LOOKING AFTER HORSES DURING COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS) LOCK DOWN
Hello to all ‘The Ultimate Equestrian’ readers… I am reaching out in a more immediate/personal way and writing this from the Home Counties of the UK, in light of the ‘lock down’ announced 23rd May by the Government here.
***Update 13th May***
The British Horse Society have added to their website on the 11th and 12th of May with further updates in light of the UK lock down easements; It is now encouraging people to resume riding whilst keeping social distancing measures and staying alert to the virus, and has also provided further information for coaches and equestrian centres, check out the link below to read their advice and statements in full…
British Horse Society:
***Update 28th March***
The British Equestrian Federation added to their website yesterday; It is now encouraging people to consider what is ‘essential’ and not to ride, and if you do, not to hack out. Whilst the Government has, as of yet, not banned riding, this announcement from the BEF should be taken seriously. For those that feel it is appropriate for them and their horses, this could be the time to seriously evaluate whether or not to continue riding. And for those with fit competition horses to begin a ‘wind down’ programme.
British Equestrian Federation:
Original article published 25th March…
This article is written purely to collate some useful links, share my personal feelings and to suggest some ideas concerning caring for our horses during this difficult time; it is in no way meant to replace Government advice, and new announcements are being made daily, so please keep yourself informed and up to date with current news on official Government and news sites in your country, and I recommend reading all the updates from large equestrian organisations such as World Horse Welfare, and for the Brits reading, The British Horse Society has created a dedicated hub offering advice for horse owners, yards and businesses.
The World Health Organisation:
World Horse Welfare:
The British Horse Society:
…I strongly urge you to read the above links!
Now I’m going to talk about my personal feelings and opinions based on what I’ve read and observed. Like I’m sure many of you out there, not just here in the UK, I have been experiencing anxiety about the current Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and the impact that will have on the equestrian industry and the welfare of our horses. Nothing feels certain and we can’t just carry on as normal.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, recently spoke the words…
“Life should not feel normal”
…and she couldn’t be more right! We all need to be doing the right thing during this crisis, but staying at home is not an option for many of us with horses to look after, so what can we be doing?
Covid-19 is already affecting many of us within the horse community across the world. At the time of writing this, in France and Spain (which are both also on lockdown), printed documentation stating a valid reason for travel is required to leave the house. France has gone so far as to prohibit horse riding due to the risk of accidents causing unnecessary strain on the already stretched medical services. Whilst, at the time of writing, these measures haven’t yet been announced in the UK, it could be on the cards.
I don’t usually write this kind of post, but have personally been flabbergasted by some attitudes within the horse community on social media to ‘carry on as normal’, and even more so by the amount of horses still advertised for sale stating they have put in place safe measures for social distancing – the Government message is clear – STAY AT HOME! Of course, our horse’s welfare is essential, and should fall into the category of ‘essential travel’, but minimise time spent at the yard to cover these essentials, and use horse riding as your ‘one form of exercise per day’.
As I’ve already said… OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE ALREADY BANNED HORSE RIDING, not for social distancing, but for the risk of accidents / injury and the unnecessary strain that would be on already stretched medical services.
Please don’t push yourself and your horses. If anything, we should be easing off and stepping back. We should be preparing to rough off, and even turn away, where possible should the worst happen, putting solid plans in place for if there is an outright ban or anyone falls ill that is responsible for a horse, and staying firmly within our usual riding comfort zones just to keep our horses ticking over during this time and minimising any risks (after all there are no shows scheduled for the foreseeable future!). Okay, I accept that this whole situation, especially if there is a riding ban, will be a lot trickier for those with fit competition horses, or little access to turn out. Hopefully you have use of lunging areas, horse walkers/treadmills, and can taper off the ‘competition ready’ intensity of work and hard feed gently whilst keeping boredom at bay for these horses.
It will only take a few too many A&E visits or a serious incident and WE WILL ALL BE BANNED! Think of others. Minimise risk of accident and injury… respect and protect our NHS (we are in a state of crisis – this is not the time to ride more than usual, break in youngsters, try new things, buy and sell horses, jump bigger, etc!) at the very least, whilst we are on official lock down. By all means, advertise horses for sale that will be available to view AFTER the lock down, and share information/videos with people who are interested, but no one should be travelling to view horses during this time when we have been advised not to even visit our own families if they are not in the same household!
I know suddenly many people are finding themselves off work, with children off school – but please remember this a LOCK DOWN because of a CRISIS SITUATION – NOT A SUMMER HOLIDAY! We are in the midst of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, people are suffering and dying and we need to take this seriously. So please stop treating this like a holiday, or an opportunity to hang out at the stables all day (fair enough if your horses are at home on your own private land, but this is not okay if you have horses in livery or in shared stables and have to travel to your yard). I know that for many of us, our horses, and horsey friends, are our sanctuary, so maintain these relationships responsibly – set up a yard group chat/message (eg: on Whatsapp), to keep in touch with everyone and post updates (this is also a good way to send pics and videos to people who can’t visit their horses).
For professional/full livery yards where staff are the prime carers for horses, please consider full lock down, or at least assess the size of your yard to see how many people the space realistically allows to maintain social distancing measures, then create an appointment/slot based system so there are never more people than that on the yard at a time. For part / DIY / shared private yards where lock down or appointments aren’t an option, consider implementing a rota system.
