An online survey of horse-owners in Great Britain.
Background: Contingency planning for potential equine infectious disease outbreaks relies on accurate information on horse location and movements to estimate the risk of dissemination of disease(s). An online questionnaire was used to obtain unique information linking owner and horse location to characteristics of horse movements within and outwith Great Britain (GB). Results: This online survey yielded a strong response, providing more than four times the target number of respondents (1000 target respondents) living in all parts of GB. Key demographic findings of this study indicated that horses which were kept on livery yards and riding schools were likely to be found in urban environments, some distance away from the owner's home and vaccinated against influenza and herpes virus. Survey respondents were likely to travel greater than 10 miles to attend activities such as eventing or endurance but were also likely to travel and return home within a single day (58.6%, 2063/3522). This may affect the geographical extent and speed of disease spread, if large numbers of people from disparate parts of the country are attending the same event and the disease agent is highly infectious or virulent. The greatest risk for disease introduction and spread may be represented by a small proportion of people who import or travel internationally with their horses. These respondents were likely to have foreign horse passports, which were not necessarily recorded in the National Equine Database (NED), making the location of these horses untraceable. Conclusions: These results illustrate the difficulties which exist with national GB horse traceability despite the existence of the NED and the horse passport system. This study also demonstrates that an online approach could be adopted to obtain important demographic data on GB horse owners on a more routine and frequent basis to inform decisions or policy pertaining to equine disease control. This represents a reasonable alternative to collection of GB horse location and movement data given that the NED no longer exists and there is no immediate plan to replace it.