Caring For Your Horses During The COVID-19 Lockdown
The current outbreak of COVID-19 is causing huge disruption across the UK, and this does not exclude horse owners. The increase in restrictions has seen many horse owners not knowing what steps they are able to take to care for their horses during this time. Below we have some useful information to guide you.
Speak to your yard owner
Rapid communication is the key to formulating a plan in conjunction with your yard owner, and possibly other liveries, to try as best as possible to care for your equines at this time, whilst still staying within the restrictions. Each yard is different and as such, each individual yard owner will be taking the steps they feel are best to protect themselves, their staff and their clients.
Some yards are fully closing their doors to all clients, whilst others are arranging staggered visits, restricting visitors and contact and stopping all but the most basic of care. This situation is not something yard owners are prepared for, nor have ever experienced before, so it is a difficult time for everyone. It is important to try to cooperate with and support your yard owner, because these are procedures that need to be put in place rapidly.
Can I still visit my horse?
All UK movement is restricted to ‘essential’ movement only. But what does this mean in relation to visiting and caring for your horse? If you are on a serviced livery package such as part or full livery, the yard is responsible for the day to day care of the horses, so for owners to visit is not deemed essential. However, some yards at present are still permitting access for owners to visit their horses for a short time each day, or on a staggered schedule.
If you are a DIY livery, which is effectively only rent of a stable and grazing, or you keep your horses at home or at a sole use yard, then you are deemed the person responsible for providing their day to day care. Therefore, your visit would be deemed ‘essential’ for the welfare of the animal, and access to carry out the day to day care would be permitted in order to meet their basic requirements of feeding and stable management.
Bear in mind, many yard owners may be on a reduced staff and have higher demands for services, so for DIY liveries that are still allowing people to attend it’s helpful to be able to care for your own horse if possible. In order to reduce footfall, for those still able to attend their yard on a DIY basis it is recommended that you could set up a ‘buddy’ scheme whereby you share the care of your, and other, horses between liveries on set days. This can also be incredibly useful on yards that are arranging staggered visits, as will require less people to be on the yard at any one time, reduce unnecessary travel for those not needing to attend on their ‘buddy’ days, and keep down costs of paid services and fuel.
If you are still able to visit the yard, then take sensible precautions:
- Only one person should attend to care for each horse
- Remember the social distancing rules and minimise face to face contact
- Use gloves and facial protection if preferred
- Remember to regularly wash or clean your hands, ideally upon arrival and before departure
- Do not share tools or equipment at the yard
- Do not touch anyone else’s horse, or other animals on the yard
- Spend the minimum time possible
- Do not take food to the yard and take only drinks in sealed vessels
Some yards may alter their yard routines to reduce the footfall as the yard owners see fit. This may include requiring DIY owners to visit only once daily, with the yard undertaking the remainder of the horses care.
But what if I cannot visit due to being High-Risk or needing to be in Self-Isolation?
If your horse is on livery, this is something you will need to discuss with your yard owner. If your horse is usually on a serviced livery package where the yard takes care of the day to day care, then this is unlikely to be an issue for them to continue, although they may alter their yard routine accordingly. If your horse is on a DIY yard then you can consider, if possible, asking the yard to move onto a serviced livery package for this time. This may not be possible and under these circumstances you may need to find another livery, family member or friend who is able to care for the horse during this period.
Freelance grooms are still able to work if required to undertake the essential care of horses to meet welfare needs. As such, you may be able to find a reputable and insured freelance groom willing to care for your horses on a temporary basis if you are unable to. However, sensible precautions should be taken, and it would be ideal that they were the only horses under their care, and that they followed all reasonable precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.
If you rent your own sole use yard or grazing then you will need to find someone who can care for the horse on your behalf. This should ideally be a friend or family member who can consistently and regularly care for the horse, as they will need to become its main carer for this time. If this is not possible, you may need to consider moving your horse to a yard or other grazing that is able to offer grass livery, part or full livery for a short period.
If none of the above options are possible, and you are worried that your horse will not receive the necessary care then you can contact your local authority, or the BHS Welfare line (02476 840517) who will try to assist where possible.
But what if I cannot afford to have my horse cared for?
Many horse owners are concerned about increasing care costs if they are not able to attend the yard, or if yard owners put restrictions in place meaning that clients have no option but to increase their livery services for an undefined period. Many are also worried about the long-term effects disruptions to employment may cause with regards to the cost for the care of their horses in the long term.
Again, this is something that will vary yard to yard. Whilst some yard owners are offering discounted services to help their clients at this time, many others are unable to due to increases in their own costs and the uncertainty of the situation. Horse owners need to be realistic about the difficulty of this situation for all involved and should try to come up with a solution that is suitable for everyone, where possible. This is something you should speak to your yard owner about as soon as possible.
How can I reduce costs or my time at the yard?
One practical recommendation is to turn horses out 24/7 where possible. This will make day to day care easier by limiting it to very basic needs such as feeding and rug changes if necessary, and make it easier for horse owners to buddy up and care for each other’s horses, or find cover for their own horses if on a sole use yard.
Unfortunately, due to the recent bad weather, many yards do not have suitable grazing to yet permit 24/7 grazing, so in these circumstances it is advisable to extend grazing to as long as possible during the day. This will reduce the time taken mucking out or on other stable duties, as well as reducing the amount of bedding and forage needed for stabled horses.
