Looking after yourself and your horse
We all need to do our bit to protect ourselves, others and the NHS in these unprecedented times.
It is vital that we follow the latest government guidance to stay at home except for limited purposes.
The latest government advice taken from gov.uk website (last upated 12.05.2020) on for caring for animals including horses states:
Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus
- You may leave your house to provide care for your horse or livestock.
- You must stay 2 metres away from others.
- You should remember to wash your hands before and after contact with any animals.
If your horse needs urgent attention from a farrier
- If your horse requires urgent attention from a farrier, you should phone the farrier to arrange the best approach to meet your horses’ needs. You and the farrier must ensure that you keep 2 metres apart and wash your hands before and after contact with the horse.
Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 as a household
- If you have a horse in livery, you must not visit them whilst you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements.
- If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals.
- Where this is not possible you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 metres away from other people.
- If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call your local authority.
Returning to Riding
The UK Government amended the COVID-19 lock-down restrictions for England as of Wednesday 13th May and, has produced its COVID-19 Recovery Strategy which provides further information and guidance which includes advice on:
• Taking unlimited outdoor exercise with members of your household
• Meeting up or taking exercise with one person maximum from outside your household in an outdoor setting whilst maintaining social distancing
Many horse owners will now be considering a return to riding as a result of this news, but bringing your horse back into ridden work should be planned for and thought out carefully to avoid unnecessary injury to both horse and rider.
The British Horse Society have produced some useful initial advice on bringing your horse back into work
Please see our useful welfare resource on Road Safety for top tips for keeping riders and motorists safe on the roads.
Keeping yourself safe when visiting your yard
- Let someone know you are going to the yard and when you expect to be back
- Buddy up with someone if possible and share welfare checks to avoid being there alone and to support one another.
- Use the power of technology and share photos and videos of horses during welfare checks to help other owners / carers stay connected if they are unable to visit in person.
- Maintain social distancing advice of 2m distance from other people whilst there
- Only use your own tools and equipment and clean them after use. Watch this helpful film ‘Don’t pass it on’ from The British Grooms Association.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
Buddying up during Coronavirus
This is a deeply worrying time for everyone, whether you are looking after horses from home or if they are kept at a livery yard. It is important to consider, who is going to care for your horse/s if you have to self-Isolate or come down with the Coronavirus.
It’s a good idea to buddy up with someone on your yard if possible, to share daily welfare checks and to also have a clear plan in place in case of these events.
We have developed a downloadable Equine Care template which you can complete with key information and contacts relating to essential care for your horse.
You should share your completed Equine Care Plan with key family members or friends, the emergency contacts you identify on the form, with your livery yard owner and your yard buddy.
Make sure your family / friends are clear of your plan and know what to do.
Essential Daily Welfare Checks
When time is limited or you’re using a buddy system to check horses every day during lockdown, we sometimes need to focus on the essentials.
We want to make sure our horses are safe, secure, healthy and have appropriate food, water and shelter.
As long as your horse has everything he needs, it’s ok not to ride or spend long hours at the yard… So what’s essential and what’s not?
Obviously the level of necessary minimum care can vary between horses with different health and behavioural needs, but our handy guide can help you know where to start.
We’ve compiled a list of essential checks for both your horse and their environment.
Essential Checks for your Horse:
- Check for injuries and signs of ill health. A thorough check every day is a great way to ensure your horse hasn’t sustained any injuries and that he’s feeling well in himself. *Check out our guide to signs of good health below.
- Check/provide food and water. Whether your horse is kept on a grass diet or needs supplementary feeding, his food and forage should be clean and fresh and of an appropriate energy level for his type, age, workload and temperament. Grazing should be managed carefully for good doers, especially in Spring and Summer.
- Observe your horse while you’re at the yard/field. Is he showing normal behaviour and demeanour for him?
- Grooming isn’t essential every day. However, it is a good opportunity to thoroughly check over your horse for any heat, swelling, small injuries, and to strengthen your relationship with him.
- Try to pick out feet daily if you can. Although, if you can’t do this because you’re sick, or relying on others to check your horse, the odd day missed probably won’t harm as long as he seems comfortable on his feet and not lame or reluctant to move. These signs would indicate a need to investigate further straight away.
- Rugs, fly control and daily medication. If your horses wears a rug, or you need to administer medication or topical treatments, you’ll need to do this daily. Rugs can slip and can cause nasty injuries or get damaged if they don’t fit the horse well. Horses wearing rugs should be checked more often if possible, ideally (use a buddy system to support this if you can).
- Shelter. As the weather warms up, it’s important to use grazing areas that have some shade during hot weather.
Essential Checks for your Horse’s Environment:
- Make sure boundaries, fencing and gates are secure and free from damage. Your horse needs a safe environment where he can’t injure himself on poorly maintained fencing or escape onto roads. It’s a good idea to check fencing every day especially where grazing borders roads. Keep gates locked when you’re not around to help deter thieves.
- Don’t feed the horses! Try to make it clear to passers by that they shouldn’t feed your horse anything, even though they may mean well. More people are at home or exercising close to home at the moment and this may lead to an increase in passers by who may not know that some foods can be harmful to horses.
- Appropriate grazing levels. Many horse owners are allowing their horses more turnout during Covid-19 restrictions. It’s important to monitor grass levels and make sure the available grazing is right for your individual horse. Strip grazing may be an option for good doers but some may still need supplementary hay until later in the year.
Signs of Good Horse Health:
- Horse is alert and interested in its surroundings.
- Horse is eating and drinking normally.
- Horse is passing urine (pale yellow) and faeces (should break when it hits the floor) in normal amounts.
- There are no obvious signs of discomfort, distress, sweating, pacing etc.
- There is no discharge from the eyes, nose or bum.