WASH HANDS! Keep equipment/surfaces extra clean and avoid sharing where possible. I personally have stepped back from any teaching commitments, making myself available for consultation on the phone and via video chat, and am just offering essential/emergency cover if my clients are unable to look after their own horses during this time.
It is also worth considering that our usually quiet bridleways, byways and country lanes may be a lot busier than usual with more people off work and using them for their ‘one form of exercise per day’ – if this is likely to be extra spooky for your horse, don’t hack out! And it’s worth bearing in mind that most vets have already announced they are now only able to offer very limited services – so make extra sensible decisions with your horses, and make any changes to their routines/feeding, etc, gradually. For those with the option of turn out, it is an idea to begin gradually reducing the intensity of exercise and amount of hard feed, and gradually increasing time out at grass, being careful to manage risks of colic and laminitis. The horses at our yard have been gradually having extra hours at grass over the last week or so to get them acclimatised, we have made ‘starvation paddocks’ for the ones prone to laminitis, and they spent their first night living out last night. We are currently still exercising them, but only in the arena just to keep them ticking over.
Please also BE KIND! Let’s support each other, for example, lots of people are facing financial hardship and instability, especially in our industry where many are self-employed/freelancers… pay outstanding invoices, and if you have staff members that rely on the income they receive from you and they can’t access support quickly, if you are able, please consider paying them a retainer of some kind, they can always make up the hours at a later stage. If you have decided on lock down and have liveries that can’t afford full livery services, please offer them this for free. And especially if there are owners on your yard that are NHS or key workers, or those that are looking after vulnerable friends and family members… offer them help if you are able – they have enough on their plate at the moment without worrying about their horse’s welfare too.
To summarise… what should we be considering during lock down?
Following government advise and protecting the NHS, whilst attending to the welfare of our horses!
PREPARING FOR THE WORST….
If anyone at your yard falls ill, or if there is an outright ban on horse riding and all non-essential carers looking after horses, you need to imagine what that looks like at your yard, and what it means for your horses… Make a plan!
SOME IDEAS FOR BASIC RULES / CONSIDERATIONS…
- anyone showing (or sharing a household with someone showing) even the mildest symptoms must self-isolate at home in line with government guidelines, and MUST NOT visit the yard!
- put detailed plans in place for the care of each horse if the prime carer is taken ill
- consider full lock down where possible, or at least operate a rota / visiting slot system so that ideally no one, or very few people, are at the yard at the same time (but if this occurs / there is an emergency, a strict 2m distance should be maintained in line with social distance guidelines)
- reduce the number of people visiting the yard, so only the prime/regular carers can look after their horse or horses (not groups of family/friends/occasional riders, etc)
- only call out vets/farriers if absolutely necessary and observe safe social distancing if you do
- reduce the amount of time spent at the yard; just get done what needs to be done to ensure your horses needs are met, then go home (for example; no more hanging around for coffee!)
- make sure people wash their hands regularly, and clean equipment and surfaces, etc, after use and before leaving the yard (also encourage the use of face masks and gloves)
- separate all equipment so that no one is sharing / touching the same things where at all possible
- make ‘WASH YOUR HANDS’ and ‘MAINTAIN 2m / 6 FEET DISTANCE’ signs, and put them up everywhere you can as a constant reminder
- minimise the risk of accident and injury… stay firmly within your usual riding comfort zones just to keep your horses ticking over, and even reduce intensity where possible – RESPECT AND PROTECT OUR NHS
- consider riding your horse as your ‘one form of exercise per day’
- weigh up the risk of hacking out with extra people on our bridleways, and take extra care
- if you intend to ‘rough’ off your horses, make changes gradually and be sensible to minimise risks of Colic, laminitis, etc
- ban dogs at the yard (keep them in your vehicles if you must bring them and it’s not too hot)
- limit children on the yard unless absolutely necessary, in which case, make sure they fully understand the rules, and that they are properly supervised by an adult at all times
- BE KIND – support each other wherever possible… especially, offer help to NHS, keyworkers and people looking after vulnerable friends and family members where possible
- set up a yard group chat/message (eg: on Whatsapp), to keep in touch with everyone and post updates – for many of us our horses, and horsey friends, are our sanctuary so maintain these relationships responsibly
- print out Lock Down/Virus Specific Yard Rules, and the guidelines from the Government, World Horse Welfare and BHS, and put them up on notice boards (alongside usual yard rules), and email copies to your clients/other yard users
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON ALL OFFICIAL COVID-19 UPDATES…
The World Health Organisation:
World Horse Welfare:
The British Horse Society:
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, we are all in this together – Please follow government advice, protect our public health, our industry, and stay safe everyone.
Like many of you, I will be indoors more than usual. I am taking this opportunity to spend more time writing the many articles I have in the pipeline for this website, so please feel free to browse current content and watch this space for more.
Whilst I generally do not have comments published on this site (I have seen too many escalate on other sites into ‘trolling’), if anyone has suggestions I haven’t thought of, or stories/experiences of their horses during lock down to share, please send a comment and I will do my best to read them, and respond where I can/publish if appropriate.
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