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 started to ease in the UK. England is in the second phase of step one of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, with more relaxing of measures expected from 12 April. Rules vary to some extent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as each nation unlocks at its own rate.

    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.

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

    Outdoor sport resumed on 29 March, although elite training and competition had been allowed to go ahead before this date in line with strict rules. Racing under Rules had also been permitted to continue through lockdown, as it fell under elite sport, and amateur riders were allowed back on racecourses 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. The green light has also been given for riding schools, arena hire, plus organised training and competition to go ahead. However, there are restrictions on the use of indoor arenas.

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

    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 and travel your horse for competition, training and leisure riding.

    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 latest Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ advice (issued 26 March) enable practices across the UK to provide services to clients “in accordance with their professional judgement, the ongoing requirement to maintain biosecurity and social distancing, and any other relevant government guidelines and restrictions”.

    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.

    Competition and training resumed on 29 March. Travelling your horse for other reasons, such as arena hire, is also now permitted, but restrictions remain on the use of indoor schools.

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

    Yes, you can, in line with Covid-safe protocols.

    Can I travel to another place for competition or training?

    Yes, you can. The Government’s roadmap out of lockdown meant that outdoor competition and training was able to resume on 29 March.

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

    Yes, you can. Restrictions eased on 29 March, meaning you can travel to use an arena, gallops or go cross-country schooling, in line with Covid-safe measures.

    Can I have a lesson at a riding school?

    Yes, riding schools could reopen to the public as of 29 March. However, there are still restrictions over the use of indoor arenas.

    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?

    Yes, the Government’s “stay at home” message ended on 29 March, but Covid-safe restrictions and rules on numbers remain in place. There are also restrictions on international travel.

    What’s the latest situation in Wales?

    The Welsh roadmap out of lockdown is as follows:

    From 13 March:

    • Up to four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors in their local area, including in private gardens. Children under 11 and carers do not count towards this limit. There must be no mixing indoors and social distancing should be followed at all times outdoors.
    • Outdoor sports facilities can reopen, with a maximum of four people from two households permitted to take part in activities using local facilities at any one time. Equestrian venues could open for hire and activity on this basis, provided that they operate within the meeting number and travel restrictions.

    From 22 March:

    • The first steps to re-open non-essential retail will begin. Restrictions on the sale of non-essential items will be lifted for those shops that are currently open
    • Garden centres will also reopen

    From 27 March:

    • The ‘stay local’ restrictions will be lifted to allow people to travel within Wales
    • Self-contained holiday accommodation will re-open for one household
    • Organised outdoor children’s activities will restart

    What’s happening in Scotland?

    HorseScotland has updated its advice here and the Scottish route out of lockdown has been provisionally set out as follows:

    The rules on meeting people outdoors were relaxed as of 12 March, meaning four people from two households may now meet, which has opened up the opportunity to take part in training and sport. Specifically:

    • Four people from two households can meet in an outdoor setting
    • 12- to 17 year olds can meet outdoors in groups of four, with no limit on household numbers
    • Outdoor non-contact sports and organised exercise is permitted for groups of up to 15 people (up to 30 for under 12s)
    • There is still a requirement for adults to stay within their local authority boundary for exercise and organised activity, while those aged 12–17 may cross into other areas. Sportscotland and horsescotland advice also indicates that anyone may travel up to five miles into a neighbouring local authority area for informal activity such as hacking or facility hire without a coach.

    From 5 April

    • Stay at home restriction removed
    • All children to return to school
    • Communal worship can restart with restricted numbers of 20
    • Six people from two households can meet together
    • Easing of restrictions on indoor household gatherings
    • Further essential retail can begin to re-open

    From 26 April

    • All of Scotland return to Level system of restrictions
    • Phased return of non-essential retail
    • Some hospitality, leisure venues and gyms can re-open

    What about Northern Ireland?

    Restrictions to allow the resumption of sporting activities in Northern Ireland have started to ease, with further relaxation of the rules expected from 12 April. For more information, visit Sport NI

    Page last updated: 7 April (2.15pm)

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