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Keeping Your Livery Yard Safe During Covid-19

The current situation with the outbreak of Covid-19 has caused mass disruption worldwide in day to day routines, including livery yards. The restrictions that have been put in place in a handful of states has left a number of yard owners wondering how they can protect themselves and their clients during this difficult time. Here is some information to guide you…

Restricting visitors to the yard

Currently, it is important to try to restrict person to person contact. You are well within reason to restrict non-necessary visitors to your yard. This can be guests of livery clients such as friends or family, third party service providers, sharers of the livery horses, or potential new clients.

If you have horses on a DIY basis, you can request that only one person attends the horse or ask liveries to buddy up and task-share to cover one another’s horses either end of the day, thus reducing visitor’s morning and evening. You could also alter the yard routine, allowing staggered visits from liveries and reducing the number of people at the yard at any one time.

It is important to specifically request the non-attendance of any high-risk individuals who have recently traveled to affected areas, who are showing symptoms, or may have come into contact with an infected individual. If any of your clients are feeling ill, they should stay at home and not attend the yard.

If you are particularly concerned about the risk, you are well within your right to close your yard in full. However, you will need to fully consider the labor and cost implications that this may have upon your clients. For example, DIY liveries then needing their horses to receive full care. If it is your choice to close the yard in full, then the charges for such services will be at your discretion. It is advisable to discuss this in advance with your liveries and advise them in writing the change to any routine or services.

Communication

Communication is key and this is no exception. It is important to keep an open line with your clients and anyone else who may be affected by any changes made to the yard routine. It is advisable to send a written notice either by email, text or social media, to all your clients outlining the changes. Include general advice about the situation and inform them about any specific action they need to take (such as supplying their own cleaning products or staying away if ill). Similar written notices should also be put up in the yard and at the entrance, if you are restricting visitors.

It is also important to clarify to your clients any service charges that will be applicable at this time, if you need to provide services outside of the usual remit or alter the usual yard routine to accommodate recommendations or restrictions. If these are communicated clearly then there will be no confusion as to potential costs incurred to those staying away from the yard or requesting extra services.

If you are restricting access to visitors on the yard, which may affect visiting trades, instructors and suchlike, it is important to let your clients know as soon as possible so they can make the necessary changes to their arrangements.

It is also important to make it clear that this is a developing situation and as such things may change rapidly with regards to recommended action and government restrictions. It would be advisable to set a review of the situation every 24 hours and use social media or group messaging systems to keep your clients up to date of any changes that may affect them in a prompt manner.

Having adequate handwashing and cleaning provisions

All yards should be able to offer their clients adequate washing facilities including soap and clean running water. It is advisable to not share towels and so you can provide disposable drying material, or request liveries provide their own towels. If you are unable to provide this, you should, at the very least, supply antibacterial hand cleanser or request liveries supply their own. You should also request that any visitors wash their hands immediately upon arrival and, where possible, have designated yard clothing and ideally wear gloves whilst handling equipment.

You should also ensure that any drinking receptacles such as cups and mugs are washed immediately after use and that any areas or pieces of equipment used for the preparation or consumption of food or drink are kept clean at all times. It is advisable to have antibacterial spray or wipes to hand and to regularly wipe over any high-use items, such as kettle handles, cupboard and fridge doors, door handles, locks and taps. You should also have a waste disposal system in place. This should include closed bins that are emptied regularly, or to request that used tissues are flushed away.

Minimize person to person contact

With many yards being outdoors, this should be easy advice to adhere to. However, you also need to consider the transmission from items that are shared. The virus bacteria can stay active on certain materials and surfaces for several days so it is important to ensure minimal cross-contamination.

To reduce this, you can request that horse owners continuing to visit the yard keep their own equipment separate, and do not share handheld items such as mucking out tools, wheelbarrows and suchlike. If this is not possible, you should request that they wear gloves when handling tools, as well as using antibacterial wipes or cleaners on any touched items before placing back into communal areas.

It is also sensible to reduce contact between humans and horses, asking horse owners to only touch or handle their own horses where possible. All tack and equipment, such as grooming kits, should not be shared and should also be wiped over when finished with.