I have the Farrier/Vet/Physio/Dentist booked… can they still come out?
The welfare of horses must be maintained, and the question will be if it is a matter of welfare that such services are carried out. Under the new restrictions, only ‘essential’ services are permitted to trade. In our understanding this is deemed as services that are emergencies, or that cannot be deferred until a later date. The more people moving around unnecessarily, and particularly venue to venue, further increase the risk of the spread of the virus.
The current order for veterinary surgeons is to reduce face-to-face contact immediately other than in vital emergencies, so it would be expected that organisations for other equestrian services will be issued the same advice. If the services you have booked are still available, but non-essential, it would be advised to cancel or postpone until a later date. It is possible that the service provider may have already withdrawn their services.
The BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) have already stated that it is acceptable for routine vaccinations to be postponed for one month, and to be further reviewed at that time. If this is of concern to competitive riders it is likely that official competition bodies will adjust their rules accordingly.
If routine farriery can wait then it is recommended that this also be postponed. If this is unavoidable or you have an emergency it is suggested to contact your farrier and see if they are still working. It may be that you have to take alternative measures, such as having shoes removed, to reduce the working time and contact at the yard.
Can I still ride?
The new movement restrictions state that you may go outside to undertake exercise once a day, but it is unlikely that horse riding will be covered. This is thought to be more in relation to exercise in close proximity to home such as walking, jogging or cycling.
At the moment there is no definitive request for horse owner to stop riding. The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) have been actively encouraging horse owners to continue enjoying their horses, suggesting they are still able to ride in arenas and out hacking, as long as the strict guidelines are followed. However, this is a time where there is a huge strain on the emergency services and it would be wise not to put yourself in a position that may require emergency assistance in the event of a fall or injuries to yourself or your horse.
Some yards are also requesting their clients do not ride at this time for other reasons. Firstly, to restrict the time spent at the yard, and secondly to reduce the risk of cross contamination by the use of communal areas such as tack rooms, storage areas and riding facilities. Again, this is something you will need to discuss with your livery owner. If you keep your horses on your own then this is a decision you have to make for yourself, taking into consideration the additional risks and potential delay in the emergency services at this time.
If you are intending to continue to ride, you should stay informed of the recommendations and restrictions, and be sure to speak to your insurer. Some other European countries have made official restrictions on the exercise of horses, which has resulted in insurance companies revoking their cover for ridden activities during this time.
In the event that restrictions are made on riding, it is worth considering other options to ensure your horse is getting exercise and movement, such as turning out as much as possible, or use of a horse walker or turnout in an indoor or outdoor arena, if your yard permits.
Can I have a lesson or take part in other events such as clinics?
No, the government has put a stop to all ‘organised sporting activity’ at this time. This includes organised sports events and training so will cover riding lessons, clinics or schooling events. These trips with your horse to other yards or schooling facilities would also be non-essential and therefore go against the current movement restrictions.
It is inadvisable to have an instructor visiting your yard for lessons at this time, be it a private or livery yard. Under the new restrictions, only ‘essential’ services are permitted to trade. In our understanding this is deemed as services that are emergencies, or that cannot be deferred until a later date. As mentioned before, the more people moving around unnecessarily, particularly venue to venue, will further increase the risk of the spread of the virus.
What about my loaner/sharer, can they still see the horse?
If your horse is loaned or shared then whether they can see the horse will depend upon both your usual arrangements, and the rules put in place by your yard. If your sharer is for riding only, and they take no part in the day to day care of the horse, or your horse is on part or full livery, then it is not essential for them to visit the horse at this time. If you share on a part-loan basis whereby the loaner has set days that they care for the horse, either at your own yard or on a DIY livery basis, then in theory this can continue, as on their set days they are the person usually responsible. However, this will be dependent on the sharer or loaner still wishing to visit the yard or take part in the horses care at this time. You should speak to both your sharer and yard owner as soon as possible to clarify the situation.
Will I still be able to buy hay, feed and bedding?
Whilst there are restrictions in place leading to many businesses being forced to close, those supplying items of necessity to the welfare of animals are on the list of ‘essential’ businesses that may remain open. You may find that suppliers alter their opening or closing times, or their ordering or collection procedures, to best work with the restrictions. It is possible that deliveries may not be available at this time.
If you are purchasing hay, feed or bedding, it is advisable to purchase adequate amounts to reduce repeat trips, and to only purchase items for your own use, not to buy on behalf of others.
I was planning to move to a new yard, can I still do so?
At the moment there seem to be no restrictions on the movement of animals. However, in order to restrict to spread of the virus, it should be ‘essential’ movement only. If it is possible to stay where you are at present, then this may be the best course of action. Some yards are not permitting new clients to arrive during this period of lockdown, so if you have already got a new space organised you should contact the yard owner and see how the situation stands. If the reason to move the horse is ‘essential’, such as for its welfare or to move to alternative housing to help manage the horse at the time, then it is thought that this would be acceptable as long as the guidelines on social distancing are followed.
Whilst these guidelines and information are correct at the time of publication, the situation is constantly developing. Horse owners are urged to keep checking on the advice regarding ‘essential travel’ and industry related restrictions from the relevant sources.
Below are the current guidelines from the British Horse Society (BHS) and British Equestrian Federation (BEF) which are being updated regularly:
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