Equine Barn and Show Biosecurity

By Wendy Mollat, DVM, DACVIM, Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital

The days are finally getting longer, and you are likely starting to polish up the show tack and clean out the trailer. At your horse’s scheduled veterinary appointment for a preseason “tune-up” and vaccines, the veterinarian mentions strategies for keeping your horse healthy throughout the season. You remember something about needing to have “good biosecurity,” but maybe you didn’t ask what that exactly means. Biosecurity pertains to implementing management practices that prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases within your barn. Due to the high volume of traffic (people and horses), boarding facilities and show grounds carry an innate risk of exposure to a variety of infectious diseases.

So what can you do to develop a protocol to protect your horse? First and foremost, effective biosecurity programs must be easy to accomplish on a daily basis. Any protocol must be directly communicated to new boarders, visitors and staff. Remember that the biggest sources for spread of infectious disease are equipment, people, water and air.

General Biosecurity protocol for boarding/show facilities:

  • Transient/new horses: New horses are prime candidates for bringing disease to your barn. Have owners fill out a short medical history, vaccination, deworming, and travel history form before arrival. Ideally, new horses should be quarantined from the resident horse population for 14 days. This means no nose-nose contact with other horses and separate equipment (tack, buckets, stall cleaning tools, etc.) for that horse. At the very minimum, take the new horse’s temperature twice daily for the first 14 days; a temperature of >101.5ºF is abnormal and would warrant examination by a veterinarian and more strict quarantine measures. Always take the temperature of horses that are traveling twice daily for the duration of the trip plus seven days after they return home.
  • Equipment and tack: Each individual horse should have its own designated grooming supplies and tack. If it is necessary to share, clean and disinfect equipment between horses.
  • Visitors: Visitors should be discouraged from handling any horses on the property. Post signs clearly asking visitors to not pet or feed the horses.
  • Trailers: Trailers that are used for hauling multiple horses should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses.
  • Proper cleaning and disinfecting: Disinfectants are not effective on dirty or porous (e.g., wood) surfaces. Wash all equipment or surfaces with soap and water until they appear clean prior to disinfecting. Dilute bleach (1 part bleach: 10 parts water) is a generally effective disinfectant for the barn. Rinse disinfectant two to three times after application.
  • Monitoring for illness: Establish guidelines for reporting an ill horse. Not all illnesses are contagious, but the sooner you and a veterinarian are involved, the better chance you have of controlling spread of disease. Increase isolation measures if a horse is identified. Post the normal range for equine vitals signs around your barn:
    • temperature: 99ºF-100.8ºF
    • heart rate: 32-44
    • ​respiratory rate: 8-16

Early, proactive planning can minimize the risk of infectious disease spreading within your barn. For more specific details on making an effective Biosecurity plan tailored to your barn’s situation, you can reach Dr. Mollat at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital at 360.568.3111.