Section 3 | Biosecurity and Health Management on Ontario Equine Premises

Ontario Equine
Page 12 /

An Introduction to the National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector

What is Biosecurity?

Biosecurity is a set of principles and management practices aimed at reducing the:

  1. Entry of a disease onto a premises, and
  2. Spread of disease throughout and beyond a premises in the event that it has already entered


It’s all about managing risk and reducing the spread of contagious pathogens that might affect the herd!

Biosecurity in the Equine Sector

In Ontario’s equine sector, biosecurity is especially important because of the many different ways in which horses are used. Whether you’re involved in racing, showing, and breeding, there is considerable horse movement at any given time locally, nationally, and internationally. This movement means commingling at events and at individual farms, and also means there is ample opportunity for disease to be spread!

It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure they are at least practicing basic principles of biosecurity to protect herd health!

A National Guide

In 2016, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency developed the National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector. This “National Standard” provides horse owners, trainers, grooms, and barn staff with an overview of biosecurity measures that should be in place on their premises, and why they are important. It is a comprehensive, practical resource to guide anyone in the industry to develop protocols and procedures to minimize the risk of disease entry and spread.


The goals of the National Standard include1:

  • Assisting owners and custodians in protecting animal health and welfare by minimizing the spread of infectious disease, as well as minimizing the frequency and severity of disease in the event that it occurs
  • Achieving a healthy Canadian herd that has good immunity and high health status
  • Maintaining the ability to export horses worldwide and participate in international competitions and events


The Impact of Biosecurity

The impact of an equine disease outbreak can be significant, and continues to be one of the most significant challenges for the industry.


Improving biosecurity practices on a premises can:

  • Reduce the risk for transmission of all types of disease, including:
    • Endemic (a disease commonly found or expected to be found in an area or within a population)
    • Novel (newly emerging disease to which the herd may not have been exposed to previously),
    • Foreign animal diseases
  • Reduce the risk of disease that can cause permanent damage/injury to an animal that may impact health, welfare, and/or performance
  • Minimize the spread of zoonotic diseases (an infection that can be passed from an animal to a human)
  • Reduce the cost of disease treatment and veterinary intervention
  • Reduce the economic impact of missed and/or cancelled shows or races due to disease outbreak
  • Protect the movement of horses nationally and internationally to maintain export markets

Key Considerations for Biosecurity

Every farm or facility owner has a different tolerance to disease risk. To be effective, biosecurity practices should be practical and sustainable to ensure that everyone plays their part in reducing the spread of disease.


Important biosecurity practices for anyone involved in Ontario’s equine sector should include, at minimum1:

  • Working with your veterinarian to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) or protocols to protect your herd
  • Identifying areas of high risk and how an outbreak might affect your operation:
    • Are there foals that do not have strong immune systems present?
    • Do animals leave the premises and return after having commingled with other animals?
    • Are there visitors to the premises that may have handled animals from another facility?
  • Recognizing that rodents and insects can harbour and spread disease
  • Implementing a vaccine and deworming protocol with the help of your veterinarian
  • Keeping equipment, such as tack and water buckets, separate and designating equipment to be used strictly for newly arrived or quarantined animals
  • Monitoring all animals within the barn daily for signs of illness. Some signs of illness that may indicate infectious disease include:
    • Decreased appetite
    • Depression
    • Fever (>37.0-38.5°C or >98.6-101.3°F)
    • Nasal discharge
    • Coughing
    • Diarrhea
    • Abnormal behaviour


Check out this great overview of how pathogens are spread, developed by Equine Guelph:

Great Biosecurity Resources

Equine Guelph’s Biosecurity Risk Calculator

Fill out a questionnaire to see what puts a herd at risk and how you might work to reduce it.


Advice from a Biosecurity Expert

Dr. Scott Weese of the Ontario Veterinary College developed 3 videos highlighting how to prevent and contain infectious disease, and the importance of biosecurity for performance horses at the training facility and the track.


Watch them here:

Equestrian Canada’s Webinar Series

An important aspect of biosecurity in the equine sector is having a plan. Equestrian Canada has developed a webinar for facility owner/operators for preventing the spread of infectious disease, and how to develop a biosecurity plan for their next race or event. There is also a veterinarian-aimed version to help coach clients on preparing for their next race or event.