Coronavirus and caring for horses: your questions answered

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This Q&A is designed to help answer some of the questions those living and working in the equestrian world may have during the current situation. We will endeavour to update this with any fresh questions and new information that comes to light as the situation develops…

England will enter a second lockdown on 5 November until 2 December to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

The rules require people to stay at home, except for specific purposes; prevent gatherings with people from other households, except for specific purposes; and close certain businesses and venues.

Equestrians can continue to care for and ride their horses, but the rules state riding centres must close. While British Equestrian (BEF) has not yet released full clarification, competition and group activities also look likely to be suspended. Racing will continue as it is an elite sport.

So what does this mean for horse owners and those working in the industry?

Can I ride my horse?

Yes — you are allowed to leave your home to exercise outdoors. The Government rules state you can do this with the people you live with, with your support bubble or, when on your own, with one person from another household (children under school age, as well as those dependent on round-the-clock care, such as those with severe disabilities, who are with their parents will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside).

My horse is on DIY livery: am I allowed to care for him?

Yes you can, while respecting rules set out by individual yard. It remains is important to have a back-up plan in place should you find yourself unable to do so owing to illness, or if further restrictions are imposed in future.

Social distancing, handwashing/santising and biosecurity also remain key.

Advice from the BEF for individuals who are caring for their horses at their yard include:

  • Respect any restrictions put in place by the yard owner or manager – they are for your safety and their own. It’s their business and/or home.
  • Wash hands thoroughly on arrival – take soap and water with you if the facilities aren’t available
  • Maintain social distancing with other liveries and avoid common areas, such as tea rooms, as much as possible. Keep at least two metres apart at any time
  • Use your own equipment. If you need to use shared equipment such as wheelbarrows or hosepipes, disinfect the areas you’re touching or wear disposable gloves
  • Avoid activities that carry an increased risk of injury and consider wearing an up-to-standard riding hat while handling your horse
  • Assess your horse’s diet, and reduce energy intake according to the reduced levels of exercise you may be providing
  • Limit the number of visitors to the yard, and ask that those who do visit closely follow hygiene and social distancing guidance
  • Wash hands thoroughly before leaving the yard
  • If you have hand sanitiser that’s at least 60% alcohol, use it to clean your hands when you get into your car
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap straight away when you arrive home
  • Have a specific “yard visit” towel to dry your hands on
  • Get changed immediately into clean, fresh clothes
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How should I prepare in case I fall ill and can’t care for my horse?

The BEF recommends making a plan with your yard owner or manager, or your fellow liveries, for what will happen if you’re unable to get to the yard. If you have any of the symptoms of Covid-19 or if somebody in your household does, even if they’re only mild, do not visit your horse. You will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the day you develop symptoms, unless you test negative, or for 14 days if someone in your household develops symptoms.

The BHS recommends all owners prepare a care plan for each horse, so a friend or member of yard staff can take over your horse’s care if necessary. This should include things like which rugs he wears, what he eats, any medication, where you keep your equipment and his normal routine.

Other tips include ensuring you have sufficient supplies and keeping in touch with your fellow liveries and yard owner through a WhatsApp group.

For more advice, click here.

My horse is on full livery: am I allowed to go and ride him?

British Equestrian is seeking clarification on this, but it looks likely you can, in line with the government advice regarding travel and social distancing. Click here for more details

Are we allowed to hack out under the current restrictions?

Yes you can, provided you are following the Government rules regarding outdoor exercise.

Can I call the vet out to my horse?

Yes you can. Practices are open, and the British Equine Veterinary Association told H&H it has advised members to minimise travel, and contact with others, risk-assess all procedures and use professional judgement on what action may be deferred. Members must act in a Covid-secure manner, but may carry out ambulatory and hospital work, and work in support of equestrian businesses and trade.

Can my farrier shoe/trim my horse?

Yes, farriers have been allowed to continue their essential services throughout the lockdown restrictions, while taking precautions and using their judgement as to matters of priority and urgency.

The Farriers Registration Council (FRC) interpretation of the Government’s latest direction and guidance, dated 3 November, is: “Farriers registered in England should, with immediate effect, prioritise the delivery of farriery services to equines with welfare needs. Equines that pass the time by which routine treatment is due are at risk of becoming welfare cases and Farriers should liaise with equine owners on individual cases”.