You should also consider the amount of time those attending the yard spend there. Ideally, any communal areas, such as tea rooms, should be closed with clients encouraged to spend as little time as possible at the yard and to restrict their social interaction whilst there. Whilst this may seem extreme, putting restrictions in place to protect both yourself and liveries should mean the clients are able to continue as normal in caring for the equines, whilst spending the minimum requirement of time at the yard, and thus being at minimal risk.

Those wanting to compete or train off of the yard

As if it were an outbreak of an equine virus, those venturing out and coming into contact with others will be at a higher risk. It will be your decision whether you permit horse owners to leave the yard to compete, bearing in mind that they will be taking vehicles and equipment which will then be placed back on the yard. Sensible precautions would be to request liveries who wish to compete - with your agreement - follow sensible advice, restrict their contact, do not share equipment with others, and thoroughly clean any equipment, tack or suchlike when they return to the yard.

If you have planned events yourself, it will be at your discretion whether these go ahead. A next step by the government may be the restrictions of social gatherings, which would include events with a certain number of attendees, but you may not fall in this bracket. You, therefore, need to weigh up the loss of income through postponing or canceling events, facility or venue hire versus the risk and advice at the time. For example, if you offer cross country or arena hire, then there is very minimal risk for single or small group if you ensure that you have minimal contact with them and designate them parking away from the main yard and restrict their contact with clients, client facilities and clients’ horses. If you continue with events and allowing non-liveries access you should take the same precautions as you would for an equine contagion and restrict person to person contact or anything that may cause cross-contamination.

However, you need to bear in mind that the more people that encounter you, your staff, your facilities, equipment or liveries, the greater the risk posed. Whilst there is no direct risk to the yard as a whole, anything that contributes to cases should be avoided, as in the long run increased spread of the outbreak will mean unavoidable measures which could affect the yard financially and management-wise.

Ensure you are up to date

If you take over the full-time care of horses on the yard due to travel restrictions or self-isolation of owners, ensure your records of each owner and animal are up to date. This should include up to date contact details for the owner, plus a secondary contact, their chosen vet and farrier, plus any other information on the horse you may not know but that may be useful at this time. 

To stockpile or not?

Should travel or commercial restrictions be put in place you may find difficulty in receiving deliveries of consumables such as hay, bedding and feed. Whilst it is important not to panic buy, you should consider rationing where possible or stocking up on essentials while you are able to. You should contact your local suppliers to enquire about their stock levels and ask whether they can foresee any supply issues in the event of further restrictions being brought into place.

Loss of income due to closure

Whilst not affecting all yards, those yards who create income from services to members of the general public - such as riding lessons, clinics, events or facility hire - will find themselves at a loss of revenue should they need to restrict visitors to the premises.

Think about how your business insurance will work if your business closes due to an outbreak of the virus. Check your policy wording, as standard policies may not include any protection if your business suffers due to an outbreak of disease, regardless of circumstance. Many commercial policies will include Business Interruption cover. Once you have confirmed that you have Business Interruption cover, you will need to check whether you have an extension for “notifiable diseases”. If you have this in your policy wording, you will need to reach out to your broker/insurer to confirm whether Coronavirus is covered. The UK Government has declared COVID-19 a notifiable disease.

Have an emergency plan

If you are offering services to clients to reduce the visits, it is important not to stretch yourself. Further restrictions and self-isolation guidelines could reduce staff levels and client visits resulting in a high number of services needing to be carried out by a minimal workforce. If movement is restricted further, you should consider an emergency plan. This could include reduced services, turning horses out, or altering your routine to allow for simplified care of the animals in your charge.

Secondly, if you yourself become ill, you must consider the running of the yard in your absence and have a back-up plan ready to go. This may include using a trusted freelancer to cover the yard work, using existing staff to cover hours, or arranging a schedule between livery clients.

Whilst it is ideal to continue the yard on its usual routine, precautions and government advice may mean that this is not possible in the long run. It may be a necessity to take extreme measures to ensure the horses continue to be cared for whilst also following guidelines. Steps such as ceasing riding activities and putting all horses out to grass until the situation improves and restrictions are lifted will ensure the welfare of horses in your care, but reduce the need for labor-intensive work.