EHV-1 Outbreak – How to Keep Your Yard Safe

Following an outbreak of Equine Herpesvirus in Hampshire, 4 horses have been put down with many more falling ill. Show centres and yards all across the county have gone into lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Keeping your yard biosecure before, during and after an outbreak is essential – whether it’s EHV, equine flu or any other contagious illness. But what is biosecurity, and how can yard owners and liveries ensure their horses stay healthy and illness-free?

What is Biosecurity? 

Biosecurity is a set of practises that will reduce the risk of diseases being introduced to, or spreading around your yard. Of course, the larger the area of the outbreak, the harder it will be to contain, which is why it’s essential that you do all you can to keep your yard biosecure. 

Signs of EHV-1

The current outbreak of EHV-1 in Hampshire is the neurological form, which is one of the most devastating. Early signs of EHV-1 in horses include a lack of energy, raised temperature, wobbly hind limbs, being unable to lift their tail and a slight head tilt. Horses showing these signs should be isolated and owners should get in touch with their vet. The yard should then be placed on lockdown. 

Locking Down your Yard

Your vet might recommend locking down your yard. This is one of the best ways to prevent viruses and illnesses spreading, and is the first step towards keeping the horses on your yard safe. 

This means no equines are to leave or enter the premises for any reason, including hacking out, shows or clinics. Ensure your vets, farriers, physiotherapists and anyone else who may come onto the premises knows that the yard is on lockdown. If you are on lockdown because of an outbreak at your own yard, it is essential that you let your vet and surrounding equestrian venues know. 

Ensure that any infected horses have their own tools, equipment and if possible, their own handler. They should have no contact with other people or horses on the yard, and handlers should follow strict biosecurity measures. This means washing their hands both before and after handling the horses, changing their clothes and disinfecting their shoes. All tools should be disinfected after use. 

The infected horse should also be placed in isolation. Of course, stables are often built in blocks which can make it harder to properly isolate a horse. For this reason, it’s best to have a mobile stable or shelter that can be used as an isolation box. Mobile stables can be moved around the yard with ease, so you can isolate one horse away from the rest of the block. 

Everyday Ways to Keep your Yard Biosecure

Liveries and yard owners can practise good biosecurity every day, whether there is a disease outbreak or not. Good hygiene is essential. Ensure you wash your hands regularly, clean your clothes and wipe down surfaces. Equipment such as water buckets, feed buckets, tack and rugs should also be cleaned regularly, and not shared between horses. 

As well as keeping your yard and equipment clean, you should check all horses for signs of illness each day. Basic signs include a dull coat, stiffness, cough, nasal discharge, a temperature or lack of appetite, although your vet will advise you on the specific symptoms of each illness. If your horse is showing signs of illness, it is best to isolate them and get in touch with your vet.

Introducing New Horses to a Yard

Moving a horse to a new yard is one of the biggest risks when it comes to biosecurity, especially if you’ve just recently bought the horse. You should firstly ensure that any new horse has a valid passport with all vaccinations up to date. Owners should know where the horse has been previously kept, and the health status of this yard.

Ideally, horses should be quarantined for 21 days. This is to protect both the new horse, and the horses already there. They should not be turned out with other horses or allowed to touch them over stable doors.

Fully isolating new horses can be difficult and impractical. While doing something is better than nothing, encouraging your horse to settle in a new yard usually involves allowing them to see other equines. If absolutely necessary, new horses can be turned out within sight of others, as long as they’re not able to touch each other over the fence. While this may not stop the spread of airborne viruses, it is still better than doing nothing. 

Heading to Shows & Clinics

If you regularly head out competing or to clinics, your horse will be more at risk of picking up an illness, which then puts the other horses on your yard at risk. When out and about, take your own buckets and do not borrow anyone else’s equipment.

Do not let your horse nuzzle other horses, and don’t touch other horses nor allow other people to touch yours. Ensure your horse doesn’t touch any other horse’s droppings, and remove your own horse’s droppings to dispose of at home. 

While it can be difficult not to panic during an outbreak, specifically when the disease in question is as damaging as EHV-1, putting biosecurity measures in place should help your horses to stay safe. Whether you are close to the infected area or not, good biosecurity is essential. 

If you are at all unsure, we highly recommend getting in touch with your vet who will be able to advise you further.