Keeping your horse healthy with equine biosecurity

by Tara McFadden

Like my children, keeping my horse healthy is important. Pratt is my endurance and trail horse. I keep him out on pasture, make sure he gets good hay and during the competitive season, I make sure he gets the extra feed as needed. He gets dewormed on a schedule, the farrier comes out for regular trims and Pratt gets vaccinated in the spring. I think I'm a good horse owner.

Men a friend asked me if I wanted to attend a biosecurity workshop for horses my first thought was that whatever that was, I didn't need it. It sounded like something high-end performance horses might need and involve scientists in plastic suits. Maybe useful for high-end hunter-jumpers or cutting horses but not my trail horse.

My friend provided the formal definition of biosecurity "a strategy of disease prevention-preventing introduction of disease and controlling and preventing recycling of disease within, a herd, region, facility or community."

That definition didn't really clear up why I needed to attend a workshop, so she translated. Biosecurity is about keeping your horses healthy. Biosecurity practices are about taking it beyond annual vaccines to prevent diseases through management and disinfection.

That made more sense. Strangles had recently gone through a friend's barn and I'd seen how much work had gone into treating the horses and disinfecting the facility. The equine herpes virus-1, known as EHV-1, hit Alberta in 2011, primarily affected the cutting horse world but also caused the cancellation of the RCMP mounted ride. I remember the emerging panic that summer as horsey friends worked to avoid the spread of the virus. Although the virus was managed and had a limited impact locally, 13 horses died in the United States.

High-end horse or my trail horse, I don't know any horse owner that can easily handle a sick horse. It's time and money to get the best result: your horse healthy again.

So I went to the equine biosecurity workshop - surprise, surprise I found the biosecurity information very valuable. The workshop was lead by a local veterinarian who provides the necessary information for everyone from recreational riders to competitors and stable owners on how to limit, manage or prevent the spread of equine disease.

I also learned that there was nothing profoundly complicated about biosecurity. It costs more to fix than to prevent.

Vaccines are only part of the solution. As with my children, I try to minimize the amount of bugs they pick up with some simple rules - wash your hands, don't share drink bottles, if you're sick stay away from others. Equine biosecurity is about translating these simple practices to the horse world - don't share brushes or water buckets, miminize nose to nose contact and isolate sick horses are some of the basic concepts.

At the workshop we worked through the Equine Biosecurity Principles and Best Practices handbook that was developed through a partnership of Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and the AEE The handbook explains biosecurity concepts that help horse owners understand their risks and guides the creation of a biosecurity plan that fits each horse owner's unique situation. "Whether that be keeping your own horse, to running a boarding facility or managing an event.

As horse lovers we know that responsible care of our horses falls to us. And managing our horses health and well being is as important as riding safely….. managing our horses' disease risks and planning how to manage illness, benefits not only our own horses, but also the entire equine community.

Together the workshops and the handbooks are providing education that will change how horse owners avoid and manage equine diseases, not only for their own horses but also for the horse community as a whole…..

Biosecurity is protecting us, our animals, the farm community and the livestock industry against disease causing agents. It is a strategy of disease prevention, preventing introduction of disease and controlling and preventing recycling of disease within a herd, region, facility or community.

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Tara McFadden is a communicator, fundraiser and local politician who has been horse crazy since buying her first horse at the age of 10 with pop bottle money. She spends her horse time with an opinionated Appaloosa navigating competitive trail and endurance competitions.

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