Following on from the equine flu outbreak earlier in the year a new equine disease has wreaked havoc on the industry and concerned local riders – particularly those part of Teesside University’s Equestrian Club.
The disease, known as Strangles, is spread by direct contact from horse to horse.
Many of those members also take part in BUCS competitions where they ride horses they’ve never ridden before that come from different yards.
The society also has regular lessons at Kirklevington riding centre.
Hannah Allen, a member of The Equestrian Club, said: “I am concerned regarding the health of the horses and the horses we use to compete with.”
“I wouldn’t like people to come into contact with strangles and not know how to deal with it or have knowledge of the correct methods to keep safe, ultimately then bringing it back onto our yard.”
Lauren Pederson, another member club member, said: “I’m worried about people being irresponsible, not being honest about potential or confirmed outbreaks and not using correct biosecurity and isolation procedures leading to cross contamination and putting our horses and others at risk.”
A study among the Teesside Equestrian Club found 67% were aware of the recent outbreak and around 70% were worried about equine disease outbreaks, while 66% were worried about the risks associated with visiting yards and to their own horses.
Stephanie Callen, a member of the equine charity Redwings , said: “We wouldn’t want anyone to be worried about enjoying time with horses.”
“Making small, proactive changes to your horse care routine can drastically improve your chances of protecting your horse and others from infectious disease.
“Also, taking the Redwings Stamp out Strangles pledge is free, simple and a great way of getting practical tips and information that can really help people reduce the risk of their horse picking up an infectious disease.”
Research has also shown that yards with more than six horses are more vulnerable to an infectious disease outbreak.
Most riding schools and livery centres in the area have over ten horses, Kirklevington being one of them.
Stephanie said: “As well as being a miserable experience for the horses that are infected, an outbreak on a livery yard, riding school or other equestrian business can bring activities to a standstill for several weeks and be financially devastating.”
“On a yard, the best approach is to put a clear biosecurity agreement in place that all livery clients are aware of and can work with.”
The Effect On Local Businesses
One of the biggest North East venues, Richmond Equestrian Centre unfortunately was caught up in the recent outbreak and had to close their doors to the public following a horse testing positive for strangles.
This resulted in the cancellation of the hugely popular Richmond Horse Trials.
The financial impact has been huge with the venue losings tens of thousands of pounds during its closure, alongside those who externally hire the venue.
Abigail Turnbull, owner of Richmond Equestrian Centre, said: “It was very upsetting to have to cancel our Horse Trials, but as far as we were concerned there wasn’t a choice.”
“Strangles is a very highly infectious disease and it doesn’t bare thinking about how many other horses could have caught it – the infection can be carried on other people, lived in grass, wood, and water for up to 8 weeks.
“We had record entries when we cancelled, but horse welfare must come first!”
The centre has worked tirelessly since the outbreak looking after the sick horses, reassuring their owners as well as trying to take care of the horses that weren’t infected.
Abigail said: “If someone very local to us went vocal with a confirmed case I think we would lockdown as a precaution – if there is an outbreak locally, it tends to be ‘in the area’ and because it can spread so easily it’s best to be vigilant.”
Richmond Equestrian Centre has now got the all clear and has reopened much to the relief and delight of owners, competitors and liveries.
Regarding any worries potential competitors may have about competing at the centre Abigail said: “Our Equestrian Centre is probably one of the cleanest in the country and we are now a PASS Gold yard as well as an approved British Horse Society yard and facility Centre.”
Tamara Cassells another member of the Teesside Equestrian Club said: “I heard about the outbreak and the test finally coming back negative and I think they’ve been fantastic keeping everyone updated.”
On average one in ten horses will become a carrier of the disease without showing any symptoms and the best way to diagnose this is by performing a guttural pouch endoscopy.
Blood tests only measure antibodies in the blood which can be high whether they are a carrier or not, even after the infection has cleared.
Regarding outbreaks where a show or event is taking place Stephanie said: “It is recognised best practice for those events to be cancelled.
“Even when infected horses have been isolated, often it can be very difficult to pinpoint where an outbreak has originated from, for example there could be a carrier on the site that has yet to be identified.
While cancelling events is very upsetting for the site owners and competitors, it’s best never to take risks when it comes to infectious disease.”
Redwings also think everyone in the equestrian industry has an important role to play in preventing the spread of infectious disease.
This includes horse owners, vets, farriers and yard managers.
Speaking about venues Stephanie said: “In particular, venues can take proactive and simple steps such as reminding competitors to be mindful of contact with other horses, providing taps rather than communal troughs for horses and good hand washing facilities for competitors and visitors.”
“At our own Redwings Show this year, we also provided our judges with biosecurity guidance and hand sanitiser, while every competitor was asked to provide their horse’s passport to prove they had up-to-date vaccinations for Equine Flu.”
Stephanie also noted that Redwings were on hand to help Richmond with their outbreak.
She said: “Their swift actions and clear communication are a shining example to other yards who may find themselves in a similar situation.”
“The reaction from the equestrian community has been overwhelmingly positive, with many horse owners praising their professionalism.
“Following their re-opening this month, they have been inundated with livery enquiries reflecting the respect people have for their transparency.”
The main steps you can take is to practice good hygiene check your horse’s temperature regularly and seek advice from vets.
What is the disease?
The disease is known as strangles and is highly contagious.
It is however, unlike the flu not airborne but is spread be direct contact from horse to horse.
It can also be spread indirectly on clothes, stables, yard equipment, and water tanks.
It is equally important for members of the public to not touch any horses whilst out walking.
Strangles can make horse extremely ill, causing a temperature, loss of appetite and painful abscesses in the throat.
In some cases it can become fatal and develop into metastatic strangles where abscesses develop elsewhere in the body or into an immune system disorder called purpura haemorrhagica.
Horses suspected of having strangles should be isolated immediately and the possibility of a horse being a carrier should be ruled out.
Redwings are urging people to turn their knowledge of strangles into practical action stating it’s often easier and cheaper than people think.
You can take the Stamp Out Strangles here.
You can also find a template yard agreement here.
Over the 19th/20th of October Richmond Equestrian Centre will be holding a hunter trial in aid of raising awareness for strangles, more information can be found on their website.
For more information on the Teesside University Equestrian Club visit their site.
Trainee Journalist at Teesside University