It is vital that you make plans to ensure that your horse is well-looked after if you need to self-isolate, become ill, or are admitted to hospital due to COVID-19.
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 if you are unable to travel.
Whatever the case may be, 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, companion animals, or farm animals) or Australian wildlife play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
Preparing for emergencies
You can take a number of steps to be well prepared for emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic:
- If you are (supplementary) feeding your horses, make sure you have several weeks’ supply available.
- If your horse is on any medication or preventative health care, document instructions for this (include dosages, method of administration, and how often to give the medication) in case someone else needs to care for your horse. Ideally, have a prescription for any medication in case you cannot look after your horse for longer than you had planned.
- Ensure that your horse’s microchip contact details are up-to-date.
- Ensure you have a means of transporting your horses should that be required.
- Ensure your horses’ vaccinations and parasite control are up to date.
- 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.
- 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.
- Have a plan in place in case you cannot care for your horse yourself. It is important to make these plans in advance.
Horse emergency care plan
- Make a plan to cover the event that you need to be hospitalised, or cannot care for your horse for other reasons. Ensure that you have organised for a trusted family member, friend, or associate to be ready to provide your horse with proper and sufficient food, fresh 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 could contact the owner or manager of the property where your horses are kept, other friends or relatives, or your veterinarian to ask them to help you make arrangements to ensure your horse will be cared for; this may involve transporting your horse to where they can be looked after (for example, another persons’ property or horse care facility).
- Let your neighbours and next of kin know about the care arrangements you have made for your horse.
- Make sure that you give the following to the person who is going to be caring for your animals:
- A minimum of two weeks’ supplies for your horse, including food and any medications.
- Written instructions on exactly how to care for your horse. For example, include the following:
- Food – what, when, and how to feed your horse.
- Detailed information on medications your horse needs – include dosages, method of administration, and how often to give the medication. Ideally, also have a prescription for any medication.
- Your horse’s routines – for example, how often and for how long should your horse be exercised; what kind of enrichment your horse likes and needs; and what grooming care they need.
- Any medical records for your animals.
- Your horse’s microchip details.
- A contact list that includes your horse’s’ veterinarian and insurance company, if relevant, and anyone else who might be necessary or helpful for your animal’s care (e.g., farrier etc).
More information on COVID-related situations
There are some COVID-19 related situations that everyone with an animal should prepare for, to safeguard their animals’ welfare, including if:
- You are practising social distancing
- You are self-isolating but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
- You or someone in your household is has or is suspected of having, COVID-19
- You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
You are practising social distancing
One way for people to minimise risk to themselves, their animals, and their community from COVID-19 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.
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 only take part in low-risk activities.
If your horse needs the veterinarian, speak to the veterinary staff first about your situation, and follow the instructions and COVID-safe protocols of the veterinary clinic.
All government restrictions, social distancing, and hygiene requirements must be adhered to.
You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
People may be self-isolating because they have been directed to self-isolate or may have chosen to self-isolate because they are at high risk from COVID-19.
If you have been directed to self-isolate, you should check your relevant government website for current mandatory requirements before leaving your property during self-isolation, as state/territory government requirements for self-isolation may vary.
If you are self-isolating but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection, in addition to the general advice under social distancing provided above, you should minimise contact with animals other than your own at this time.
If your horses are kept at a property separate to where you live (e.g., agisted on another property), it may not be appropriate to visit them whilst you are self-isolating. In this case, activate your plan for this situation – see the Horse Emergency Plan above.
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 social distancing and self-isolation provided above, you should:
Stay away from others (humans and animals) if you are unwell.
Avoid or at least restrict contact with animals if you are unwell, including pets and horses, just like you would around other people. This includes handling your horse, feeding them treats, and kissing and/or stroking them on the nose.
If you or your family cannot care for your animals yourself (including if you need to go to hospital), activate your plan for this situation – see the Horse Emergency Plan above.
You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19
If you require hospitalisation due to COVID-19, your horse will need to be cared for while you are in hospital. So, activate your plan for the situation where you cannot care for your horse yourself – see the Horse Emergency Plan above.
If you need to leave your home to care for your horse
If you have been directed to stay at home and self-isolate, if you are sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, or you require hospitalisation, and you normally care for animals not located at your place of residence, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care. In this case, activate your plan for this situation – see the Horse Emergency Plan above.
If your horses are agisted
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, as long as they are well. They should have a contingency plan in case they become unwell and cannot care for the horses at the agistment centre.
People who have horses agisted 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.
In case you cannot travel to the property to care for your horse (if you are unwell, in self-isolation, or in hospital), make sure that the owner of the property where your horses are kept, neighbours, and the local council rangers are aware of any arrangements you have put in place for this situation and that they know how to get hold of you or the temporary carer(s) you have organised in your emergency plan. You should also:
- Put a sign on the property where your horse is kept with your name and phone details and for the temporary carer(s) you have organised in your emergency plan; in case someone needs to get in touch.
- 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.
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.
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 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.