Horse Owner Knowledge and Use of Biosecurity 

Results from a national survey revealed what horse owners know about biosecurity and what procedures they could put to better use to protect their horses.
Horse in stall, practicing biosecurity
Owners must be better educated about biosecurity so they can take more responsibility for the health of their horses. | Getty Images

When you see a stop sign, you know you should come to a complete stop and look in all directions to ensure your own safety, make sure others are obeying the law, and check for emergency vehicles approaching at high speed. But how many times do you “roll through” because you “know” the coast is clear? While in most cases horse owners aren’t required to practice biosecurity by law, skipping everyday biosecurity techniques can be as dangerous as rolling through a stop sign. 

2022 Horse Owner Biosecurity Survey

Horses are transported more than any other livestock species in the United States. They also co-mingle at various events, which can lead to an increased risk for disease transmission. 

In late 2022, a 24-question survey designed to determine horse owner biosecurity knowledge and awareness went out to North American horse owners. Responses were collected from 2,413 individuals.  

“In summary, the results suggest that most owners are not highly concerned about the risk of disease or the use of biosecurity,” noted survey researchers Nathaniel White, DVM, DACVS, and Angela Pelzel-McCluskey, DVM. White is professor emeritus of equine surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Virginia and founder of the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC). Pelzel-McCluskey is the National Equine Epidemiologist for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. 

The authors also described several biosecurity applications and techniques horse owners could use more frequently to benefit individual horse health and help protect the industry from infectious diseases. Some of those diseases include equine influenza, salmonella, strangles, and equine herpesviruses (especially types 1 and 4 and the neurologic form of equine herpesvirus—equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy, or EHM).  

The survey results indicated 76.3% of respondents owned one to five horses. Owners were the primary decision-makers for their horses’ medical care (91.6%). Veterinarians ranked highest (98.8%) as horse owners’ sources for infectious disease information.  

What We Learned 

Topics the researchers found horses owners could be better educated about to help prevent infectious/contagious disease spread include: 

  • Reliance on temperature monitoring. 
  • Risks of horse mingling. 
  • Isolation of new horses at facilities. 
  • Event entry requirements, such as vaccination and health certificates. 
  • Biosecurity plans for facilities and events where horses co-mingle. 

These recommendations were based on owner responses to survey questions on these topics. Below we summarize the responses to understand the priority owners currently put on these management procedures and why improvements are needed to protect individual horses and the industry. 

Temperature monitoring: What prompts an owner to take a horse’s temperature? 

  • 96.9% take a temperature when a horse has a cough/nasal discharge. 
  • 85.4% take a temperature when a horse has hard breathing. 
  • 81% take a temperature when a horse does not eat all of its feed. 
  • 41.2% take a temperature when a horse returns from travel or exposure to nonresident horses. 
  • 30.5% take a temperature when a horse is at a competition to monitor its health. 
  • 29.9% take a temperature when a horse is getting ready to travel. 
  • 1.2% don’t take a temperature for any of these situations. 

Risks of horse mingling: Researchers found that 59.9% of respondents kept their horses on their own properties. Here’s how horse owners ranked biosecurity practices at facilities: 

  • 59.6% isolation of horse with clinical signs. 
  • 52.1% isolation of new resident horses. 
  • 21.1% none of these. 
  • 18.4% taking daily temperature of isolated horses. 
  • 16.0% isolation of returning horses from events. 
  • 14.7% temperature monitoring following contact. 
  • 6.6% not sure. 
  • 2.2% daily temperature monitoring. 

The survey also assessed owners’ perception of the risks of horses co-mingling at events (e.g., shows, trail rides, races). Unfortunately, 92.4% of respondents considered co-mingling of horses to be a slight to very low risk for infectious disease transmission. 

What is your perceived risk of your horse contracting a disease during co-mingling at events? 

RiskPercent of horse owners responding
Very high risk1.9%
Moderately high risk4.7%
Slight risk24.0%
Moderately low risk42.9%
Very low risk25.5%
Don’t know1.0%

Of the 75% of respondents who indicated their horses came into contact with nonresident horses on one or more days during the year, 60.2% considered contact with nonresident horses to be of average to low risk for disease transmission. 

RiskPercent of horse owners responding
High risk4.5%
Above average risk14.3%
Average risk33.8%
Below average risk10.2%
Low risk16.2%
Don’t know4.1%

In other words, most horse owners are not worried about their animals co-mingling with nonresident horses either at home or at events.  

The EDCC states that, “Equine events pose a significant risk for the spread of infectious disease because of the concentration of horses and the settings in which horses interact with humans and other horses. Diseases can be spread from horse to horse, via human contact, or even through shared supplies, equipment, and surfaces such as universal water troughs or hitching posts. Event managers have a responsibility to ensure that their event maintains biosecurity protocols and that plans are in place to reduce spread of disease in the event of an outbreak. Owners are responsible for following biosecurity protocols and for their own awareness of the possibility of disease spread.” 

Event entry requirements: When asked what they perceived to be the most common biosecurity provisions in place at events or competitions, horse owners said the top two were health certificate and vaccination requirements for entry. Having an event isolation plan ranked the lowest among the selected provisions. 

Isolation: In the survey, 54.2% of facilities have a plan for isolating horses with infectious disease, and 54.4% of facilities require separate housing for new horses upon arrival.  

Take-Home Message 

This survey provided a lot of information, but the key take-home message is horse owners must be better educated about biosecurity, and they must take responsibility for the health of their horses and the industry when it comes to infectious disease spread.  

Events ranging from the Olympics to horse races employ proven biosecurity techniques. These include minimizing horse-to-horse and human-to-horse contact, vaccine requirements, stall sanitation, non-shared drinking water, health requirements for entry, isolation of sick horses (and a plan and location to do so), temperature monitoring, vector control, and recordkeeping. 

Not having or following a biosecurity plan has resulted in many outbreaks of infectious disease at events and the inability to contain the disease.  

Owners must be better educated on risk assessment of disease spread in different environments so they can take proper precautions. 

Just “rolling through” the biosecurity stop sign and hoping for the best is not a good way to keep horses healthy and avoid the spread of infectious diseases. 

This research was funded by a USDA co-operative agreement (Grant number: APP-17434) through the National Animal Disease Prevention and Response Program. The full manuscript is available at https://www.equinediseasecc.org/handler/managedfilehandler.ashx?id=1&ext=pdf. 

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