SHOW SHOTS: New USEF Vaccination Rules in Place for Spring Horse Competitions

When the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) announced a major rule change about vaccination requirements at USEF events last summer, did you nod and file the information away?

The rule specifies that horses competing at USEF events must be vaccinated against both equine influenza and equine herpes virus (sometimes referred to as “rhino”).

While the rule took effect in December 2015, it will have an effect on a larger number of horses this spring and summer. Some horses have been competing all winter, but many show stables take the winter off to accommodate breeding and foaling schedules. Winter shows also may involve long-term stabling at the same showgrounds, while summer has much more active travel from show to show.

When the horses are lined up to get the shots they require, as well as other shots that their owners believe they need, questions start to be asked. Is it really necessary? Why does it cost so much?

Zoetis has posted this short video with Dr. Kent Allen, Chairman of the USEF Drug and Medications and Veterinary Committee, who answers some of the questions that horse show exhibitors have raised about how the new regulations are working:

Equine herpes virus has been a problem this winter, although primarily at racetracks and on farms more than at shows. But no matter where an outbreak occurs, it affects all horses in that state, and may impact travel permissions to other states. Showgrounds or show managers may also change their vaccination requirements and health certificate expiration dates when an outbreak impacts an area.

It’s not likely that the new rule will negatively affect horse show entries, but it may make some exhibitors think twice about the numbers of horses they transport to shows, and to how they schedule vaccinations in relation to show schedules. Most horses would have been vaccinated anyway, but the expiration will need to be watched.

A big concern will be when horses transfer from one trainer or owner to another, and it becomes necessary to keep an eye on when shots expire on a long list of horses. Many horses are vaccinated in the spring and fall, but not all horses are on the same schedules.

Here’s the complete rule:

Where things may become complicated is when state health requirements differ from USEF requirements, and when exhibitors are showing at events that are not USEF-sanctioned. Showing at the same arena on subsequent weekends might require different medical records. However, a primary intent of the USEF rule change was to standardize vaccination protocols for horses, rather than to impose shorter vaccination deadlines that might have other long-reaching effects. The original announcement from USEF specified this priority:

“Due to several high profile Equine Herpes (EHV) outbreaks in recent years that have involved the neuropathic strain of the virus (equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy-EHM), some competitions have placed vaccination requirements on their competitors that go beyond most accepted medical opinions and raise concern that unnecessary requirements can potentially put a horse at risk. The intent of this rule is to ensure that all licensed competitions comply with the vaccination guidelines for Equine Influenza and Equine Herpes (Rhinopneumonitis) published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). These guidelines are reviewed by infectious disease experts regularly, and recommend vaccinating competition horses at six-month intervals for both equine influenza (flu) and rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1 and EHV-4). There is not a vaccine that protects against EHM.”

More than ever, it will become important for show stable managers to monitor equine health regulations from states that are on the stable’s itineraries. An outbreak of a disease can change requirements or even block entry to a facility if horses have been in a state where a disease has affected horses.

The USEF requirements cover only two specific vaccinations, equine influenza and equine herpes virus. Some other equine diseases may not have the benefit of a vaccine, and some horse owners are pro-active about vaccinating horses for other individual diseases, such as rabies and strangles, which are not covered under this USEF rule.

So as you’re cleaning up the trailer and polishing your show tack, make note of which shows you plan to attend that are USEF-sanctioned, and which are open shows. Know how to contact state animal health authorities and the show management for all the shows on your list.

Your veterinarian is likely well-informed both about the vaccinations your horse requires if it competes at the USEF level and what sort of schedule will work best with your plans. Scheduling the vaccination of multiple horses at the same time will be kind to your veterinarian’s schedule and make your recordkeeping easier.

It will be important to keep horses’ vaccination records well-organized and accessible, preferably in one place, along with the horse’s Coggins’ test and health certificate, if one is needed for that horse. Some iPad and smartphone apps are available to keep track of deadlines, and there are software programs to simplify recordkeeping on a more comprehensive level, but plan on keeping copies of records in a safe place at home, and organize what you need on the road in a comprehensive, waterproof way and store them in a safe place where they can’t be lost or damaged.

USEF has made the regulations clear and easy to understand. They have also made the medications department accessible for exhibitors who have questions on horses that have medical problems precluding vaccination, or other issues. Exhibitors or owners may email [email protected] or call 800-633-2472 for assistance.

Exhibitors can also visit the Drugs and Medication section of the USEF website, where all medication rules are posted.

Top photo courtesy of Marcus Oh on Flickr.




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