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Some recommendations to protect the health of humans, horses and business from the effects of Covid-19:

27 March 2020
Type Press Release

Some simple protocols to put in place for the weeks ahead which will hopefully help those managing equine enterprises to navigate this challenging period. Wendy Conlon, Teagasc Equine Specialist

Human Health:

Take steps to protect your own health, and the health of family, employees and clients.

  1. Stay up-to-date with, and follow HSE recommendations hse.ie

  2. Implement strict yet practical requirements for access of non-family and non-staff to your farm. Deny all non-essential visitors at this time. Any necessary deliveries should be non-contact drop-offs. A list of all visitors to the yard should be kept until the COIVD 19 situation is over, with lists destroyed at that point.

  3. Identify measures to reduce the potential for all persons necessary on the farm to infect each other. For example: minimise the number of people working together as far as possible, whilst also engaging safe working practices. Consider in particular the protection of those with underlying health conditions, and the personal family commitments relating to vulnerable individuals of employees and clients and reduce interactions as much as is possible.

  4. Set up hand washing sanitising stations in the yard (s) ensuring disposable paper towel is available and that smaller bins are emptied daily to the main refuse bin using appropriate hygienic handling. Also ensure adequate supplies of disinfectant; sanitisers, paper towels and disposable gloves are available. Enact protocol for all persons arriving on the premises to wash hands on arrival and before departure.

  5. Identify ways you can reduce labour, or change work practices in the yard to adhere to social distancing and minimise numbers of people in various zones of the yard. This may mean staggering employee working times, break times and chores; ensuring that visitors to the farm are minimised and on an appointment-only basis (this can be clearly communicated to regular clients/visitors coupled with signage at point of entry); Can you turn out any horses that are currently stabled? Can you increase mechanisation of any chores, while ensuring the cabs of any vehicles in use and other touch zones are also kept clean?

  6. Implement additional cleaning and disinfection protocols of touch zones. For example: door handles/ doors; gates; horse box ramps and handles; equipment like pitch forks, rakes, wheelbarrows etc. Ensure common areas are disinfected regularly.

  7. Set up separate grooming and other equipment supplies for each employee/ individual where possible; otherwise disinfect between uses. (Clients in livery yards etc. should use their own grooming kits, tack etc. and be encouraged to clean between uses).

  8. In a D.I.Y., or part livery situation, for the immediate term can care of client horses be undertaken by the yard staff, consider turning horses out to grass for a period of rest, or an appropriate ‘sharing care’ plan between owners of multiple horses/ponies to reduce footfall in the yard. Alternatively stagger the attendance of clients in the yard with clearly communicated timelines to attend. Extreme care with touch zone hygiene will be critically important. The current focus should be to reduce footfall as far as possible.

  9. Notify employees and clients they should not come to the premises if they feel unwell or are considered for whatever reason high-risk or potential carriers.

  10. Given health services are stretched to capacity it is strongly encouraged to avoid any activities that carry increased risk of injury. Consider giving your horses a break right now. Riding has not been forbidden, but it is a risk activity. Take care to wear appropriate PPE for all activities.

  11. Post awareness signage in the yard environment regarding best social distancing and health practices. Available on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website here

  12. Look after mental health during this period. Keeping a realistic perspective based on facts is important. Only pay attention to trustworthy and reliable sources to get news. Consider limiting time on social media. Keep up routine – exercise, diet, sleep routines; avoid excess alcohol, consider practicing relaxation techniques and stay in communication with friends, family and staff. Some people find it useful to set aside defined times in the day to access news or social media to help manage any anxiety.

Horse Health:

Most have probably already thought of the horses first, but here are a few things that come to mind that you may want to add to your list:

  1. Protecting the health of the people that care for the horses is the first critical step. Maintain the minimum two metre distance between yard personnel and visiting vets, farriers or others. Agree before such persons arrive on the yard how this will be achieved.

  2. Ensure call-outs are for matters of importance, or urgency, not routine interventions that can be delayed. Utilise phone consultations with the vet as the first action where possible.

  3. Consider creating an ‘operations manual’, so that if any staff does need to take time off, their jobs have well defined practices that others can follow. Have a back-up plan should any staff fall ill – who can you contact in reserve? For sole operators a buddy system within the local community is something to consider. A very simple written description of daily tasks (what animal gets turned out in what paddock; what amount of feed animals are receiving and so on) would be very useful for somebody who had to take over suddenly in the situation where this was necessary.

  4. Check the horse first aid and medication supplies.

  5. Contingency Plan: Take the time if you haven’t already done so already to write a list of all staff, clients, suppliers and individuals like vets and farriers. Create also a contingency list of contacts should these persons become ill and unavailable.

  6. Expect some delays in receiving products or supplies ordered online and plan ahead accordingly. Consult with regular suppliers on measures they are taking and any potential disruptions to supply.

  7. Only necessary journeys with horses are permissible on the current advisory for the next two weeks. If taking horses to a veterinary practice make sure to ring ahead and pay heed of their protocols at this time. Although travel in connection with the welfare and care of horses is permitted, ONLY make such necessary journeys. The Veterinary Council of Ireland has advised its members specifically to only engage in emergency matters presenting risk to life or clear risk to welfare if not assessed under the current government advisory.

Business Health

Businesses have the worry of whether staff will remain healthy, able to continue work and overall whether the business itself will remain healthy. Continue to communicate regularly and honestly with employees and clients. Uncertainty creates fear. Let people know that you care, are mindful of the situation, are creating protocols to manage the situation and will continue to adapt where necessary.

Stay up to date with the Government supports in place to assist employers, employees and the self-employed on www.gov.ie. Remain honest with your bank/lending institution and avail of the supports on offer to manage cash flow such as payment holidays or emergency working capital funds. Take immediate steps to manage cash flow by looking for scope to lower variable costs, delay any discretionary spend, extend your payables, and chase-up any outstanding receivables.

Now more than ever is a time to embrace on-line communication, marketing and selling. Give this your attention where you have the skill to do so.

Online marketing platforms such as Irish Horse Gateway https://www.irishhorsegateway.ie/ may be considered; creating a social media presence, or website utilisation are also valuable tools to keep trade active.

Supports:

Short time work support is available from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is an income support payment for employees who have been temporarily placed on a shorter working week, due to business challenges affecting their employment. It is intended to help employers during periods of temporary difficulty, without resorting to permanent layoffs. Employer and employee application forms and more detail can be found at www.gov.ie/stws . Employees can also apply for Short-time Work Support at their local Intreo Centre or Branch Office – local Intreo Centre can be found at www.gov.ie/deasp

The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is available from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and will be available to all employees and the self-employed who have lost employment due to a downturn in economic activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The payment has a one–page application form and will be in place for the duration of the crisis at a flat rate payment of €350 per week for jobseekers. More information can be found here 

Horse Sport Ireland has also published additional links that may be of help. Access this information here

Stay up to date with government supports relating to Covid-19: here