In response to the large and high-profile equine herpesvirus outbreak that occurred last summer, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has published a Biosecurity Toolkit for Equine Events. It’s a nice, comprehensive document that goes over a wide range of things that can be done to reduce the risk of disease transmission at horse shows and similar events, and is one of the better resources available on the subject.

As I’ve said before, I don’t use the term "biosecurity" for equine events since I think it’s a fallacy. Biosecurity involves keeping infectious agents away from a group of animals. You can do that on a chicken farm, where you bring in a bunch of chicks at the same time, house them under tightly controlled conditions, keep people away, don’t let them near any other birds, send them to slaughter all at once, and then disinfect the place before starting again. With horse events, we create absolutely beautiful conditions for infectious diseases to be introduced and transmitted. For example:

  • Many horses from many different areas with different health statuses are mixed together.
  • Vaccination requirements are often sparse to non-existent.
  • Horses have a high likelihood of direct and indirect contact with each other.
  • Healthy horses can carry a variety of infectious agents.
  • People often bring horses that they know are or have recently been sick, and there’s little scrutiny of arrivals to detect any infectious horses.

So, for me, we instead deal with infection control when horses are involved, whereby we try to reduce (but know we can never eliminate) the risk of infectious diseases and outbreaks.

Is it just a matter of semantics? To a degree, yes, and maybe it’s just the Professor side of me coming out. At the same time, I think it’s important to consider the difference since we have to acknowledge the inherent risks that come with showing horses, think about the risks involved with different situations and come up with practical ways to reduce those risks as much as possible.

Good infection control practices for equine events, with measures taken by both organizers and attendees, are a good start.

Photo credit: John Goetzinger (click for source)