So You Want to Rescue an Auction Horse, Part V: Quarantine

A critical component of rescue.

Catch up on earlier installments: Part I: Adopting From a Rescue Organization; Part II: Finding the Right Horse; Part III: How Auctions Work; Part IV: Buying Your Horse

You did it! You found a horse at the slaughter-bound auction, outbid the kill buyers, and have safe transport to get your newest family member home.

But, wait! Remember, you know nothing about his prior care or his medical history. Therefore, you are wise to assume your new horse has just been exposed to every possible equine disease while traveling through “the auction pipeline.”

Other than buggy horses in “Amish country” (some of whom are driven directly to the auction), every horse there has been transported at least once in order to be at the auction house. Some “slaughter bound” horses are transported from one auction to another to another, as the kill buyers gather animals from numerous auctions to make a full load. Horses from untold locations are penned together, snorting on each other, drinking from the same troughs, and spreading disease like wildfire.

Because of this exposure, any horse that has been through a slaughter auction house is typically referred to as “dirty,” with dirty being defined here as exposed to germs, perhaps sick and most likely contagious.

The horse world is full of gray areas but one area that is – or at least should be – black and white is this: any time you buy a horse from an auction, be it a slaughter auction or high dollar auction (think Keeneland’s yearling sale), you need to isolate your newly-purchased animal for a period of time before bringing it into contact with animals you know are healthy.

As we’ve been focused on rescue animals in this series, that focus continues here — and the name of the game is quarantine, as in complete isolation from contact with any other animal for at least thirty days. If the “dirty” animal completes this period of time disease-free, the animal is then presumed to be “clean” and can be allowed to have contact with other “clean” horses.

Below is a summary of some of the most important aspects of a good quarantine protocol, so you can establish a quarantine set-up on your own farm for your new horse, or you’ll know what to ask about and look for at a quarantine facility.

Note: if you buy your horse from an auction some distance away, you may have to reserve and pay for pre-shipment quarantine for 30 days. If this is the case, once those 30 days of “long distance quarantine” are completed and your new horse is shipped to you, it is wise to keep your new animal isolated from any other horses for another two weeks, just in case the long-distance quarantine wasn’t quite as pristine as it should have been.

Photo provided by Esther Roberts

1. Isolation. The animal should be kept in an area that is a minimum of ten feet away from any other animal, to assure nobody can touch noses and minimize the risk of snorting germs on each other. If the quarantine facility stalls your horse, the stall adjacent in any direction (beside, behind, etc.) should be empty. This is true even if there are multiple animals in quarantine simultaneously; there should be an empty stall between each animal unless the stall sides are made of an impermeable surface such as concrete block, like one would find at a veterinary hospital’s equine ICU units.

2. Sunshine and fresh air. Unless the quarantine facility has recirculating ventilation, like a veterinary hospital would, the best disease destroyers are sunshine and fresh air – lots of each. So an ideal quarantine set-up is a small round pen of stock panels, set in the open air, at least ten feet away from any other animal. If it’s wintertime, or the animal is running a high fever, some shelter from the elements may be appropriate. (If you’re quarantining at home and in a pinch, you could set the panels so they connect to the back of an open trailer and let the trailer be your temporary shelter.) Sunlight helps kill even the microscopic nasties contained in strangles drainage, so unless it is bitter cold out or the vet advises a sheltered quarantine for some reason, outdoors is truly best.

3. Separate and individualized everything – buckets, feed tubs, brushes, halter/lead, hoof pick, etc. You name it — the quarantined animal should have its very own, used only for it. Some quarantine facilities purchase rather inexpensive brushes and items to use for the animal and then either dispose of all the items once the horse is “clean” and released from quarantine, or they may offer to send all these items with your horse post-quarantine. Some facilities sanitize everything with a mixture of bleach and water, post quarantine. (Tip: if you have loaded your “dirty” horse in a “clean” trailer, you can sanitize your trailer with a mixture of 2 cups bleach per 1 gallon water. Put the mix in a pump-type garden sprayer, and thoroughly drench every surface of the trailer the animal came in contact with, including the ramp if you have a ramp trailer. Leave the trailer open for 24 hours so the bleach smell can dissipate.)

