Biosecurity at horse shows


The official definition of biosecurity at horse shows is stopping contagious diseases from spreading – on show grounds and then back to home barns. Think of biosecurity as an invisible bubble wrap around your horse so he doesn’t get sick – or make anyone other horses sick.


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Yes, horse diseases spread like wildfire at horse shows


  • Well – if you are anything like me, your social media is filled with horse stories and news. More often than not, there’s an outbreak of vesticular stomatis, EHV-1, or some other disease that is making its rounds through barns.


  • Sometimes the disease du jour is not life-threatening, sometimes it is. Just think of the damage that could be done if all 500 horses at a show carried a virus or bacteria back to their home barns.


horse show tents and vendors in a row

Most horse shows allow spectators to mingle down the barn aisles.


What I notice at every single horse show I have ever worked, attended, or spectated.


  • Humans greatly facilitate the spreading of germs and viruses around the barns.


  • I’ve been at several shows where I was chatting to a spectator in the barn, and she mentioned that she was just in another barn petting some of those horses, and as we chatted she proceeded to start petting the horses around me. Of course, I politely stopped her. Who needs air to carry a virus when it has human hands?


Biosecurity guidelines


  • Make sure your horse is healthy, up to date on vaccinations, and fit for travel and competition. This starts at home, long before the show.


  • Clean and disinfect the stall(s) your horse will use at the show. Leftover manure, shavings, and dirty walls are potential hazards. Remove all remains of bedding, and then let soap and water work on the walls. For added measure, you can rinse with a 1:15 ratio of bleach to water.




  • Take responsibility for your horse – be his advocate. It’s perfectly fine to ask someone not to touch your horse. Respect your fellow competitors and owners as well by not smooching or scratching their horses.


  • Monitor your horse’s temperature. Most horses will appear totes normal with a fever long before the fever makes them appear ill. Twice daily at shows is a good idea, and continue the twice daily for a bit after a show and travel.


  • Don’t share. I know this is contrary to every Sesame Street episode, but diseases are contagious! If you have extra things in your trailer that you could lend out without needing it back, you may be OK. But it’s a hard pass on sharing brushes, some skin infections are contagious via brushes. Hoses that are shared among horses can also be a source of infection, so bring your own.


  • If your horse is the most social creature on the planet, it’s going to be a rude awakening when you explain to him that nose-to-nose contact is off the menu. It’s fine to get him a stuffed animal instead.
horses touching noses
No nose-to-nose touching at horse shows!


  • Situate your horse so he can still see other horses, but maybe at a distance. Tack stalls are great to put between horse stalls at shows.


  • If you are concerned about biosecurity at a show, talk to your veterinarian and the Show Management.



Know your horse’s vital signs


  • You will only be able to detect a change in your horse’s vital signs – heart rate, respirations, digital pulse, and temperature – when you know your horse’s normals.  


  • During and after shows, check your horse’s vitals twice daily.  A fever will show up long before your horse starts to act sick.  Early detection also gives the OTHER horses in the barn a fighting chance to avoid infections. 

The normal vital sign values of horses 


You can easily take your horse’s vital signs in a few minutes.  You really only need a thermometer, although a stethoscope is handy for both gut sounds and measuring the heart rate.  


Temperature – 99.5 to 101.5

For foals, up to 102 is normal.


Pulse (Heart Rate) – 24 to 40 beats per minute, although most horses are between 32 and 36.

For newborn foals, 80 to 100 is normal, and for older foals, 60 to 80 is normal.


Respiration – 8 to 12 breaths per minute

For foals, 60-80 breaths per minute


Capillary Refill – approximately 2 seconds, gums should be pink

Read more: For step-by-step instructions on taking vital signs.


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