Coronavirus Q&A: horse riders, businesses and employees — all you need to know

This Q&A is designed to help answer some of the questions those living and working in the equestrian world may have during the current situation. We will endeavour to update this with any fresh questions and new information that comes to light as the situation develops...

Coronavirus restrictions have been tightened in Britain, with England, Wales, mainland Scotland and Northern Ireland all now in lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

The overarching message is that everyone must stay at home with the exception of specific reasons. The full lockdown rules for England can be found on the Gov.uk website, for Scotland this information can be found here, the link to the Welsh rules is here and for Northern Ireland these can be found here.

Racing under Rules is continuing as an elite sport behind closed doors.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the England’s roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February. This starts with the return of schools, and changes to meeting people outside, on 8 March.

A British Equestrian (BEF) spokesman said the Prime Minister’s roadmap “would indicate” that those equestrian centres and other businesses that are education or training providers could start one-to-one sessions from 8 March, while most other activity – sport or leisure – can resume from 29 March.

So what do the current restrictions in England mean for horse owners and those working in the industry?

Can I ride my horse?

Yes — the British Horse Society (BHS) has confirmed you can continue to ride. This includes owners, loaners and sharers travelling to care for and exercise a horse when he is not kept at home. However, riding schools must close for public lessons and activities; arena hire is not permitted and all organised activities and competitions must stop. The Government website also states people may leave their house to visit and provide care for horses and livestock, including whether you keep him on livery or private land. It also states people may “ride their horse or walk their animals” to maintain their health and welfare.

The Government rules also state that you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble. This should be limited to once per day, social distancing should be maintained, and you should not travel outside your local area, which is described as your village, town or area of your city. However, travel beyond this is allowed to care for or exercise animals on welfare grounds.

The BHS has confirmed its public liability insurance for members is valid during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 22 February, these above rules still stand, but restrictions are planned to gradually ease over the coming months.

My horse is on DIY livery: am I allowed to care for him?

The BHS website specifically states that livery yards can continue to allow horse owners, loaners or sharers to care for and exercise their horses. This is also spelt out in the Government guidance, which states people can leave their homes to visit and provide care for (including riding) horses, including when the animal is kept on livery.

Social distancing, handwashing/santising and biosecurity remain key.

Previous advice from the BEF for individuals who are caring for their horses at their yard include:

  • Respect any restrictions put in place by the yard owner or manager – they are for your safety and their own. It’s their business and/or home.
  • Wash hands thoroughly on arrival – take soap and water with you if the facilities aren’t available
  • Maintain social distancing with other liveries and avoid common areas, such as tea rooms, as much as possible. Keep at least two meters apart at any time
  • Use your own equipment. If you need to use shared equipment such as wheelbarrows or hosepipes, disinfect the areas you’re touching or wear disposable gloves
  • Avoid activities that carry an increased risk of injury and consider wearing an up-to-standard riding hat while handling your horse
  • Assess your horse’s diet, and reduce energy intake according to the reduced levels of exercise you may be providing
  • Limit the number of visitors to the yard, and ask that those who do visit closely follow hygiene and social distancing guidance
  • Wash hands thoroughly before leaving the yard
  • If you have hand sanitiser that’s at least 60% alcohol, use it to clean your hands when you get into your car
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap straight away when you arrive home
  • Have a specific “yard visit” towel to dry your hands on
  • Get changed immediately into clean, fresh clothes

How should I prepare in case I fall ill and can’t care for my horse?

The BEF recommends making a plan with your yard owner or manager, or your fellow liveries, for what will happen if you’re unable to get to the yard. If you have any of the symptoms of Covid-19 or if somebody in your household does, even if they’re only mild, do not visit your horse. You will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the day you develop symptoms or receive a positive test, or if someone in your household develops symptoms. Click here for the full NHS self-isolation guide

The BHS recommends all owners prepare a care plan for each horse, so a friend or member of yard staff can take over your horse’s care if necessary. This should include things like which rugs he wears, what he eats, any medication, where you keep your equipment and his normal routine.