- Coat should be glossy and lying flat against the body, not dull and staring, and the skin should be supple.
- There is no abnormal swelling or heat on the body.
- Horse is able to stand evenly on all four legs.
- Mucous membranes should be salmon pink in colour.
- Skin recoil (dehydration test) should only take a couple of seconds.
- Horse shows normal Vital Signs: Temperature, Pulse Rate and Respiration Rate (TPR).
- Capillary refill test- pressing your thumb against the horse’s gum, when you remove it the colour should return almost immediately as the capillaries refill with blood.
Staying Safe Around Horses – Working Alone
Many of us are visiting our horses less frequently or are taking advantage of a ‘buddy’ system to ensure daily checks and care can continue during lockdown.
For some of us, that may mean caring for our own horses, and less familiar ones alone.
It’s important to stay safe and reduce the risk of accident or injury to both horse and handler as much as we can. We’ve put together some suggested safety tips to keep you safe around your own and others horses at this time, particularly if you are working alone.
Staying safe around horses when working alone:
- Make sure someone knows where you are, and when you expect to be back. That way, someone can check on you if you get into trouble.
- Keep a mobile phone on you at all times, in case you need to call for assistance. We’ve all done it, left our phone in the tack room while we go to the field. When working alone it’s really important that you have it with you.
- Wear suitable clothing and footwear. Even if you’re ‘just nipping up to feed the horses’, make sure you wearing gear that will keep you safe. We strongly recommend wearing an approved standard riding hat while handling horses, not just when riding.
- Avoid bringing feed into a herd situation. Supplementary feed of any kind can be a highly valued resource for horses and ponies, especially those who may be on a restricted diet. Keep yourself safe by bringing horses out of the herd to be fed away from others and avoid creating competition or fighting between herd mates.
- Stay safe, hay safe. If you need to put hay out, try to do it from the other side of a fence, even if it’s just enough to keep horses attention while you then lay out the rest of the hay ration throughout the field.
- Don’t forget to feed according to workload. As well as type, temperament and current weight/body conditions score, workload is an important consideration when deciding what your horse’s energy intake needs are. If you’ve stopped riding and your horse is usually in enough work to need supplementary hard feed, or he’s a good doer, it’s likely that you’ll need to decrease his feed ration. This can avoid weight gain as well as excess energy.
- Consider making a ‘corral’ in the field. This can allow you to bring one or two horses out for daily care like grooming, picking out feet or changing rugs without the unwanted interest of the whole herd! Corrals can also help when you need to bring a horse out of a herd, to avoid others escaping if they are keen around the gate area.
- Consider whether current herd groups are still the best groups. If you keep your horse at livery or with horses owned by other people, and you rely on another owner to catch their horse before it’s safe to catch yours, communication is key between yard owners and horse owners to ensure everyone’s safe. If the normal routine isn’t possible at the moment and the situation isn’t safe, is there another way around it? Could horses that show unwanted behaviour around the gate be grazed in a different area? Or consider the use of a corral, even a temporary one, as mentioned above.
- Continue handling and training. Even though there may be no riding at present, it’s important if you can, to continue handling your horse every day and keeping him in a routine. He will expect to be caught and handled every day and this will remain ‘normal’ rather than ‘novel’. Regular handling during lockdown will help you pick up your training again when restrictions are lifted. See our handy guide to ‘Keeping Connected to your Horse’ for further ideas on this.
Keeping Connected with your Horse during Lockdown
Many of us are feeling the effects of not being able to ride, and consequently the reduction in our daily ‘horse time’.
Here are some ways to keep that level of contact with our horse, improve our relationship with them and concentrate on the small things…
- Grooming. Grooming is often something that many of us rush, especially in the Winter months when we’re trying to use that last available bit of daylight to ride safely. Now we have a little more time to enjoy it, and for our horses to enjoy it. It’s a great way to bond with your horse and relax in each other’s company.
- Bathing. After a long, wet, hard Winter, better weather is finally here. Many of our horses are enjoying more turnout and are losing their Winter coats. A nice refreshing bath can be enjoyable for horses (providing they are confident with the process), removing dead hair and skin, and it’s a nice way for you to pamper them and see them looking at their loveliest! A good roll afterwards would be the perfect thing….
- Lunging and Long Reining. Although we may not be riding, lunging and long reining can be great ways to keep your horse active. If you have a good doer who needs their weight to be managed, these activities can really help with this alongside appropriate feeding/grazing.
- Horse Agility. If you have an area where you can set up a few obstacles, this can be really beneficial and fun! Start small, you don’t need a lot of equipment, and allow your horse to get used to the new items.
- Enrichment. While your horse may be having more turnout and less work, spend time making some environmental enrichment for him; branches, balls or other novel items can encourage play and investigation, his daily hay ration or treats can be spread into different areas or hidden to encourage natural foraging behaviour.
- Enter an online show. Ok, so we can’t go to shows at the moment, but you could enter photos and videos into an online showing class.
- Photography/Painting. Why not get in touch with your creative side? Use your normal riding time to practise getting some great shots of your horse, if you do this while he’s grazing it gives you the opportunity to observe his behaviour or the way he interacts with his herd mates, too.
- Concentrate on in hand training issues. Is your horse nervous of the hosepipe? By using training techniques grounded in behavioural science, sometimes just a few minutes of gradual training a day can make a massive difference to problems like this. Learn how to make a shaping plan to help your horse learn more easily or ask the advice of a qualified equine behaviourist.
- Here is a link to the Equine Behaviour and Training Association where you can find further information and resources: http://www.ebta.co.uk/
- Let us know your lockdown ideas! Get in touch with us to share the new ways you’re finding to spend time with your horse.
Useful link for further non-ridden ideas and free resources for staying connected with your horse: