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USEF Provides COVID-19 Facts and Resources as Pandemic Changes Equestrian Life

by Glenye Cain Oakford | Mar 31, 2020, 11:39 AM

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The United States Equestrian Federation continues to receive inquiries about whether members can go to the barn, as well as reports of people not following guidelines from local authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a reminder, the USEF recommends that you follow the CDC guidelines, as well as federal, state, and local government recommendations and directives on your movement within the community. USEF also recommends that you stay tuned to briefings provided by federal, state, and local leadership on measures related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

USEF Resources:

What You Need to Know

“This pandemic is unparalleled in any of our lifetimes,” said Dr. Mark Hart, a practicing cardiologist in Portland, Ore., who also serves as the USEF’s Team Physician and Chair of the Fédération Équestre Internationale Medical Committee. “Our own personal, individual actions now to contain the spread of COVID-19 will have a significant impact on the overall societal outcome. I can’t emphasize this enough.

“The internet is a double-edged sword,” he continued. “It can be used to disseminate information quickly, but, unfortunately, not all of that information is accurate. It’s important to use trusted sites like the CDC and WHO, where experts are responsible for producing and reviewing the content. Those sites, along with state and regional websites, are where the guidelines to follow are listed that we all must follow. It is also important to pay attention to local authorities for information regarding closures and local specific restrictions.”

Here are some key points to remember about COVID-19:

  • Hand-washing and social distancing are crucial.
    Two measures, in particular, are key to preventing COVID-19’s spread: thorough and frequent hand-washing and social distancing (sometimes also called physical distancing)

    “These measures are based on medical and public health best practices, and they work,” said Hart. “These are proven measures to reduce the transmission individually for a person and to reduce the chance that they will transmit the virus to somebody else. What’s unique about COVID-19 is that there appears to be a longer latency period between becoming infected with COVID-19 and when you show symptoms, which is estimated to be two to 14 days, which is quite longer than most other viruses. Unfortunately, that means one can be incredibly contagious long before they show any symptoms of being sick or know that they are infected. This is why many more people are being exposed and infected than with the usual flu viruses and accounts for why we’re seeing an exponential rise in communities at different times.

    This isn’t just an inconvenience,” Hart added. “It’s a matter of life and death on a scale we have not seen in over 100 years, since the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 that infected approximately one-third of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million to100 million people. The sacrifices we’re making now, individually and as a community, will pay huge dividends in the future in terms of lives saved and how quickly we can return to our normal activities. Again, this can only be accomplished by all of us following the guidelines. We will get through this pandemic, but it will take patience and preservation most likely to some degree over the next 12 to 18 months as new treatments and vaccinations are developed.”

    The CDC recommends maintaining a six-foot distance between yourself and any other person. “The reason it’s six feet is because droplets which carry the virus from a sneeze or cough usually fall within that distance,” Hart said. “But remember, too, that people are also walking where those droplets fall, and we’re all walking over contaminated surfaces, along with hundreds of other people. When you come home and don’t take off your shoes, you’re potentially walking around and contaminating your whole house.”

    Staying at home and isolating from other people protects both you and others not only by preventing transmission directly between people, but also by reducing the number of people touching shared surfaces like doorknobs, countertops, faucets, and, in barns, even halters and lead ropes.
  • Proper hand-washing is critical to preventing transmission. According to the CDC’s guidance, that means:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public space or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is more lethal than normal flu.
    Hart also emphasized that the virus is not “just like other flus.”
    “It appears to be 10 times more lethal than a seasonal flu virus is,” he explained. “This is a novel coronavirus and still has many unknowns.”

  • The young are not immune.
    “Youth is not protection,” explained Hart. “Approximately 40% of the people currently hospitalized in New York with COVID-19 are under the age of 50, which appears to be different than the experience in China or northern Italy. Luckily, younger patients continue to have a significantly better survival rate than the elderly, but it isn’t just older people who are getting sick enough to be hospitalized.”


COVID-19 Changing Equestrian Routines

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting equestrians’ routines around the country as barns employ social-distancing techniques and increased human biosecurity practices, and, in at least some areas to date, even close to all but essential staff by choice or by local restrictions.

From her base in Edmonds, Wash., near Seattle, anesthesiologist and longtime dressage rider Dr. Teresa Schlesinger reported that both she and the barn where she boards her Oldenburg have implemented a number of biosecurity protocols. Those include tacking up horses in stalls instead of in the barn aisle, designating tools like pitchforks for staff use, applying social distancing, and increasing disinfection with diluted bleach on common surfaces and items around the barn. For tips from Hagyard Equine Medical Institute on routine disinfecting in the barn, see “Disinfecting 101: Brushes, Buckets, and Stalls” at usef.org.

“The first thing we all do when we enter the barn is wash our hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds,” said Schlesinger, who also serves on the Dressage Committee of Equestrians Institute, a local equestrian organization. “We take turns in the tack room so that we aren’t in there in a group, respecting the six-foot distance. I brought out an extra halter and lead rope that only I use so I’m not contaminating my barn’s staff. Multiple people handle halters and lead ropes, and those halters and nylon are extremely difficult to disinfect.

“I find it so hard to stop wiping my nose on my riding gloves in cold weather, so as soon as I’m done riding, I take off my gloves and put them in my pocket, because if I touch the gate to get out of the arena with my gloves, I’ve contaminated that gate,” she continued. “Then I take them home and wash them. People put on gloves and think they’re safe, but they still are spreading contamination, and that doesn’t make their neighbor safe.

“It’s going to be nearly impossible to sterilize every surface we touch, sneeze, and cough on in a barn,” she added. “So we have to mitigate the risk. These horses do need to be cared for, and there’s a level of risk for the people caring for them.”

Farriers, veterinarians, and hired helpers also abide by the barn’s biosecurity protocols.

“We’re all being educated about and becoming aware of our risks and of our role in spreading this disease and in getting contaminated,” Schlesinger said, “and we’re all trying to be as smart as we can about it.”

Schlesinger noted that she is planning to curtail her trips to the barn. “People still need to go to the barn, whether for emotional support or because they are caring directly for the horses,” she noted. “The horses do need to be cared for, and this is a process that’s likely to last for months.

“When our government lifts shelter-in-place restrictions and we all return to the barn, we’ll still need to keep sanitizing protocols in place for a period of time, because we’ll just be on the other side of the outbreak’s bell curve.”

To prepare for limiting her barn visits, Schlesinger said, she made a three weeks’ supply of supplements and feed for her horse and detailed her horse’s feed and supplement regimen on a dry erase board at the barn. “I also supplied more supplements and feed beyond that, in case the barn owner has to make up some feed and supplements for my horse beyond what I’ve already made up,” Schlesinger said. “I need to protect not only myself, but also my trainer and the people who take care of my horse, even if I’m not at the barn.”


To keep up with COVID-19 information, bookmark USEF’s coronavirus resource page and regularly check there for updates.