Other tips include ensuring you have sufficient supplies and keeping in touch with your fellow liveries and yard owner through a WhatsApp group.

For more advice, click here.

My horse is on full livery: am I allowed to go and ride him?

Yes, you can. The BHS guidance states livery yards can continue to allow horse owners, loaners or sharers to care for and exercise their horses. You may also use the arena at your yard. However, riding schools must close for public lessons and activities. You should also ensure you comply with any rules that your livery yard puts in place.

Are we allowed to hack out under the current restrictions?

Yes you can, provided you are following the Government rules regarding outdoor exercise (see point above: “Can I ride my horse?” for more details).

Can I call the vet out to my horse?

Yes you can. Practices are open, and the British Equine Veterinary Association told H&H it has advised members to minimise travel, and contact with others, risk-assess all procedures and use professional judgement on what action may be deferred. Members must act in a Covid-secure manner, but may carry out ambulatory and hospital work, and work in support of equestrian businesses and trade.

BHS guidance adds essential visits for the welfare of horses, such as farrier, vet and physio, can continue.

Can my farrier shoe/trim my horse?

Yes, farriers have been allowed to continue their essential services throughout the lockdown restrictions, while taking precautions and using their judgement as to matters of priority and urgency.

The Farriers Registration Council’s latest update (5 January) states: “Registered farriers throughout GB should, with immediate effect, prioritise the delivery of farriery services to equines with welfare needs. Where equines are at risk of becoming welfare cases, registered farriers should liaise with equine owners in respect of individual cases.”

The FRC update adds the advice is endorsed by Defra, the veterinary head of animal welfare in the Scottish Government and the chief veterinary advisor in the Welsh Government. Farriery in Northern Ireland sits outside the jurisdiction of the FRC, but this advice has been endorsed as “recommended practice” by the chief veterinary officer for Northern Ireland.

The following provisos also stand:

  • Any registered farrier showing the symptoms of coronavirus should immediately follow the NHS guidance on Covid-19 at and must not practise farriery.
  • Registered farriers are to rigorously comply with the following:
  • Wash Hands: Wash their hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and between every consultation; clean their tools and equipment between every consultation.
  • Cover Face: Cover their face in enclosed spaces including, where appropriate, at consultations. Where registers farriers use PPE, including face masks, this should be disposed of in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions and otherwise responsibly.
  • Make Space: Keep at least 2m apart from all other persons, or 1m if wearing a face mask while at consultations and at all other times.
  • If challenged by the police or other law enforcement agency in GB registered farriers should present their registration card and draw attention to this notice. Where necessary police officers or other law enforcement agencies in GB should be asked to contact the FRC.
  • Equine owners and Registered Farriers should be aware that devolved Governments in  Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate rules and restrictions in place, and those living or working in those countries must be aware of that local guidance. Details of the restrictions and local alert levels may be found in the relevant links provided.
  • Equine owners are advised to make appointments with registered farriers to meet the needs of their equines; when making appointments equine owners should declare any equine welfare concerns, and – given current circumstances – equine owners are asked to be patient when seeking appointments.

Should there be extra biosecurity measures in place on yards at this time?

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and the Government is also encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently to reduce transmission of the virus. The British Horse Society recommends following and publicising the latest Government advice to all who have access to a yard, as well as yard owners updating the business’s risk assessment as required.

It also urges yards to ensure there is sufficient access to appropriate working hygienic hand washing and drying facilities and to provide sanitiser at key location points on the premises.

What will happen if the grooms on the yard have to self-isolate?

If staff or liveries on the yard need to self-isolate, it is vitally important that they do so. Be prepared, speak with your yard owner about contingency plans and practise good biosecurity at all times. Communication is very important and the British Horse Society has some useful information on what to consider when making a contingency plan here.

This includes yard owners thinking about freelance cover and giving current staff additional training to cover roles that might not be part of their current job.

Are we allowed to transport our horses away from home?

Travel for veterinary or welfare purposes has always been permitted and continues to be at this time.

