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  • Fiona Tothill

Containing a virus

What I learnt from the equine flu and can apply to the Covid-19 pandemic



In 2019 we had an outbreak of equine flu, this had a significant impact on our riding school, with at least half our horses turned away and services severely restricted.


Equine flu tested our business resilience and tested us. By July 2019 it was behind us, many lessons had been learnt and we were well placed to move forward although nobody knew what 2020 would bring!


The equine flu taught me a lot, what I did not realise at the time was the flu had given me some serious insight into people and viruses, equipping me well for Covid-19.


The points below (in bold) are my reflections on Equine Flu, and the postscripts (in italics) are Covid-19.


1. Be open about if you have it - we declared it as soon as we knew. Then stay at home

Testing is an important tool in managing Covid-19, people need to be honest, if you have it you have it, follow the guidance and don’t spread it further. Catching it is nothing to be ashamed of, hiding it is what causes the problem.


2. Some people are lacking in knowledge and there is a lot of scare mongering

Throughout Covid-19 I have been struck how little some people actually understand about viruses and their transmission and how dangerous the lack of information and subsequent scaremongering can be. We need to be well informed so we can apply understanding.


3. It’s highly contagious (for horses)

It’s highly contagious (for people) although clearly some people are at greater risk than others.

This pony was the carrier of equine flu to our stables

4. Horses are gross when snotty - making themselves more contagious!

Some people are gross when unwell - making themselves more contagious!


5. Vaccinated horses are better protected but it is not a 100% guarantee

We are awaiting the vaccine, I guess it will help although is not a cure all.


6. Some unvaccinated horses have natural immunity

I have heard some people seem to have an immunity (possibly from SARS)?


7. Geldings are more susceptible than mares (man flu ???)

Well what can I say. It seems men and women are equally likely to contract Covid-19 however men are more likely to suffer severe effects of the disease.


8. People with horses or who visit other yards are best to stay away - likelihood of transmission low, likelihood of blame high.

Horses don’t have test, track and trace. However the Animal Health Trust kept a detailed account of the latest cases (including where the horses had come from).

I think there is a need for accountability without blame (or guilt).


9. Flu virus is fragile- will die away from the horse and hates disinfectant.

Wash your hands. This virus like any other does not like simple hand washing with soap!


10. There are judgmental people

Oh yes!


11. There are supportive people

Thank goodness.

12. There are people who advise you to hide it away

It may work if you are lucky or asymptomatic but i does not mean it won't be passed on, it is better to be open so it can be safely managed.


13. There are people who over react

We have definitely seen this with Covid 19. It is serious because it’s a successful virus (highly contagious so spreads quickly, can mutate however it does not want to kill the host) and it's new!


14. There are people who under react

We have seen this too; Covid can and has killed, it also make some people very very poorly.

Otter inspecting his medication

15. People don’t know the difference between a virus (Flu) and a bacteria (Strangles)

Again so true, also some people don’t understand the role of secondary infections


16. It puts a massive strain on a business

And the world economy!

17. Some horses will be poorly

Some people will be very ill and need intensive care and months of ongoing treatment


18. Our horses all survived



About the author:

Fiona Tothill, BA Educational Studies, UKCC level 2 coach (equestrian). Equine Assisted Facilitator.


Fiona is an experienced speaker and trainer who is able to engage her audience and empowers them to explore challenging issues. Fiona is the co-owner vision behind Kingsmead Equestrian Centre in Surrey.

Fiona is available for public speaking engagements, workshops and events.

To enquire please contact by email




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