water and bedding from the camp location on departure so it is clean for the next rider.

References Footnote 15  Footnote 16

6.5 Transportation

Goal: Horses are transported in a way to minimize exposure to or spread of disease.

Best practices:

  • ensure horse transport complies with all applicable legislation including the requirements in the Health of Animals ActFootnote 17 and RegulationsFootnote 18 and the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of EquinesFootnote 19;
  • transport only your horses or at least only those for which you know the management and health status;
  • a horse that shows signs of or is compromised by infectious disease should only be transported to a facility where it will receive proper care and should not be transported with healthy horses (clean and disinfect the trailer before it leaves the care facility);
  • minimize social stress when transporting horses on the same trailer;
  • avoid mixing young horses when shipping (for example, yearlings mixed together from different farms or with young racehorses);
  • tie your horse to your own trailer to minimize exposure to pathogens from other trailers; and
  • after transporting horses, clean to remove all organic material and disinfect the trailer.
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