Arena hire is not permitted during lockdown, but arenas can be used for exercising horses which are stabled at that venue, livery yard or riding school.

Restrictions look set to be eased to an extent that would allow people to transport horses for other purposes, such as lessons, competitions and arena hire, from 29 March in England.

Can I continue to have lessons at home or my livery yard?

The latest BEF advice states coaches should read the guidance and assess whether there is a “necessity to continue coaching face to face”.

“While the guidance states that you can travel to work where you cannot work from home, the overarching message of the lockdown is to stay at home,” it adds.

“We would advise 1:2:1 instruction at a coach’s ‘home’ facilities with clients who keep their horses on site would be acceptable provided Covid practices are observed. Coaches should also check with their insurance provider before undertaking any activities.”

Can I travel to another place for competition or training?

All competition and organised training is cancelled during lockdown and arena hire is not permitted, in line with the Government rules that people must stay home.

Training and competition looks set to return from 29 March, in line with the Government’s roadmap for the resumption of sport, and with Covid-safe protocols in place.

British Eventing (BE) has plans for “elite specific” training and competition to start slightly earlier.

BE has contacted athletes identified as elite to give them further details, and is planning the first “elite specific” training session at Aston-le-Walls (16-17 March) and the initial “elite specific” competition the following week (22-24 March).

Entries will be strictly for these elite athletes and will be run “in strict accordance with Government regulations and Covid-19 protocols”.

British Dressage (BD) is planning for its organised competition and training to resume in England on 29 March, with the possibility of competitors being allowed back to “stay away” shows from 12 April.

It has suggested that spectators may be able to return, and travel to overseas competitions resume, from 17 May; with “all shows, training and regional camps” to resume “as normal” from 21 June, in line with any face mask or social distancing measures that may be in place.

The 2020/21 point-to-point season has been suspended until the week of 29 March.

The BEF guidance states only elite training and competition can continue during lockdown.

Can I hire an outdoor arena, gallops or go cross-country schooling?

No, you cannot. Arena hire is not permitted, but arenas can be use at the livery yard, riding school or venue where your horse is stabled.

Competition and training, including travelling horses for lessons or facility hire, are set to resume from 29 March, in line with the Government roadmap out of lockdown.

Can I have a lesson at a riding school?

The BHS has stated riding schools must close for public lessons and activities.

The Government guidance states organised outdoor sport for disabled people is allowed to continue.

A spokesman for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) told H&H the reality is that the new restrictions effectively mean that RDA activity has stopped in almost all cases across the UK.

“Where there are exemptions, RDA members have been asked to consider the moral imperative to help stop the spread of the virus and ensure that anyone involved in sessions is happy to do so,” said the spokesman.

“The exemption in England for ‘organised outdoor sport’ for disabled people is strictly limited to the number required to run a session safely and with as small a number of people as possible overall. There is also an exemption for activity where it is judged to be medically required or as part of an individual’s normal educational provision. In practice, we expect only a tiny minority of participants will be able to attend RDA sessions in the current situation.

“All activity in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is suspended, though again there is an exemption in Scotland where the participant’s health (including their mental health) and wellbeing ‘would be significantly impacted by non-attendance’.”

BEF guidance states the rules indicate equestrian centres and other businesses that are education or training providers in England could start one-to-one sessions from 8 March, while most other activity – sport or leisure – can resume from 29 March.

I’m a freelance groom, is this going to affect me and my income?

It may well do — you must follow Government health advice even though it is a worrying time when freelancers are not entitled to statutory sick pay. However, yards may need freelancers to help cover staff sickness and/or self-isolation periods, plus the Government has announced some measures in a bid to ease financial pressures. These include making it easier to apply for Universal Credit. The situation is changing rapidly and the British Grooms Association has more advice here

I run a yard — what happens if my staff cannot work through sickness or self-isolation?

The Government has announced it will help businesses with fewer than 250 employees by funding two weeks of statutory sick pay. Make a contingency plan as to what to do if staff do need to have time off — the British Horse Society and Equestrian Employers Association have some helpful advice here and here

What happens if my staff need to take time off to care for their children?

