Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Disease control (USA)

Horses are susceptible to many different diseases which can be passed between them. Horses are traveling and mixing with other horses at shows and events more and more and this increases the risk of them catching different infections.

What is disease control and what diseases need to be controlled?

Disease control is also called biosecurity and it consists of a series of measures which help to reduce the risk of horses catching and spreading infectious diseases.

The infections we are concerned about range from West Nile virus to influenza and Strangles, and although the details of disease control will differ between them, the principles remain the same.

What are the components of disease control?

A disease control strategy for any equine facility is based on several important features:

  • The general health of the horses in the facility.
  • Dealing with new arrivals to the facility.
  • Dealing with sick horses in the facility.
  • Facility hygiene including the stables, paddocks and equipment.
  • Good education and compliance.

What about the general health of the horses in the facility?

If a horse has good general health they can more easily fight infections and are less susceptible to disease; good nutrition is vital for maintaining good health, regular de-worming, farriery, dental care and vaccination can help to maintain a horses good health.

Vaccination is a key part of disease control - a regular vaccination program against the most common diseases reduces your horse's susceptibility to those diseases and reduces the spread of disease.

Your regular veterinarian should be consulted to develop a vaccination program that meets the specific needs of horses in your facility. In the United States, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has identified the following vaccines as "core", meaning most horses should be vaccinated against these diseases:

  • Rabies
  • Tetanus
  • Eastern and Western equine encephalitis
  • West Nile virus

Certain vaccines are recommended variably, depending on the risk of exposure to the disease ("risk-based vaccines"). These include botulism, equine herpes (rhinopneumonitis), equine influenza, strangles, Potomac horse fever, rotavirus, and others.

What about new arrivals to the facility?

The most common source of infections in a facility are new horses coming into the facility. It is up to individual facilities how they manage new arrivals, and it is important to carry out a risk assessment of each new arrival to identify horses which may be carrying diseases.

In an ideal situation the new arrivals should be separated from the rest of the horses for at least 3 weeks after arrival, during this time the horse should be monitored for any signs of disease such as a fever, cough or nasal discharge.

It should be a requirement of the facility that each new arrival be up-to-date with their de-worming and vaccination.

Having assessed the risk, some facilities also decide to isolate horses returning from high-risk places such as shows, events or veterinary hospitals.

What about sick horses in the facility?

It can be very difficult to decide what action to take when a horse in the facility becomes ill.

The most important first step is to contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if the illness the horse has is potentially infectious to other horses and what measures should be taken.

Sometimes it is not possible to control the spread of the disease in the facility as the other horses have already been exposed. If this is the case it is important to prevent the spread of disease from the horses on the yard to other horses in the population, that is to say that horses should not leave the facility and new horses should not enter the facility until your veterinarian tells you they are no longer at risk.

If the other horses have not been exposed or the disease was diagnosed very early, it may be possible to prevent spread to other horses in the facility by isolating the sick horse. In this situation the sick horse should have its own stable or paddock away from the others, be attended to by a different person and have different equipment such as grooming kit and feed buckets. If separate personnel are not available, the sick horse should be handled last, and personnel should wear coveralls or other protective clothing dedicated to the isolation area.

What about facility hygiene?

Certain diseases thrive in dirty environments, and although it is impossible to keep horses in spotless conditions, it is important to observe good hygiene including regular manure removal from paddocks, regular cleaning of stables, food and water buckets, tack and grooming kit.

A sick or new horse should have its own equipment which is not shared with others and the stable they are using should be thoroughly disinfected when they have left it.

Vermin control is also very important as rats and mice can carry many different diseases and also spread diseases around the yard.

What else do I need to know?

Education and compliance
It is important that all personnel on the premises are aware of the disease control measures and implement them effectively.

A sick or new horse should be dealt with by a designated person who should not have contact with the other horses.

It is important as well that people coming onto the premises do not bring diseases with them, if they have had contact with sick or high-risk horses, they should be asked to thoroughly clean their boots and outer clothing.

A good disease control strategy can help you keep your horse and its stable mates healthy, but it relies on the compliance and commitment of all owners with horses in your facility.