Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 1 - June, 2020

Equine Event Biosecurity Policy for Utah 4-H

Hoopes, K. , Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University Extension
Jessie Hadfield, Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University Extension
Megan Hendrickson, 4-H English Horse Program Coordinator, Utah State University Extension
Allen. S. , Salt Lake County Horse Program Coordinator, Utah State University Extension
Anderson, K, Davis County Horse Program Coordinator, Utah State University Extension

ABSTRACT

Recent spread of life-threatening disease in the equine industry has increased awareness of and the need for biosecurity policies at equine events. Utah 4-H Horse Programs in collaboration with Utah State University Extension Specialists developed and implemented a biosecurity policy specific for Utah 4-H youth horse events. The new biosecurity policy focuses on education of best practices before, during, and after an equine event. Implementation included the delivery of the policy, creating and distributing educational events and materials, and putting the policy into action. The program was successfully adopted with minimal negative feedback. 


Introduction

Equine disease spread at events is a major concern. Common nonlethal upper respiratory diseases have plagued equine events for years. However, recent life-threatening disease spread in the equine industry is leading to an increased awareness of the need for good biosecurity measures. In 2011 at a National Cutting Horse Event in Ogden, Utah, one horse was diagnosed with the neurologic form of the Equine Herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1). When the news of the diagnosis spread throughout the event, many owners and trainers took their horses and left. This led to the exposure of over 2000 other horses to the deadly virus and caused the virtual shutdown of the equine industry in the Western United States for several months (USDA APHIS, 2011).

In addition to the 2011 outbreak, in 2012 a local outbreak of EHV-1 in Logan, Utah, resulted in the death of several horses. These deaths were attributed to poor biosecurity practices at one specific public location. Local 4-H groups affected by this outbreak began to implement individual biosecurity plans at local shows, however, were concerned that a biosecurity plan did not exist at the state level. Utah State University Extension specialists and program coordinators recognized the need to implement a central policy and to educate horse owners about contagious equine diseases across the state.

The Utah 4-H Biosecurity Policy began with an evaluation of what steps needed to be taken to ensure equine health and safety at 4-H events. The policy was patterned after the 2012 California Department of Food and Agriculture Biosecurity Plan for Equine Events (Flynn et al., 2012). It was determined that two actions needed to be taken: 

  • Create a biosecurity policy including a system of verification that each horse attending a multi-day 4-H event did not have any contagious disease or illness that was communicable to other horses, livestock, and people.
  • Increase education for program members, volunteers, and parents on disease prevention, recognition, and best practices for limiting spread of illness at equine events.

 

Methods

The Biosecurity Policy

Disease prevention is much simpler than controlling a disease outbreak. The primary focus of our biosecurity policy was to prevent sick horses from coming to 4-H events. The steps taken included requiring vaccinations and education on disease recognition prior to attending an equine event. 

Owners were strongly encouraged to establish a relationship with their veterinarian and to consult on vaccination needs for their horses according to AAEP core vaccination recommendations. The Utah 4-H Equine Biosecurity Policy applies to all horses coming to any multiday event. It requires horses be vaccinated within six months of the show with Equine Herpesvirus (Rhinopneumonitis) and Equine Influenza virus vaccine. These particular diseases are spread easily from horse to horse. Proof of vaccination had to be submitted at the time of registration, typically 30 days before the event. 

4-H participants and parents were instructed on what to do with horses at home to prevent the introduction and or spread of contagious equine disease. These practices included vaccination protocols, quarantine of new arrivals, stall sanitations, trailer sanitation, and disease recognition. One of the first signs exhibited by horses after contracting a contagious disease is the increase in body temperature. 4-H participants and parents were instructed on how to safely take a rectal temperature on a horse. We required participants to take daily rectal temperatures of the horses coming to the event starting three days before arrival. Any horse having a rectal temperature over 101.5°F at any of these readings was not allowed to come. Proof of these temperature readings was required at the time of the event check in. Participants were allowed to substitute alternate horses if their original horse was showing signs of illness.

We also required horses to be visually inspected by a veterinarian within 5 days prior to the event. Horses that were potentially exposed to an infectious pathogen at home were asked to not attend. As these horses were not crossing state lines, it did not have to be an official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), but rather a statement stating the horse is free of signs of contagious disease. Clubs were encouraged to contact local veterinarians well ahead of the event to set up a time so all of the horses in the club could be checked at the same time. This helped to avoid scheduling conflicts as well as provide a lower cost to participants. Many supportive veterinarians donated their time for these health checks. 

The Utah 4-H Biosecurity Policy includes specific points addressing the Safety Officer, check-in procedure, and best practices at the event:

 

Safety Officer

An individual is identified as the Safety Officer at the equine event. The Safety Officer should be knowledgeable about equine events, equine safety, and equine disease recognition. This individual should be included on the event committee to aid in the discussion for requirements for horses to come to the event, become familiar with facility layout, and to designate a quarantine area. The quarantine area is utilized in the event that a horse should exhibit clinical signs. This area is required to be at least 30 feet away from any other activity at the event and should be accessible for horse trailers. 

Additionally, the Safety Officer is given the following responsibilities: 

  • Ensure that a licensed veterinarian has been consulted about the event, and that a veterinarian has agreed to be on call to provide consultation and services as needed. 
  • Instruct individuals at check points regarding check-in protocols.  
  • Actively patrol the grounds watching for equine illness, equine lameness, safety hazards, and unsafe behavior. 
  • Stop any activity immediately that is deemed unsafe either in or out of the show arena and consult with the event committee as needed.
  • Act as point of contact for others to report safety concerns (i.e. lame horses, unsafe tack, and unsafe equine behavior). 

