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Equestrian barns in the region are beginning to open again, but COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Photo by Lena Szeto

Millbrook Horse Trials canceled

The Tri-state region equestrian community has found ways to manage despite the coronavirus pandemic. After all, animals still have to be cared for, even during a quarantine.

None of the barns in the region has had to shut down even though many of them rely on horse shows for fundraising, and those shows this year have so far been canceled or postponed. 

Operations during the pandemic have necessitated major adjustments for boarders and riders — and, let’s not forget, the horses, too.

Riga Meadow at Coole Park Farm in Millbrook and Town Hill Farm in Lakeville moved fast to put new barn rules in place in spring to keep everyone as safe as possible. Both barns implemented American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) best practices, adding a few nuances of their own.

In March and April, Linda Bushnell, the trainer at Riga Meadow, decided to limit access to the barns to only essential workers. She stopped giving lessons and canceled Riga’s Combined Test, which was scheduled for May 3. 

Now that New York is slowly reopening, lessons have resumed and boarders can ride again — but with restrictions. 

A contact tracing system is in place; everyone has to sign in and out of the barn. Bushnell stressed that, “With COVID-19 preventive measures in place everything takes time, so patience and resolve are required. Horseback riding is a humbling sport — anything can happen, and you have to be able to adapt very quickly.” 

Susan Beddingfield, stable manager at Town Hill Farm, said she never stopped teaching her clients since all private lessons are taught outdoors. 

She has put safety measures in place, limiting boarders’ access inside the barn, requiring that masks be worn inside, and designating a single wash stall, to limit contaminated surfaces and foot traffic. 

Boarders with their own trailers can also tack up there, weather permitting. 

No one wants to catch or spread COVID-19 and many wonder if animals can play a part. Dr. Paul Mountan, D.V.M., one of the founders of Rhinebeck Equine, said in an interview last week that horses cannot catch COVID-19, but can become ill from an equine coronavirus, known as ECoV. 

The disease is not contagious to humans and not even very contagious to other horses. 

Cornell’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC) says they’ve seen a rise in the diagnosis of equine enteric (relating to or occurring in the intestines) coronavirus cases since early  outbreaks in 2010. 

However, the Cornell vets attribute this increase to improved awareness of the disease and increases in testing. In general, there are few cases of ECoV. The American Association of Equine Practitioners agrees with Cornell’s findings and also reports that ECoV cases tend to be higher in the Midwest region, especially among draft horses and specifically ones that are on a ranch/farm and used for breeding. 

Mountan described ECoV symptoms as “high daily temps of 105 degrees, runny stool, bloodwork that has a low white count and a concentration rate that is low.” 

“Antibiotics don’t touch it,” he said of the equine coronavirus, “so all you can do is offer supportive treatment.”

Diagnosis is still important, though.

“The concern is that if it doesn’t get better it could be fatal. There’s also a risk of the horse foundering, which could lead to death.” 

He said he has not seen any local cases yet. 

Meanwhile, it was announced on July 2 that the Millbrook Horse Trials (MHT), scheduled for July 30 to Aug. 2, will not be held this year.

So far, the Town Hill Farm Horse Trials, scheduled for Aug. 22 and 23, are scheduled to proceed this year. 

Other barns are thinking about hosting (and some have already hosted) schooling shows, which are easier to put on than recognized United States Equestrian Federation and United States Eventing Association shows or events. 

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