All employees have a right to emergency time off during working hours where a dependant is concerned. The amount of time should be reasonable to the situation (usually days rather than longer term) and there is no statutory right to be paid for this — whether you are or not comes down to your employer. More information can be found here

Is there Government help available for freelancers and businesses?

Yes — the situation is changing all the time, but Boris Johnson and the chancellor have announced some measures to help those who will be impacted financially. Information from the government for employers, employees and businesses can be found here 

Can I travel to view or buy a horse?

The latest advice from the BHS states the rules differ slightly depending on whether those involved are private individuals or buying/selling horses as part of their work.

For private individuals, the BHS states:

  • You must not leave your home unless you have a reasonable excuse.
  • Travel for the purpose of collecting purchased horses is not generally a reasonable excuse for leaving home, but may be permissible where reasonably required for the animal’s welfare. This will be dependent on the relevant circumstances, including if the collection cannot wait until lockdown has ended. If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall.
  • In cases where the collection of the horse is necessary for welfare reasons, buyers should make the necessary arrangements; this might include using a licensed transporter to collect and deliver the animal, or if necessary, collecting it yourself. Covid-secure guidelines must be fully implemented when collecting purchased horses for transportation.
  • It is not a reasonable excuse to leave your home for the purpose of viewing or visiting a horse that you might/intend to buy.

For those viewing or buying horses in relation to their work or business, the BHS states:

  • Those buying or selling horses as part of their work may travel where reasonably required. If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall.

What’s the latest situation in Wales?

Lockdown restrictions continue in Wales, with 12 March the next review date.

This means the following rules still apply:

  • You may only meet with members of your household or support bubble in all settings.
  • You may leave the house to tend to and exercise a horse in your ownership or care, but journeys should be kept to a minimum. The advice is not to travel horses off a premises for the purposes of exercise – it should “start and finish at home”.
  • Organised equine sport is suspended and facilities closed.

What’s happening in Scotland?

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the nation’s route out of lockdown on 23 February.

The BEF is working with Horsescotland and member bodies to establish what it means for the equestrian industry, but it looks as though activity could restart on 26 April.

HorseScotland has updated its advice here and the current rules remain as follows:

  • A maximum of two people from two separate households or a single household group can meet outdoors for the purpose of sport or exercise. Children under the age of 12 from these households do not count towards the number. There should be no indoor mixing of households
  • You may take part in local outdoor recreation, sport or exercise that starts and finishes in the same place, up to five miles from the boundary of your local authority area, provided that you abide by the rules on meeting other households
  • Riding centres and equestrian venues can continue to operate within the regulations and travel restrictions, including arena hire, provided the appropriate risk assessments and mitigation actions are in place
  • Organised sport and exercise for under-12s can continue in line with workplace and socialising guidance and sport-specific guidance agreed
  • Travel within your own local authority area is permitted for outdoor sport, exercise and recreation. This provision includes travel to local facilities for the training and exercising of horses and ponies on equine care and welfare grounds. Travel exemptions apply to the attendance of a horse or pony by a vet or other equine professional
  • Coaches may continue to operate within the travel restrictions and should not deliver a session to more than one person aged 12 or over at a time
  • Coaches should only deliver sessions within an individual participant’s local authority area. Group activity for under-12s may continue with a maximum of two coaches present in any one session. Risk assessments, processes and mitigating actions must be in place before any activity takes place

What about Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, lockdown has been extended until 1 April, with a review on 18 March.

The current rules remain as follows:

  • Households should not mix indoors in private homes. Up to six people from no more than two households can meet in an outdoor setting (including a private garden), but with social distancing in place. Children under 12 are not included in these numbers
  • Unique household bubbles can form up of up to 10 people
  • Up to 15 people can meet outdoors, with social distancing and hand and respiratory hygiene practices in place
  • Equestrian activity (care and exercise) should be for equine welfare purposes only
  • Sports and leisure facilities should close
  • No one-to-one or group training sessions may run
  • Only elite training and competition may continue

Page last updated: 26 February (12.15pm)

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