During COVID-19 restrictions, you will need to continue to care for your horses while maintaining social distancing and minimising travel. It is also vital that you make plans to ensure that your horses are well-looked after if you need to self-isolate, become ill or are admitted to hospital.
Many people are responsible for horses who are not located at their place of residence and are not part of their employment, for example horses who are agisted. Horse owners also still need to access veterinary services or take their horse to a veterinary clinic for treatment. These situations can cause confusion and concern due to the current travel restrictions. Current advice about leaving your home to care for animals during the pandemic is available here.
Whatever restrictions are in place, you have a legal obligation to ensure that any animals under your care are provided with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary treatment when necessary. It is an offence under the law to abandon an animal under your care.
If you normally care for horses not located at your place of residence but are unable to, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care.
There is no evidence that domestic animals (horses, pets or farm animals) or Australian wildlife play a role in the spread of the human novel coronavirus disease COVID-19.
To be well prepared at this time:
- If you are (supplementary) feeding your horses, make sure you have several weeks’ supply available.
- Document any medications and instructions in case you get sick and someone else needs to care for your animals.
- Ensure you have a means of transporting your horses should that be required.
- Ensure your horses’ vaccinations and parasite control are up to date.
- Ask friends or family to assist with checking on your horses at least once a day to ensure they have access to fresh water and plenty of nutritious food.
- Make sure that any equipment which is normally left on your horses ( such as rugs, blankets, halters, fly screens, etc.) is in good working order and cannot cause harm or injury to your horse by becoming loose or getting snagged on fences, etc. This should be part of your daily welfare check.
- Let your neighbours and next of kin know about care arrangements for your horses.
- Have a plan in place should you need to self-isolate, contract COVID-19 or need to be hospitalised.
- As always, good hygiene is critical. You should wash your hands before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies. Also ensure animal housing is clean, including feed/water troughs and any bedding in sheds or shelters.
There are four possible scenarios you need to prepare for under the current circumstances and you’ll need to consider how to ensure your horses’ welfare in each of these.
- You are practising social distancing.
- You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection.
- You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19.
- You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19.
1. You are practising social distancing
To protect each other and our communities, we all need to limit our potential to spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. An important part of reducing this risk is social distancing and good hygiene.
Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you always remain at least 1.5 metres away from other people.
You can and should keep your horse exercised but you need to take some precautionary steps.
Where and how you can ride your horse currently depends on the restrictions where you are, so check with your local authority.
If you can and do choose to ride, take the necessary precautions to ensure your health and safety. Where possible, all activity should occur on the property where the horse is located. If you have to leave the property, stay local as much as possible and make sure that you only take part in low-risk activities. Our health and emergency services are currently under extra pressure and are at greater risk than normal. This means we need to take all necessary precautions not to further burden these services by undertaking risky activities.
All government restrictions, social distancing and hygiene requirements must be adhered to.
2. You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
The health.gov.au website says you must self-isolate if you have COVID-19, or you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or you arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020. In addition, people aged 70 years or older and people who have certain health conditions which put them at greater risk of more serious illness with COVID-19 are strongly urged to self-isolate. If you are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection, in addition to the general advice provided above, you should:
- Ring your vet to ask for advice if you are concerned about your horse’s health while you are self-isolating, don’t break your quarantine. Your vet will be able to work with you to ensure your horses receive the care they need while keeping their staff safe from COVID-19 infection.
- Minimise contact with animals other than your own at this time, in case you might be carrying the virus.
- If your horses are kept at a property separate to where you live (e.g. agisted on another property), it is not appropriate to visit them whilst you are self-isolating. Ensure a trusted family member, friend or associate provides your animals with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter, daily welfare checks and, when necessary, veterinary treatment. If this is not possible (for example, if the people who you had planned to have look after your horses are sick), you should contact the owner or manager of the property or your veterinarian to make arrangements to ensure proper care for your horse will be cared for.
3. You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19
If you or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, in addition to the general advice provided above:
- Sick people should stay away from others (humans and animals). As much as possible, you should stay in a specific ‘sick room’ and away from other people and animals in your home.
- Sick people should avoid or at least restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. This includes handling your horse’s mouth, feeding them treats and kissing and/or petting them on the nose.
- Ensure a trusted family member, friend or associate provides your animals with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter, daily welfare checks and, when necessary, veterinary treatment. If this is not possible (for example, if the people who you had planned to have look after your horses are sick), you should contact the owner or manager of the property or your veterinarian to make arrangements to ensure proper care for your horse will be cared for.
- Ensure your health provider is aware that you have been in contact with animals.
4. You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
If you require hospitalisation due to COVID-19, in addition to the advice provided above:
- Your animals will need to be cared for while you are in hospital, so you will need to make sure there are adequate supplies for all your animals – including food and any medications.
- Ensure a trusted family member, friend or associate provides your animals with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and, when necessary, veterinary treatment.
If you need to leave your home to care for animals
If you have been directed to stay at home, if you are self-isolating, if you are sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, or you require hospitalisation, and you normally care for horses not located at your place of residence, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care.
If you are practicing social distancing, you are able to leave your home to purchase essential supplies or services including supplies and services for your horses. Currently, you are also permitted to leave home for work (paid or voluntary) if you are unable to perform this work at home; this includes work involving animal care (e.g. veterinary workers and horse industry workers).
If you are subject to travel or movement restrictions, you must continue to care for your horses as needed while maintaining social distancing and minimising travel. Current advice about travel restrictions is available here. Where there is no specific statement from your State or Territory government to this effect, if you are stopped by the police, you should explain that you are travelling to fulfil your legal obligation to care for your animal.
If your horses are on agistment
People who own or operate an agistment property should be able to continue to care for the animals on their agistment centre and maintain the facility.
People who have horses in agistment must continue to pay for their horses to live and be cared for at the property. Lack of payment of agistment bills is a form of abandonment of your horses, as well as being unfair to the people who own the agistment centre.
At the property where your horses are kept, make sure that the owner of the property, neighbours and the local council rangers are aware of any arrangements you have put in place and that they know how to get hold of you. You should also:
- Put a sign on the property where your horses are kept with your name and phone details; in case someone needs to get in touch with you.
- Make your plans for your horse and their care known to the agistment centre manager.
- Continue to have two-way conversations with agistment managers and have arrangements in writing and known to both parties.
- Make sure that your horse has ID, the details are up to date and that any insurance required is in place.
- Only use your own grooming kit, tack, and equipment. Do not share your equipment with other people.
Your agistment property may have enacted specific rules related to their facility, so make sure you know what these are.
For horses kept at a facility where feed or equipment may be stored centrally, please maintain a good personal hygiene practice and ensure common contact surfaces such as door handles are cleaned thoroughly and regularly.
Horses should generally only be floated for veterinary or health care reasons, including farriers/barefoot trimmers. Please check specific advice for your State/Territory. In some places, you can only transport horses to relocate them if they cannot be provided with adequate feed, shelter or care where they are, to a place where these can be provided, or to sell or transfer physical ownership of the horse.
- Australian Government Department of Health
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080
If you are facing challenges caring for your animals, please get in touch with your local RSPCA to discuss options; we are here to offer support and help if possible.
Please note that there are many things that are currently unknown about this virus and the risk it poses to animals and from animals to humans. This information has been prepared with the best and most current information available at the time but things are changing rapidly as the situation evolves.
Thank you to Julie Fiedler from HorseSA for sharing their expertise to help us to produce this article.