 

Check-In Procedure

Check-in protocols created a system of verification that ensured each horse attending the event did not have any signs of illness. Upon arrival each participant needed to provide three things:

  • Proof of a veterinary inspection a maximum of 5 days prior to the start of the event.
  • Proof of temperature checks of the horse for three days prior to the event, including the morning of the event.
  • Verbal confirmation that each horse had been checked by the exhibitor for the following signs before leaving for the event: 
    • Nasal discharge
    • Elevated temperature 
    • Coughing
    • Difficulty breathing
    • ADR (“Ain’t Doin Right”) 

 

These clinical signs are not always caused by a communicable disease. If a horse exhibits any of the clinical signs listed above, the participant must have written veterinarian approval stating that the horse does not have a communicable disease before they were allowed to come to the event. After check-in is complete, exhibitors are given their registration packets, stall information, and permission to unload.

Should a participant show up to the event without the proper documentation, the Safety Officer is notified, and the participant is instructed to go to a previously designated quarantine area. The participant is not allowed to go to their assigned stalls until the on-call veterinarian inspects and finds the horse to be free of contagious diseases at the owner’s expense. If the participant is going to be hauling the horse on and off the grounds each day, they are given a special parking pass so that the check in officials know they have already done the main biosecurity check-in.

To facilitate the check-in procedure, clear instructions are sent out to all registrants prior to the event. Signage and barriers are utilized to direct traffic to the checkpoint and to prevent horses from unloading without having been appropriately checked in.

 

Best Practices During the Event

4-H participants were instructed on best practices to use while at a horse show.  These include:

  • Disinfect a stall before putting your horse in
  • Avoid letting horses touch noses
  • Avoid touching other horses
  • Do not share tack
  • Do not share feed and water buckets
  • Avoid using common tie rails. 

Should a horse show clinical signs of illness during an event, the horse is moved to the quarantine area and the on-call veterinarian is contacted. The veterinarian determines whether the horse is able to return to the event or whether further quarantine measures are required. If the veterinarian recognizes the disease to be a reportable disease, state regulation dictates that the State Veterinarian should be contacted, and the entire facility placed under their direction. 

 

Distribution and Education

The policy was created in April of 2018 and was to be implemented beginning at the State 4-H English Horse Show in September 2018, therefore it was crucial to spread the word quickly and efficiently. To do so, state-wide virtual and face-to-face meetings were held to present the information. These formats allowed question-and-answer sessions between policy creators, county faculty, 4-H participants, and volunteers. The policy and best practices were published on fact sheets and distributed throughout the community via e-mail lists and social media campaigns.

To assist members in implementing the biosecurity policy as efficiently as possible, additional resources were created. This included a veterinary inspection form on which a licensed veterinarian could document all horses attending the show from any barn, club, or county and sign off on them using one form. Members could then make copies of this form to use for individual check-in to the event. There was also a simple temperature sheet provided for members to quickly and easily fill in the horse’s temperature readings leading up to and including the days of the event.

 

Evaluation

After the 2019 Utah 4-H State Horse Show, we distributed a survey to all attendees to establish if our participants were willing to use the new Utah 4-H Biosecurity Policy before attending other equine events, and if the use of the policy made them feel safer about attending the state horse shows. Of the survey participants, significantly more respondents said they were extremely likely to utilize the biosecurity measures at other events in comparison to those that indicated they would not (48.15% and 6.17%, respectively). Significantly, most respondents (79%) also indicated that they felt safer about attending the event with the policy in place. 

 

Discussion

Our program was successful in educating participants about the importance of biosecurity, and the program itself was successful in limiting the spread of disease. The steps we took in researching the problem, designing a policy, educating faculty and staff using multiple formats, and then educating volunteers and youth participants, helped this program go into effect smoothly. Verbal comments from participants and parents were mostly encouraging, although some voiced concerns about the inconvenience and cost of the added measures. Despite these concerns, we received little to no negative feedback about the biosecurity measures as a whole.

The effectiveness of our program was also supported by Utah State Veterinarian, Barry Pittman DVM. Three weeks prior to the 2019 Utah 4-H State Horse Show, an outbreak of vesicular stomatitis occurred in five Utah counties. Several equine organizations were encouraged to postpone or cancel their events to prevent the spread of the disease. Vesicular stomatitis can have a devastating impact on all livestock species as well as people. Utah 4-H was given the greenlight to proceed with their state horse shows with the simple addition of visual inspection of horses prior to unloading by a licensed veterinarian. Dr. Pittman felt confident that our biosecurity measures already in place were sufficient to allow the event to proceed.

 

Conclusions

Utah 4-H horse program leaders and the Utah State University Equine Extension specialists created and implemented a successful equine event biosecurity policy. This program was implemented in 28 counties and affected over 1,200 participants. Over 350 horses attended the state horse show events for both 2018 and 2019, and no horses entered the fairgrounds with any visual signs of communicable disease. Over the course of the show (4 days), no horses exhibited any signs of disease, nor were there any reports of horses exhibiting signs of illness after returning home.

 

Literature Cited

Flynn, K., Wilson, E. M., Traub-Dargatz, J., and Madigan, J. (2012) Biosecurity Toolkit for Equine Events. California Department of Food and Agriculture Equine Medication Monitoring Program. https://www.ndsu.edu/fileadmin/4h/Contests/Biosecurity_Toolkit_Full_Version.pdf

USDA APHIS. 2011. Equine Herpesvirus (EHV-1) – Final Situation Report. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/downloads/animal_diseases/ehv-final-situation-report.pdf