The following provisos also stand:

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    • Any registered farrier showing the symptoms of coronavirus should immediately follow the NHS guidance on Covid-19 at and must not practise farriery.
    • Registered farriers are to rigorously comply with the following: 
    • Wash Hands: Wash their hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and between every consultation; clean their tools and equipment between every consultation.
    • Cover Face: Cover their face in enclosed spaces including, where appropriate, at consultations. Where registers farriers use PPE, including face masks, this should be disposed of in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions and otherwise responsibly.
    • Make Space: Keep at least 2m apart from all other persons, or 1m if wearing a face mask while at consultations and at all other times. 
    • If challenged by the police or other law enforcement agency in GB registered farriers should present their registration card and draw attention to this notice. Where necessary police officers or other law enforcement agencies in GB should be asked to contact the farriers registration council.
    • Equine owners and Registered Farriers should be aware that devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate rules and restrictions in place, and those living or working in those countries must be aware of that local guidance. Details of the restrictions and local alert levels may be found in the relevant links provided.
    • Equine owners are advised to make appointments with registered farriers to meet the needs of their equines; when making appointments equine owners should declare any equine welfare concerns, and – given current circumstances – equine owners are asked to be patient when seeking appointments.
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Should there be extra biosecurity measures in place on yards at this time?

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and the Government is also encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently to reduce transmission of the virus. The British Horse Society recommends following and publicising the latest Government advice to all who have access to a yard, as well as yard owners updating the business’s risk assessment as required.

It also urges yards to ensure there is sufficient access to appropriate working hygienic hand washing and drying facilities and to provide sanitiser at key location points on the premises.

What will happen if the grooms on the yard have to self-isolate?

If staff or liveries on the yard need to self-isolate, it is vitally important that they do so. Be prepared, speak with your yard owner about contingency plans and practise good biosecurity at all times. Communication is very important and the British Horse Society has some useful information on what to consider when making a contingency plan here.

This includes yard owners thinking about freelance cover and giving current staff additional training to cover roles that might not be part of their current job.

Are we allowed to transport our horses away from home?

Clarification is being sought on this area. Travel for veterinary or welfare purposes has always been permitted, but areas such as travelling for training looks less likely. However, it looks more likely that coaches will be able to travel to private yards to give one-on-one training or lessons to members of the same household, providing all social distancing and hygiene measures are in place, as individuals who are not able to work effectively from home are permitted to travel to do so.

Can I hire an outdoor arena, gallops or go cross-country schooling?

See above.

Can I have a lesson at a riding school?

The British Horse Society and BEF are seeking further guidance, but the Government advice specifically states riding stables and centres must close.

I’m a freelance groom, is this going to affect me and my income?

It may well do — you must follow Government health advice even though it is a worrying time when freelancers are not entitled to statutory sick pay. However, yards may need freelancers to help cover staff sickness and/or self-isolation periods, plus the Government has announced some measures in a bid to ease financial pressures. These include making it easier to apply for Universal Credit. The situation is changing rapidly and the British Grooms Association has more advice here

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I run a yard — what happens if my staff cannot work through sickness or self-isolation?

The Government has announced it will help businesses with fewer than 250 employees by funding two weeks of statutory sick pay. Make a contingency plan as to what to do if staff do need to have time off — the British Horse Society and Equestrian Employers Association have some helpful advice here and here

What happens if my staff need to take time off to care for their children?

All employees have a right to emergency time off during working hours where a dependant is concerned. The amount of time should be reasonable to the situation (usually days rather than longer term) and there is no statutory right to be paid for this — whether you are or not comes down to your employer. More information can be found here

Is there Government help available for freelancers and businesses?

Yes — the situation is changing all the time, but Boris Johnson and the chancellor have announced some measures to help those who will be impacted financially. Information from the government for employers, employees and businesses can be found here 

What’s the latest situation in Wales?

Wales is in a “firebreak” lockdown until 9 November meaning people must stay at home unless for specific reasons and must not meet with other households.

Riding is permitted as a form of exercise, but equestrians are asked not to take any unnecessary risks so as to put pressure on the NHS.

Owners and carers must attend to their horses daily for welfare reasons. You can travel horses in an emergency, but other travel should be avoided, and you can call your farrier and/or vet for emergency work.

From 9 November, the lockdown restrictions will change, including all business venues that have been closed will be allowed to reopen.

During the lockdown in England, people will not be permitted to travel to Wales without a reasonable excuse (work counts as a reasonable excuse).

What’s happening in Scotland?

A new five-tier system has come into force in Scotland.

Latest advice from HorseScotland states that as a non-contact outdoor sport, most equestrian activity including recreational riding and professional coaching may continue.

There are limits for adult competition, as a result of guidance to the general public that limits travel.

Professional coaching may continue where the coach undertakes essential travel as part of their employment.  A professional coach may travel between Levels 0-3 to undertake coaching sessions, but a participant receiving coaching must remain within the above travel parameters.

Travel should be restricted, for sport, exercise, training and competition purposes, to your own local authority area, or within a five mile radius of your local authority boundary if travelling into a neighbouring local authority area. The five mile distance is now not from your home, as was previously recommended, but people should still not travel between restriction levels.

Page updated: 3 November

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