It's a bright Monday morning. The sun is shining, the birds are singing— and you can’t think of a better day to begin your rounds.
With a spring in your step, you grab your truck keys and head for the front door. Just then, the phone rings. It’s one of your clients, frantic about a prize mare which has come down with strangles. The mare was scheduled to compete in a dressage event next week and the client tells you the vet is concerned the illness came from an outside horse and it may have spread to the rest of the barn.
Confused, your mind races through last week’s shoeing activities. When you shod the mare, she looked fine. Surely you couldn’t have been the carrier of this highly contagious disease from another horse.
The only barn you’ve seen with this problem was a backyard horse 45 minutes away—although it was actually one you had visited on the same day. Is it possible?
Let’s hope not. But the fact remains: going from barn to barn opens the possibility of farriers carrying infectious pathogens from sick horses to healthy horses. The results could be devastating.
Follow Simple Steps
The good news is spreading an equine disease is fairly easy to prevent. In fact, with some tweaking of your shoeing schedule and a little common sense, you can ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
Roberta Dwyer, a veterinary researcher at the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., has extensively researched equine disease prevention. She says the steps farriers should take are easy, inexpensive and provide the much-needed peace of mind for shoeing today’s horses. Here’s her list of quick steps she thinks farriers should follow to prevent carrying contagious diseases to clients’ horses.
1 START FROM THE GROUND UP
The first thing farriers should do before entering barns that might house diseased horses is to put on disposable plastic boots. These boots should be discarded after each barn.
“Several disease-causing organisms are constantly present in manure, soil and dust,” she says.
This is especially important because some pathogens survive in certain environments for extended periods of time, meaning routine cleanings with disinfectants could be useless against some pathogens.
2 WASH YOUR HANDS
This may sound obvious, but Dwyer says it’s an essential step in the prevention of disease.
“One simple contribution to containing an infectious outbreak is often overlooked, namely washing your hands after handling sick animals,” she says. “Idophor scrubs (10 percent) are effective in the presence of organic matter and will kill rotaviruses.”
If running water and liquid soap are not available in the barn, there are waterless handfoams available, such as Derma Stat by Jones Medical Industries. They have 65 percent ethyl alcohol in an emollient base. These products can be purchased at home health care centers or pharmacies.
Just spray on your hands, rub and in 15 seconds the solution has evaporated, killing bacteria and viruses, as long as the hands are relatively clean to begin with.
3 WEAR, CHANGE COVERALLS
For many of the same reasons that Dwyer recommends wearing disposable boots, farriers should consider wearing coveralls—and changing them after shoeing in infected barns. Changing clothing, she says, can be an important factor in keeping horses healthy.
“Since horses have the tendency to nuzzle the farrier’s back during trimming or shoeing, coveralls that can be taken off after doing a ‘sick’ barn or horse is another step that can be taken,” she says.
4 CONSIDER THE SEQUENCE
Dwyer recommends farriers consider the order in which they schedule shoeing work. Taking a few minutes to decipher which horses are infected and which are at risk might solve many headaches down the road.
“In a single barn, farriers should do the healthy horses first and then move to the ones with runny noses or other symptoms last,” she says. “It’s a very simple step, but not doing it has significant consequences.”
When shoeing in several barns on one farm or ranch, Dwyer recommends farriers begin with the healthiest barn, then move to the sickly barn(s). Of course, farriers should still wash their hands and wear disposable boots.
Take A Closer Look
Sometimes certain barns have sickly horses for an extended period of time. In these cases, farriers may want to determine if the barn arrangement is actually contributing to equine disease.
To prevent future pathogens from being spread to horses, farriers can talk to horse owners about switching housing practices. “Floors can be composed of sand, dirt, compacted clay or other organic materials,” Dwyer says, “which cannot be adequately disinfected.”
The biggest offender to housing dangerous disease pathogens can be raw wood. The most common material in constructing stall walls in horse facilities, wood is porous and has a rough surface, making any necessary disinfection almost impossible, Dwyer explains.
To modify the stalls, you can suggest to your client that all organic matter should be first brushed or swept from the wood surface. Then, use a “plastic wood” type product or caulk to fill knots or holes in the wood.
Next, the wood should be painted with two coats of heavyduty varnish, which will provide a smooth, waterproof surface that’s easy to disinfect.
“Concrete blocks are porous and have a rough surface that can trap organic matter and pathogens,” Dwyer says. “Painting the cleaned walls with several coats of enamel or heavy-dutyoutdoor paint will result in a surface suitable for cleaning.”
Fortunately, asphalt flooring can be washed and disinfected easily. Drains should be placed in the center of stalls, with slightly sloped floors, allowing liquids to quickly drain.
SAND, DIRT OR COMPACTED CLAY FLOORS
“These floors cannot be adequately cleaned,” Dwyer explains, “although as much contaminated material as possible should be removed by your clients. Commercial disinfectants are not formulated to disinfect these materials.”
Besides materials used in barns and horse stalls, Dwyer says it’s also important that your shoeing clients make sure horses have adequate ventilation. Feed and water buckets in sick horses’ stalls should be disinfected daily.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, it’s not the farrier’s responsibility to provide care for sickly horses. But caring for their feet and understanding how easily infectious diseases can be spread is. You not only owe it to yourself as a professional, but to your other clients’ horses as well.
Who knows? A little knowledge about how diseases are spread and a few small changes to your shoeing style may solve many unnecessary headaches.
So the next time you’re heading out to shoe on that bright Monday morning, you won’t have to take a call from a concerned client with a sickly horse. You can keep on walking and do what you love without questioning if you were the one who may have transmitted the sickness.
After all, they won’t be calling you—they’ll already know you’ve taken the steps to prevent it.