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Horse Health

Preventing Exposure to Illness When Traveling with Horses

Summer often allows more time for travel with your horse, which can also mean spending time at different barns where horses might try to mingle. This may seem harmless, but being on the road can put your horse at risk for serious illness—or even death. Learn what steps can help prevent exposure to illness when traveling with your horse.

Be careful with commingling your horse with unfamiliar ones during travel season. Photo courtesy acceptphoto/Shutterstock.



Two potential dangers for your horse are strangles and equine herpes virus (EHV), both of which are highly contagious and can easily infect a horse at any barn, arena, or other facility. As cases increase during show and rodeo seasons, Kelli Beavers, DVM, clinical assistant professor of equine veterinary education at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Veterinary Education, Research, and Outreach (VERO) program, housed at West Texas A&M University, gives advice on how to prevent illnesses like strangles and EHV.

Preventing Exposure

Preventing exposure to strangles or EHV starts by taking simple precautions when you travel with your horse to new facilities around other horses.

“Both of these illnesses can be transmitted by horses and by people. Most disease transmission occurs from horses that do not yet show signs of illness.” Beavers says. “Be very careful about traveling with your horse. Make sure to clean the stall you will be using before you unload everything, including your horse. Washing with soapy water is good and using a hand-held disinfectant sprayer on the walls of the stall as well. One example of a disinfectant is Virkon-S. As far as avoiding exposure, just make sure that you don’t comingle your horses with others that you are unfamiliar with.”

It is also important to ensure your horse is healthy prior to any travel. It is best to avoid any travel if your horse has signs of illness.

Beavers explains that having a quarantine barn is important for coming back home from an event.

“It’s a really great practice to protect your home farm by having a quarantine barn,” Beavers says. “If you come back from a show and realize that your horse has been at risk or exposed, you can make sure to keep other horses safe, whether it be your own horses or others sharing a boarding facility.”

Using Public Utilities

Wash racks and other areas at public facilities can be helpful but should also be approached with caution. Beavers explains how to use these amenities properly to keep your horse from becoming ill.

When using public utilities, be sure to wash down walls and place fresh bedding for your horse to prevent illness. Photo courtesy Chen’s Photos/Shutterstock.

“When using public utilities at shows or rodeos, be sure to give yourself enough time to get done what you need done without being crowded by other horses,” Beavers says. “You can certainly wash down or disinfect any walls or railings. Make sure to keep your distance from unfamiliar horses if you can and use your common sense in those situations. You can’t completely avoid all risks, especially in common use areas. Using your own grooming equipment, and not comingling your equipment with unfamiliar people or horses can reduce the risk of these illnesses.”

Veterinarian Help

Working with your veterinarian when you suspect your horse might have contracted an illness is crucial, especially if it could be strangles or EHV. Beavers explains how veterinarian help is important to give your horse the best chance of recovery.

“When working with your veterinarian, you can make sure to stay up to date on medication and vaccinations for your horses that do travel and your horses that stay at home. With your veterinarian you can also create an individualized plan for you and your horse,” Beavers says.

Some horse shows and facilities require that a horse be vaccinated with EHV and equine influenza vaccines within a certain timeframe before the event. Be sure to check state and local regulations before traveling.

Next Steps After Horse Illness Exposure

Exposure to strangles or EHV can be shocking and even scary, so focus on the steps to a solution if this occurs.

Traveling with horses can be great if done correctly. Stay safe with these tips during times of travel. Photo courtesy Kim Lewis Photography/Shutterstock

“If your horse has been exposed, make sure that you have a plan for quarantine set up where you keep your horse. Make sure to monitor your horse for any signs of fever and take their temperature daily,” Beavers says. “If you’re taking care of sick or exposed horses, be sure and take care of them last. That way you can change clothes and get yourself clean without going back to tend to healthy horses.”

Isolate Horses with These Symptoms

It’s essential to know the early symptoms of illnesses like EHV and strangles. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, symptoms to watch for include:

  1. Body temperature greater than 101.5°F (38.9°C)
  2. Ataxia or recumbency
  3. Aggressive behavior or stupor
  4. Profuse diarrhea
  5. Oral or coronary band vesicular or ulcerative lesions
  6. Nasal discharge, coughing, and/or lymphadenopathy

Tell your veterinarian, farrier, trainer, and any other individuals who might come into contact with your horse becomes symptomatic. These professionals work with multiple horses every day, so it is important to notify them of exposure to keep other horses safe.

“It’s important to stay informed, Equine Disease Communication Center is really great because it tracks incidents and when horse illnesses occur so that you know if [strangles or EHV] is in your area,” Beavers says.

Travel with horses can bring excitement and new opportunities for equestrians of all kinds. Keep the excitement going this summer and integrate these tips into your travel routine to keep your horses safe from illness.

This article about preventing exposure to illness on the road is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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