If you opt to quarantine your animal at home, you can sanitize the feed bins and water buckets and brushes with a similar bleach-water mixture. It is recommended, however, that you not do so with the old halter and lead you brought your new horse home in; just toss those out and replace them.

4. Careful water sourcing. Ideally, your quarantine provider will have a separate hose for each quarantine pen. For some quarantine facilities, however, it would be impractical to have a separate hose for every horse. If your horse’s facilities does not provide a separate hose per horse, the caregiver should be diligent about holding the hose OUT of the water bucket while filling each quarantine animal’s buckets or troughs. This is time intensive and requires absolute fidelity on the part of the caregiver, but dropping the end of the hose into one bucket and then another is a quick way to spread disease.

5. Individualized sanitation for the humans involved. Some quarantine facilities will provide full cover disposable gowns, hats, boot covers and gloves for anyone who accesses the quarantined animals. Others will simply say, “bring a separate pair of boots.” Obviously the former is best. But if your facility does not offer disposables, you can bring a set of coveralls (not overalls – you want coveralls so your arms are not bare) and a designated pair of boots and put these items on to visit your horse. You will also want to put on disposable gloves each time you visit your horse while in quarantine. The facility should provide gloves, but if they don’t, you can buy a box of such gloves at any drugstore; many farm stores also sell them.

Photo provided by Esther Roberts

6. Professional medical protocols. A good quarantine facility will have an established, ongoing relationship with a local equine veterinary practice. Beware the facility that offers to “do everything ourselves to save you money.” Homegrown remedies and casual vaccinations are not in your new auction horse’s best interests. In truth, most animals should not be vaccinated while in quarantine; sick animals need to get healthy prior to having vaccinations administered, and auction animals who appear healthy need time for their body to rebalance after the stress of the auction system before vaccines are given.

If your quarantine provider is long-distance (i.e., pre-delivery quarantine), the provider should have their veterinarian come and evaluate your horse. You should expect to pick up the tab for all the veterinary work performed on your horse while in quarantine. You should also be able to speak directly to the veterinarian, know in advance any treatments before they are administered, know in advance the approximate cost of any/all treatments, and have the means of payment worked out in advance. You should also be given detailed invoices to show what was done regarding your animal’s care.

If your quarantine provider is local to you, they should allow your own veterinarian to come and treat your animal while he’s in quarantine and you should have access to your animal at any time for appropriate veterinary care.

7. Transparency. A good quarantine provider will be transparent about their services, the costs involved, and have established protocols as outlined above. They should allow you to visit beforehand, if possible. They should welcome any question. They should offer a list of references, or at least readily provide a list upon your request. Contact the references. Do your homework, especially if you’re doing pre-transport, long-distance quarantine and cannot visit the facility prior to auction. (Remember, the horse needs to go straight from the auction to quarantine, so you’ll need to have your quarantine facility ready and waiting to receive your new auction horse immediately!)

Some final thoughts on quarantine: Typically, quarantine pens are small by design. These pens must be sanitized between occupants, so don’t expect your new horse to have acres available during his quarantine stay. Don’t ask if you can hand-graze your horse while he’s in quarantine. Isolation is key to successful quarantine because saliva is a great germ transporter. The quarantine provider may offer some hand-walking options, but don’t be surprised if your horse has to stay confined to a small paddock for the quarantine period.

Thirty days is standard for a quarantine period; however, if the horse manifests symptoms of any type, the veterinarian may not release the animal from quarantine until he is completely symptom-free. So be patient if the quarantine period exceeds 30 days; remember, everyone wants the same goal as you do at the end of all this process: a healthy horse!

When your horse is released from quarantine, take his new halter and lead rope and load him up and bring him home!

Congratulations! You’ve just saved a life!

Photo provided by Esther Roberts, courtesy of Jeannie Baggett

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