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.

Vaccinations - essential protection (USA)

Horses are susceptible to a number of serious infectious diseases, and fortunately, vaccines are available for some of these common conditions.

What is a vaccination?

A vaccination is an injection that stimulates an immune response against a specific disease.

A vaccination program will ensure that your horse has maximum protection against these serious (and sometimes fatal) diseases. It will usually mean two injections at the start of the course followed by annual booster vaccinations for your horse. To provide your horse with full and continuing protection against these diseases it is essential that the course of vaccinations is completed.

Do I have to have my horse vaccinated?

Some owners give the excuse that vaccination is too expensive as the reason for not vaccinating their horse. Although courses of vaccinations and annual boosters may not be cheap, if your horse contracted one of these illnesses the cost of treatment would be considerably more expensive. These conditions can lead to a severely debilitated horse and, if complications develop, this can result in death.

If you wish to show, race or enter your horse in competitions it should be vaccinated according to the regulations of the event committee or organisation. This usually involves the presentation of an up-to-date vaccination certificate signed by a veterinarian.

What conditions can be vaccinated against?

Vaccinations are available for a number of diseases but the core vaccinations that veterinary authorities recommend regardless of the horse's situation include Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), rabies and tetanus.


EEE is an acute, often fatal viral disease affecting horses, humans and birds. The disease can be carried by mosquitoes and causes depression, fever and poor appetite leading to generalized weakness, muscle incoordination, paralysis and often death.

Horses should be vaccinated from 3-4 months of age with a booster 3 weeks later and then regular annual boosters, preferably in the springtime.


WEE is a fatal viral disease and, like EEE, it is also carried by mosquitoes. Symptoms are difficult to recognize, usually presenting as fever lasting only a short period, decreased appetite and depression. If the virus penetrates the brain, neurological signs will be seen, usually resulting in death.

Horses should be vaccinated from 3-4 months of age with a booster 3 weeks later and then regular annual boosters, preferably in the springtime.


WNV is a fatal viral disease that can cause encephalitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito that acquires the virus from infected birds. WNV occurs throughout North America and can affect horses, humans and other mammals. Clinical signs of infection include incoordination, circling, convulsions, partial paralysis and depression amongst others.

Horses should be vaccinated twice initially (3-6 weeks apart), with boosters given twice a year in endemic areas, or annually in the spring before the beginning of the insect vector season.


Rabies is a fatal viral disease caused by the Lyssavirus that is transmitted by the bite or saliva contact from a rabid animal. Signs of infection vary, but initial signs may include lameness, choke or colic. Most horses then exhibit some signs of incoordination, fever and paralysis, usually resulting in death.

Horses should be vaccinated from 3 months (or older) with a second dose at a year old, followed by 6 monthly or yearly boosters.

Tetanus ('lock jaw')

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium, Clostridium tetani, which is found in soil and enters the horse's bloodstream via an open wound. Even small wounds can allow Clostridium tetani contamination and, because the incubation period is 7-21 days, the wound has usually healed by the time the first signs of the disease are apparent. Often owners are not even aware that their horse has received a wound, or thought it minor and of no importance, and yet their horse develops tetanus.

The signs of tetanus are:

  • Vague stiffness in the head and limbs progressing to reluctance to move.
  • Spasms in the muscles of the head and neck resulting in difficulty chewing, nostril flaring and a wide-eyed expression.
  • 'Sardonic smile' - the corners of the mouth are drawn back tightly.
  • Erect ears.
  • Trembling progressing to violent, whole body spasms in response to sudden movements or noise.

Approximately 90% of unvaccinated horses that develop tetanus die. In the small number of horses that do recover, intensive veterinary treatment and nursing care is required for a period of about 6 weeks.

Vaccination is also available for the following diseases...


Strangles is a bacterial disease caused by Streptcoccus equi, affecting lymph nodes. Signs of the disease include a fever, mucopurulent nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, depression, off feed. Most horses do recover.

Although vaccination is not 100% efficacious it prevents horses from developing the serious pathologic signs seen in unvaccinated horses which can lead to death.


EHV is a highly contagious infection which is a common cause of abortion in pregnant mares. Infection is usually acquired via the respiratory route, either directly by respiratory aerosols or indirectly via ingestion of infected feed sources/fomites. EHV also causes respiratory tract disease, neurological disease and diseases of the neonatal foal.

A variety of EHV vaccines are available; for information on vaccination against EHV, contact your veterinarian.

Equine influenza ('flu')

This is a highly contagious, viral disease of the respiratory system caused by different strains of influenza virus. A horse contracts the virus either through contact with an infected horse, or indirectly by contaminated environments/air. Infected horses incubate the disease for 1-3 days before displaying any symptoms, which is why outbreaks of equine influenza spread so rapidly.

The symptoms of influenza include:

  • A rise in temperature up to 41°C/106°F for 1-3 days (often undetected).
  • A harsh, dry cough of sudden onset that persists for 2-3 weeks or more.
  • Clear nasal discharge progressing to thick, green-yellow discharge.
  • Lethargy.
  • Loss of appetite.

The disease can develop into life-threatening bronchitis or pneumonia. When horses recover from influenza, they can be left in a debilitated state making them more susceptible to secondary infections. Outbreaks of influenza are most common when large numbers of young horses are brought together in stressful conditions, ie sales or shows.

A variety of influenza vaccines are available; for information on vaccination against influenza, contact your veterinarian.


PHV is a disease caused by Ehrlichia risticii, causing intestinal disease. Intestinal sounds are reduced or totally absent. Diarrhea, laminitis, depression and decreased appetite are all signs of the disease. Prognosis is good if the disease is detected at an early stage.

Horses should be vaccinated from 3 months of age with a booster 3 weeks later and then regular boosters every 6 months.

Is vaccination dangerous?

No, vaccination is not dangerous. There has been much discussion in the media about adverse reactions to vaccinations in pets which, unfortunately, has mostly been irresponsible scare mongering. Millions of horses have been vaccinated against tetanus and influenza over many years and the number of adverse reactions reported from these vaccines is insignificant. Of these reported adverse reactions most are only local injection site reactions or mild muscle stiffness.

The risk to your horse of contracting and suffering serious or fatal consequences of tetanus and influenza is many, many times greater than the risk of your horse having an adverse reaction to a vaccination.

Can I still ride my horse?

You should try and reduce stress, eg heavy exercise, on your horse for the 24-48 h after vaccination. This will further reduce the very small chance of any adverse reaction.

My horse hates needles - is there any way around this?

No - it is important to ensure that your horse is vaccinated. Very small needles are used, and vaccination only takes a matter of seconds. Your veterinarian will be used to vaccinating awkward horses!