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Tips and Resources for Horse Owners During COVID-19

Tips and Resources for Horse Owners During COVID-19
By Laura Kenny
There is a lot of uncertainty right now amid the COVID-19 mitigation practices around Pennsylvania and beyond. Animal care is considered life-sustaining in Pennsylvania, so no animal welfare should suffer as a result of this outbreak. Animal feed mills and stores are still open for business.
While there are a small number of reports of animals being infected with the virus, there is currently no evidence that horses, or any other domestic animals, can transmit COVID-19 to humans. Equine coronavirus (ECov) is not the same as the virus which causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2).
If you board your horse
Respect your barn owner’s rules and property. Currently, it is at the discretion of the farm owner whether or not to allow boarders to visit, but especially in areas with a severe outbreak, many farms have already completely closed to anyone not directly caring for the horses to limit the spread of COVID-19. Remember that the property belongs to them, and they may have legal and insurance pressures to close the barn. They are under a lot of stress and are trying to keep their families and employees safe. Remember that you trusted them with your horse’s care when you chose their facility. If you miss your horse, you could request photos and videos!
All counties in Pennsylvania are currently under Stay-at-Home orders until April 30. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website reads:
“Are people permitted to travel and do they need an official letter or notification to travel?
Individuals are permitted to travel:
  • To return home from an outside jurisdiction including out of state.
  • As required by a law enforcement court order.
  • To perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety for themselves, their households or household members (including pets).
Official letters or notifications are NOT required to travel.”
We interpret this to mean you should not visit the farm unless it is absolutely necessary for the care and health of your horse, for example self-care board, or dropping off feed/medications. Try to set up electronic payments for board and other fees. If you use self-care boarding, then you should also read the next section on keeping your horse at home. Extension Horses, a group of university equine specialists from around the country, provided these FAQs on essential equine activities (though this is not PA or federal law):
If you do decide you need to go to the barn and the facility is open, practice social distancing. Remain a minimum of 6 feet away from all other persons (yes, even on horseback), touch as few things as possible, and disinfect everything that you use. Wash your hands frequently. It is recommended to wear a face mask at all times when out in public; this is more to protect others in case you are infected but asymptomatic. It will not prevent you from getting the virus if you are too close to others, so it is important to continue social distancing practices even when wearing a mask. Monitor yourself for symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and take your temperature before going out. Do not go if you know you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19; remember that the symptoms may take 2-14 days to appear after exposure and some people show no symptoms at all. Follow the advice of the American Association of Equine Practitioners when at the barn.
If you keep your horse at home
You are lucky that you can see your horse whenever you like! However, you should be prepared in case you fall ill and cannot care for your horse for 2 weeks or more. What will happen if you need to go to the hospital? Make sure you have at least 2 weeks’ worth of feed, hay, supplements, medications, and bedding on hand. Arrange for someone you trust to take care of the horses for you. Make sure everything in the barn is clearly labeled, including stalls, halters, etc. If you are sick and you have someone else coming out to your barn, DO NOT go visit your horses, even when your helper is not present, as you could contaminate something and get your helper sick too. The virus can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for 2-3 days. Have a document prepared with detailed and clear instructions for feeding and care, and be sure to include vet and farrier contact information. Make sure this document is easily found in your barn.
The Ontario Animal Health Network has prepared an excellent checklist of information and instructions to leave for your helper.
It may go without saying, but do what you can to protect yourself from the virus. Stay at home as much as possible, and wear a face mask and practice social distancing when you need to go out for supplies. Wash your hands frequently and disinfect with products that are effective against the virus. Your horse depends on you to stay well!
Should I ride my horse?
If you have access to your horse, you may be wondering if riding is allowed. There is no official statement on this in Pennsylvania, so consider the following:
  • It may be more “essential” to keep up exercise regimens for some horses than others. With many events being canceled, it may no longer be necessary to keep your horse competition fit for a while, but horses with metabolic disease may need some amount of exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Consider whether you need to ride, or if you can get away with free exercise at pasture or ground work, because…
  • What will happen if you fall off and get seriously injured? If you are in a very active area of COVID-19 outbreak, consider how overwhelmed the hospitals are around you right now. Not only would you be exposing yourself to an environment where the virus is present, but you would be taking a bed from a COVID-19 patient. Sue Kolstad, dressage rider and clinician, wrote a personal essay on how she felt after breaking her pelvis from a riding accident during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is publicly available on Facebook.


If your horse was previously in heavy work and is not working now, his diet should reflect that. Continuing to feed enough calories for heavy work will cause weight gain during this time. No one knows how long this situation will last, but signs point to an extended period of social distancing and possibly canceled competitions. You should consider decreasing the amount of calorie-dense grain in the diet until works picks up again. Most horses that are in no work can meet their energy requirements from moderate to high quality hay (about 2% of their body weight per day, or around 20 lb for a 1,000 lb horse). If you cut grain out of the diet completely, consider adding a ration balancer or vitamin/mineral supplement to ensure the diet is properly balanced. Also, remember to make diet changes gradually over a period of 1-2 weeks. See more tips written by an equine nutritionist at
What help is available if I’m struggling financially due to COVID-19?
  • The nationwide group Extension Horses held a webinar called “COVID-19 Financial Assistance Options for Horse Owners and Horse Businesses” with guest speakers from the United Horse Coalition describing safety net programs for horse owners and the American Horse Council explaining federal programs for businesses and individuals.
  • The United Horse Coalition has a database of safety net programs for horse owners, including rescues; feed and hay assistance; funding for veterinary care; euthanasia assistance; and much more. They list state-specific programs as well as national programs.
  • Penn State Extension has summarized all of the federal relief bills available to those affected by the pandemic. There is help available for individuals, small businesses, sole proprietors, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors. Some programs are available to farms while some are not.
Finally, take care of yourself. This is a very stressful time for everyone.
There are some very creative people out there developing resources, free classes, and even virtual horse shows where you video your entry and send it in! If you have access to your horse, consider asking your trainer for virtual riding lessons where you video yourself and submit to your trainer for critique and suggestions.
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