COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020; the United Kingdom (UK) implemented quarantine measures shortly afterward, resulting in rapid changes in how owners managed and interacted with their horses. This study provides a rapid analysis of the initial impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the management of UK leisure and competition horses. A 17 question online survey was distributed via equestrian social media sites to ascertain the impact of COVID-19 on horse and yard management and on human-horse interactions. Frequency analysis combined with Chi-squared and thematic analyses identified the impact of COVID-19 on UK horse owners. Major changes within horse management and horse-human interactions were reported for the majority of horse owners (>65%), regardless of the establishment type or region. Social distancing and visiting restrictions were implemented at most yards, but nearly half were not providing hand sanitization or disinfection protocols for the shared areas/equipment to prevent cross-contamination between users. The financial impact of the pandemic combined with restricted access to veterinary professionals resulted in owners expressing concerns that horse health and welfare may be compromised as a result. Horse owners also felt that the reduced opportunities for horse-human interactions were negatively affecting their mental health and wellbeing.
Keywords: coronavirus; equine management; equine welfare; horse–human relationship.