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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...

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…

Lockdown restrictions have started to ease since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced “stay at home” measures to help slow the spread of coronavirus on 23 March.

Restrictions including the 2m distancing requirement remain in place, but schools and some workplaces have started to reopen; advice on leaving your home, outdoor exercise, outdoor socially distanced meetings with restricted numbers of people have changed.

Equestrians are now able to travel their horses, for reasons other than welfare, and in-person coaching has been given the green light to start again. Racing also resumed in Britain on 1 June.

In England and Northern Ireland, people are allowed to meet outside in groups of up to six. In Wales, this is any number from two households while in Scotland this is groups of up to eight from two households.

Wales and Scotland’s restrictions also include a guide maximum distance of travelling locally for exercise of five miles.


So what does this mean for horse owners and those working in the industry?

Can I ride my horse?

Yes — the British Horse Society’s advice (issued 11 May) states: “We are encouraging our members and the wider equestrian community in England, Scotland and Wales to resume riding while maintaining social distancing and staying alert to control the virus.

The latest BEF advice (1 June) is as follows:

England

Riders/drivers – groups of six people from separate households can now ride together, or five plus a coach. Riders and drivers can responsibly exercise horses outside, anywhere where there is legal access.

Coaches – can now teach groups of five people from separate households in a session held in an outdoor facility or training venue.

Venues – groups of six people from separate households can now ride together in outdoor spaces, or five plus a coach.

Scotland

Riders/drivers – can ride/exercise as often as they wish alone, with members of their household, or with members of one other household, up to eight persons in total. Members of a household should only meet with only one other household each day. Travel to exercise, including hire of an outdoor facility, should be done locally – the recommendation is up to five miles but there is some flexibility on travel distance for those in rural areas. Riding/driving on the roads should be done with consideration and avoiding peak times if possible.

Coaches – may instruct outdoors on a one-to-one basis with members of their household or members of one other household. Training must not be delivered to more than one household at any time or to more than one household per day. Lessons should be kept local – up to five miles as a recommendation.

Venues – may open for outdoor exercise within guidelines for the provision of a safe environment for staff and participants. Indoor areas such as a café, toilets, retail, outlet or indoor arenas should be kept closed. Sessions with a coach should be with individually or with up to seven members of the same household. Any shared equipment should be sterilised before each use and measures should be in place to reduce the risk of contamination.

Wales

Riders/drivers – may leave their home to ride as a ‘reasonable excuse’, but are encouraged to stay local – ideally within five miles. This includes transporting horses to a nearby facility. Many bridleways and rural facilities are still subject to local closure and restrictions by local authorities and others, so riders should check access before setting out. Riders and drivers can participate on their own or with members of their household, and low-risk activity is still advised.

Coaches – may involve only two household groups, up to eight people in total including the coach, and should be carried out locally – within five miles of both households is suggested, although those in rural areas are given some flexibility.

Venues – may open for outdoor exercise for people to travel to for hire or tuition, ideally within five miles except those in rural areas have some flexibility.

Northern Ireland

Riders/drivers – may travel to their horse to exercise or for training at a suitable outdoor location over any distance. This can be as part of a group of up to six people from different households, and a coach would count as one of the group.

Coaches – can instruct outdoors to groups of up to five people with no restrictions on travel distance. You may travel to clients, or they may come to you.

Venues – may open for outdoor hire to groups of up to six people. Coaching at the venue can take place on a one-to-one basis or in a group of up to five plus a coach.

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

Yes you can, while respecting rules set out by individual yard. It remains is important to have a back-up plan in place should you find yourself unable to do so owing to illness, or if further restrictions are imposed in future.

Social distancing, handwashing/santising and biosecurity also remain key.

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 metres 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
  • Wash your yard clothes and the ‘yard visit’ towel

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 seven days if you develop symptoms, unless you test negative, or for 14 days if someone in your household develops symptoms.

The BHS recommends all owners prepare a care plan for each horse. This can 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, in line with the government advice regarding travel and social distancing. Click here for more details

Are we allowed to hack out under the current restrictions?

Yes. The BEF continues to advise riders against taking “undue risks” and the BHS issued a safety warning on 28 May for equestrians to “be mindful” of increasing traffic on the roads as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Can I call the vet out to my horse?

Yes you can. Practices are open, albeit within the confines of the new normal.

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 latest update from the Farriers Registration Council (FRC, 11 May) states:

“It is agreed that the FRC interpretation of the Government’s updated guidance is that registered farriers may provide farriery services to equines by arrangement with equine owners, and with the following provisos:

    • 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 should rigorously follow the guidance on social distancing, maintaining the 2m distance between humans while conducting farriery at all times and in all locations.
    • Registered farriers should regularly wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and clean their tools and equipment, including between consultations. Where registered farriers use personal protective equipment, including face masks, this should be disposed of in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions and otherwie responsibly.
    • If challenged by the police or other law enforcement agency registered farriers should present their registration card and draw attention to this notice. Where necessary police officers or other law enforcement agencies should be asked to contact the Farriers Registration Council.

Can my horse or dog catch covid-19 or give it to me?

Advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) states several dogs and cats in contact with infected humans have tested positive, and ferrets appear to be susceptible to infection.
“In experimental conditions, both cats and ferrets were able to transmit infection to other animals of the same species,” it states.

“However, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread Covid-19. Covid-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

“Minks raised in farms have also been detected with the virus. Most likely, they have been infected by farm workers. In a few instances, the minks that were infected by humans have transmitted the virus to other people. These are the first reported cases of animal-to-human transmission.

“It is still recommended that people who are sick with Covid-19 and people who are at risk limit contact with companion and other animals. When handling and caring for animals, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing after handling animals, their food or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.”

For more information, visit WHO or the World Organisation for Animal Health.

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 viris. 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, based on footfall and venue-specific activities.

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?

Yes, in line with the individual rules for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Transport for equine welfare reasons has been allowed throughout lockdown, but guidance on travelling horses for other reasons, such as lessons, has changed in line with the government easing the rule on non-essential travel.

Scroll up to “can I ride my horse” for the full nation by nation guidance from the BEF.

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

Yes, in line with the individual rules for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As with all activities, you must comply with the latest government guidance around social distancing and restricted numbers. Venues may also have new protocols to comply with government advice and to keep people safe. The BEF advice on riders considering the risk of their activity, taking into account their capabilities and fitness levels for them and their horse, is also relevant.

Can I have a lesson at a riding school?

Yes, in line with the individual rules for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, provided it is in an outdoor arena. Individual businesses will have their own protocols to comply with government guidance, including restriction on numbers, but riding schools were given the green light to re-open on 13 May.

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 now schools are closed?

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 

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