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.

Contagious equine metritis (USA)

Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) was first reported in the US in 1978 on thoroughbred farms in Kentucky, this was followed by an outbreak in Missouri the following year. Since then, the disease has been rapidly eradicated from both states and subsequently has not been found in the US horse population. Isolation of the CEM organism should be reported to State or Federal animal health authorities.

What is CEM?

CEM is a highly contagious venereal disease seen in mares and stallions, but the latter show no clinical signs. CEM is caused by the bacteria Taylorella equigenitalis, a gram-negative coccobacillus causing acute inflammation of the mare's reproductive tract, vulval discharge and infertility in the mare. Carrier animals can exist in both the male and the female population. CEM is of economic importance to the breeding industry. Outbreaks have occurred in both Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred breeding programs and carefully designed program are in place to minimize its incidence and effects.

How is the disease transmitted?

The CEM organism can be carried asymptomatically in the sexual organs of the stallion, ie urethral fossa, urethral sinus, prepuce and urethra, or in the clitoral fossa and sinuses of mares, and is transmitted during reproduction. The organism can also be passed via fomites, eg veterinary instruments, bedding, tack, and by artificial insemination via the semen.

How do I know if my horse has CEM?

If your mare has active CEM you will notice signs of the disease that include vulval discharge that usually appears 2 days after breeding and can last up to 2 weeks in untreated cases. The mare may come back into season sooner than expected. Conception rates will be lower than usual. Abortion has been documented but is rare. There are no signs in carrier mares and stallions. Therefore, your mare might not show any signs of disease but can nonetheless act as a source of infection to other horses, including her own foal. For this reason, annual testing of all breeding animals should be carried out.

What should I do if I think my horse has CEM?

If you think your horse has CEM, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will take some swabs (samples) from the genitalia of your horse, which will be sent to an approved laboratory for culturing (testing). The laboratory will test for the presence of the CEM organism. If the results are negative, that means your horse is free from infection, but if the results are positive, this means your horse is infected and must be treated, re-tested and cleared. During this time your horse must not be used for breeding.

How can I prevent my horse from contracting the disease?

No vaccines are available for CEM; therefore, prevention is essential.

It is important to establish freedom from infection before commencing breeding activities by taking bacterial swabs from certain sites of the reproductive tract. Horses should be checked regularly during breeding activities to ensure they remain free from infection. Because CEM can be spread from horse to horse by people, it is also extremely important to exercise strict hygiene measures during breeding activities. Anyone coming into contact with breeding horses should be made aware of the risk of direct and indirect transmission of the disease. They should wear disposable gloves when handling the tail or genitalia of the horse and the gloves should be changed between each horse. Separate sterile and disposable equipment (where appropriate) and clean water should always be used for each horse.

What is the prognosis?

Occurrence of the carrier state in horses mean that the prognosis is guarded. Early treatment can resolve infection quickly with less likelihood of a carrier state occurring.

Further information

Current information on CEM and suspected outbreaks can be found on the APHIS website www.aphis.usda.gov.