How riders can protect themselves from COVID-19 and support horse immune system

How riders can protect themselves from COVID-19 and support horse immune system

In the wake of COVID-19, everyone is taking precautions to protect their health and safety, as they should be. Practicing good hygiene should be a year-round effort, though! Proper cleanliness and sanitation prevent the spread of disease for riders, horses and their caretakers. 

If you are still heading to the barn amidst the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it would be wise to create a group chat with everyone at the barn. Use this system to coordinate ride times so there are not groups of people using the facility at the same time. While social distancing should still count when going to the barn, make sure at least 1 other person is there in case of a fall or injury. 


How to Support Your Horse's Immune System and Keep Riders Healthy at the Barn

If your barn has bathroom facilities, make sure to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds as soon as you arrive. Soap lifts germs, while vigorous scrubbing with warm water removes them from the skin. Sing your favorite song’s chorus a few times over to make the time pass by. 

Since horses are social creatures, they enjoy contact with other horses, especially when turned out together or have nose-to-nose contact with their neighbors when stalled. This makes it difficult to control the spread of bacterial and viral infections. Individuals coming in contact with others’ mucus membranes, droplets from sneezes, open wounds, contaminated surfaces and fecal matter are all common ways transmission occurs. 

For riders, periodic sanitation of barn items is a huge step in curtailing the spread of viruses and bacteria:

  1.  Pitchforks
  2.  Buckets
  3.  Stall doors/handles
  4.  Cross tie clips
  5.  Tack trunks 
  6.  Tack room door
  7.  Brushes and grooming products 

Sanitizing horse brushes and grooming products is especially important when there are shared supplies throughout the barn. Brushes come in direct contact with both horses and riders at the same time and sanitizing these thoroughly and often will effectively cut down on bacteria/virus horse-horse and rider-rider transfer. 

Horses have not proven to be largely affected by COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t commit to supporting their immune system to battle other pathogens. The beginning of spring is the time that owners are bringing their horses back into work to return to their fitness regimes in order to resume competing during the show season. This means traveling to show grounds and being around many other horses- and riders (that doesn't sound like social distancing, does it?)

There are many factors that contribute to a strong immune system for your horse. Three of the most important factors to a strong equine immune system include a -

  1. Diet that meets their nutritional requirements
  2. Appropriate and timely vaccinations
  3. Balancing stress levels. 

A nutrition plan to follow for your horse

Nutritional requirements differ from horse to horse, so there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all feeding program that will benefit every horse in the barn. Feed requirements depend on workload, work type, age, metabolic rate, pre-existing conditions, climate, feed type available and more! 

Other than suitable bodyweight to feedstuff ratio, the timing of meals is important as well.  Splitting up the aggregate of food per day into multiple small meals supports the natural digestive system of grazing animals, which horses are.

Having multiple small meals throughout the day allows the ever-present stomach acid to break down the feed rather than attack unprotected regions of the stomach. Large and widely spaced out meals can cause ulcers, discomfort and inflammation. Chronic inflammation can compromise the immune system and spreads the body’s natural response to unwelcome antigens thinner.

Proper protein levels are important in repairing damaged body tissues and enzymes that were affected by illness as well. Key vitamins and minerals work to support proper immune function as well; these manage the build-up of potentially damaging free radicals. 

Kentucky Equine Nutrition is a fantastic resource to check out! As always, consult a vet or equine nutritionist on how or if your horse is meeting their nutritional requirements. 

Vaccinations and Herd Immunity

Vaccinating your horse is one of the most important steps to take to ensure your horse has a strong immune response to fight off common pathogens. Vaccinations spur an immune system response to “teach” the body to fight off certain pathogens. There are a few vaccinations for diseases that are often fatal and pose a serious threat to your horse, especially those that travel for shows, trail rides etc.

The core vaccinations are:

  1. Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis
  2. Rabies
  3. West Nile
  4. Tetanus

Depending on the area of the country you live in, you may want to consider other vaccinations to incorporate into your core list as well. For example, in the southern U.S. where there is more humidity, it may be wise to also vaccinate for botulism. In the northeastern U.S., Lyme disease has proven to be quite prevalent and some owners have also requested the vet to administer the vaccination for dogs to their horses. 

Herd immunity is a protective measurement that is based on a group as a whole. Making sure the healthy animals are not carriers or exhibit symptoms of a disease will protect the weak. Healthy members of a herd may still be transmitters of a pathogen, even though no symptoms are shown.

It is important for all members of a herd to be vaccinated and go through the same immune system safety protocols as the weaker links in the herd. In herds that do become infected, the pathogen will keep moving until it finds a vulnerable host to affect. The more the pathogen moves around, the quicker the animals will build an immune response to it. 


By now, we all know unhealthy amounts of stress are detrimental to the immune system- this goes for horses and people. High levels of stress cut down the amount of lymphocytes available in the body (white blood cells). Lymphocytes are cells in the blood that work to fight off antigens. Fewer lymphocytes means it is much more difficult for your body to fight off an antigen on its own. 


What riders can do during Quarantine time during pandemic of the Corona Virus?

Using your quarantine time doesn’t have to be wasted! This can be a perfect time to clean your horse blanket, fly sheets and saddle pads. These can often get caked with sweat, hair and dirt after extended periods of no washing. Cleaning your horse tack including your saddle, horse bridles and girths can also be a great quarantine activity that keeps your busy and prolongs the life of your investments!

Recommended Read- How to clean Horse Tack, Equipment and Grooming Supplies.


Stay relaxed and as calm as possible, you don’t need extra stress about the coronavirus while at the same time suppressing your immune system. Stay home as much as possible and don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds! 

Take a few minutes to memorize the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home” here:

A perfect quick handwashing song for horse lovers!


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