Biosecurity In the Barn

We’ve all seen the pictures online . . . the ones with horses and a frantic begging for a home. And, the moment you see those eyes, well, you want to help save the horse.

Setting up a quarantine area is a lot of work, but much less than caring for sick horses.

What most people don’t think about is where that horse is coming from. Almost all of the “save us now” horses that have pictures circulating online are either in broker lots or in auction houses. Stress, travel and high concentrations of horses in small areas create the perfect storm that can lead to a sick horse. But those big brown eyes . . . next thing you know, that horse is standing in your barn and you just played Russian roulette with the health of your entire barn.

MINIMIZE RISK. The staff at the SquirrelWood Equine Sanctuary in Montgomery, N.Y., has perfected the art of rescuing auction horses, using strong quarantine procedures that assure the health of the herd. Yes, it’s a major headache, actually, with a lot of extra work. But, it’s less work than if an outbreak.

Before you think this isn’t for you, remember the current equine herpes virus (EHV1) and its potentially deadly neurologic form, Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) outbreaks that have been happening around the country for the past few years. Biosecurity is biosecurity. It doesn’t matter if you’re keeping an auction horse in quarantine, receiving a new arrival from a show barn or traveling from show to show.

Special Note on Strangles:
One of the most common infections brought into barns by new horses is strangles (streptococcus equi bacteria). A horse may not even show symptoms, but he could still be carrying the disease.So, asymptomatic horses are tested before they leave quarantine.

If the horse becomes symptomatic, its care and treatment will be determined by your veterinarian, as will the horse’s release from quarantine protocol. 
Approximately 30 days after the horse’s symptoms have resolved, we do three nasal swabs one week apart. All three must be clean to release the horse from quarantine. 

If symptoms show up again, you restart the clock. It can be a long, frustrating process. But skipping the testing process could result in an outbreak. Strangles carriers can shed the Step Equi organism for months, sometimes intermittently for years.

KEEP DIRTY IN ITS PLACE. Consider that the average horse can send droplets flying more than 15 feet when he sneezes or coughs. While recommendations vary on the quarantine distance from other animals, we consider 40 feet minimum. Anyone that enters into that area, even if they don’t touch the horse, is now dirty. They can’t return to the clean areas without the risk of carrying disease with them.

A quarantine setup has standard components, based on what can carry disease out of the dirty area.

1. Feet. Your feet go all over the area in the process of caring for the animal, even if it’s a quick check. Think foot baths, boot covers or separate shoes.

2. Hands. If you touch anything within the perimeter you now can carry disease back to the clean areas. That means tight-fitting medical latex or vinyl gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and water.

3. Clothes. We mean disposable quarantine gowns or separate clothes, such as coveralls.

4. Equipment. Anything that is within that quarantine perimeter is dirty. Wheelbarrows, muck tubs, brooms, pitchforks, tack, brushes, sponges, hoof picks, ointments, fly sprays, medications, hoses and nozzles . . . anything that goes into the quarantine area doesn’t come out without a complete disinfection.


Now’s the time to develop a written biosecurity protocol you can implement immediately, if necessary. The procedures should be understandable to all staff, including translated versions (such as Spanish), if needed. See sidebar on supplies: Please click here.

Mark the area with clear entry/exit points. Mark all equipment, brushes, and hoses with an easily noticeable marking, such as with bright pink or neon green duct tape. Place large, noticeable signs at each entrance. Run a chain or marking tape across each entrance opening, unless it has a solid door.

Place a foot bath at each entrance. Be sure there are latex gloves, hand sanitizer and a hook for clothing changes. Two plastic bins with lids for soiled quarantine area items should be placed next to the foot bath. Just before the horse arrives, hose, scrub and disinfect surfaces.

NEW HORSE ARRIVAL. When your new horse arrives, the procedures will become routine. Upon entering quarantine area, you will:

1. Put on two pairs of gloves.

2. Don your coveralls or gown.

3. Change your shoes or put booties over them.

4. Spray bottoms of shoes/booties.

You can now enter the horse area.

Remember, when dealing with a quarantined animal, keep contact to a minimum. Do what you need to do, and get out.

Upon leaving the quarantine area, you will:

1. Remove clothes/gown and place into plastic bin, or hang on hooks.

2. Remove shoes or booties while standing beside footbath.

3. Remove outer set of latex gloves.

4. Step through footbath while making sure entire tread of boot/ shoe is submerged.

5. Use spray bottle to spray entire shoe, including top and sides.

6. Remove second pair gloves.

7. Hand sanitizer and/or wash hands before entering clean areas.

Remember hats! Often people forget what is on their head, so the hat goes with them from dirty to clean areas without notice.

Be sure you have the right supplies.

it’s also wise to allow only one person access, so only that one person cares for the quarantine horse (s). If that person needs to care for others, the quarantine horse should be done last.

BOTTOM LINE. The quarantine clock starts when the horse arrives. Start taking the horse’s temperature twice a day, and write it down. If the horse remains healthy, we normally release the quarantine at 30 days. If that’s impossible, we strongly advise no less than three weeks; We’ve seen horses develop strangles at 13 days post auction.

Yes, this is costly. To properly do quarantine you need to have the supplies on hand (see sidebar), and it does add up. However, if the other horses in your barn become ill, that “cheap” horse you saved will cost you a bundle in vet bills.

We recommend you visit the Biosecurity Tool Kit for Equine Events at:

and visit the American Association for Equine Practitioners (AAEP) site for an excellent complete workbook at

Article by Contributing Writer Beth Hyman.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!