Over the past few years, vaccines have become an increasingly hot topic all around the globe. While perhaps a rather novel subject to many, the equestrian community has its fair share of experience with all kinds of vaccinations. Equine, obviously. Some have been mandatory for many years already, while others have been imposed more recently following heart-wrenching outbreaks of viral infections at international horse shows.
Good biosecurity is crucial for everyone involved in equestrian sports. Especially given the globalization that has affected not only horse trade but also the movement of horses for international competitions. Biosecurity consists of some simple measures and protocols designed to minimize the exposure and reduce the risk of transmission. It is therefore important to strictly adhere to the health measures put in place by the national host federation or government and the FEI regulations in case of an international show. A key instrument in safeguarding the health of our horses is vaccines.
Correct Records Are Key
Before we get into mandatory vaccinations and the diverse stances on when they must be administered, it is important to be aware that a correct record in the national passport is crucial. The date, place, and country of the vaccination must be specified, as well as the sticker that stipulates the batch number of the used vial. This sticker is important, as a written batch number is deemed insufficient and may lead to disqualification or other sanctions. The veterinarian that administers the vaccine must also add his name, clinic stamp, and signature.
The FEI states that it is the responsibility of the ‘Person Responsible’ (PR) for the horse to ensure that the vaccinations are in accordance with the FEI Veterinary Regulations. Sanctions may be given by the ground jury to PRs whose horses do not comply with the FEI’s vaccination requirements, which also include correctly entering the vaccination details in the horse’s passport. PRs may be issued with a fine, ineligibility to compete, or disqualification from the event. A full list of sanctions can be found in Annex VI of the FEI Veterinary Regulations.
So, let’s first have a look at the precautions taken by European equestrian federations against the equine influenza virus. In layman’s terms, this is the horse flu, an infectious disease much more serious than its human counterpart, unfortunately. In most countries across Europe, there is currently no equine vaccination obligated under the law of their national government. However, if you want to participate in competitions, correct vaccination against Influenza is a requirement enforced by the national equestrian federations. The tricky part is that their regulations do not always follow the FEI measures to the dot.
Take, for example, the Netherlands and their Royal Dutch Equestrian Sport Federation (KNHS). KNHS’s regulations stipulate that each horse must be given two primary vaccinations – with an interval of 21 days minimum to a maximum of 92 days – and a booster shot that must be repeated every year. Horses born after January 1, 2022, must receive a third vaccination between five and seven months after the second shot. It is important to keep in mind that a horse may only participate in shows if the information in its passport can verify that:
- they have at least two primary vaccinations under their belt.
- their repeat shots were administered within 365 days.
- the most recent vaccination dates are at least seven days prior to the first day of the show.
Germany has adopted a similar approach, although they imposed three primary vaccinations and opted for slightly different intervals (28-70 days between the first and second vaccination and a maximum of six months + 21 days for the third). The most notable difference, however, is that the booster shot must be repeated twice annually, every six months + 21 days to be exact. Interestingly, the Dutch federation follows the FEI standards regarding the intervals between the first two vaccinations, while the German federation complies with the frequency of the booster shots. The FEI furthermore adds that horses that received their primary course before 2005 are exempt from the first booster requirement within seven months. Subsequent boosters are to be given at intervals of no later than one calendar year after the primary course. Other European countries tend to follow the FEI, with slight variations in intervals and often an imposed annual repeat of the booster shot instead of bi-annual.
We asked Arie Hoogendoorn, former team vet of TeamNL, who was responsible for the Dutch jumping horses for over a decade, including during the Olympic Games of London, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo, to shed some light on the vaccination policies. “Every country has its own veterinarian advisor and bases their policy on different research, hence the variations in intervals and primary vaccinations. And they have merit since research has shown that a second primary vaccination is more effective if the interval is slightly longer. The Dutch federation decided to follow the FEI rules since they believe it is simple and clear. However, their member council opted for an annual booster rather than a bi-annual booster to reduce the costs for their members. Beware that national federations are in their right to enforce their specific standards. So, if you have a horse that is vaccinated according to the rules of the Dutch federation and you want to compete at a national competition in Germany, do not only check the basics, such as the booster, but also the intervals of the primary course.”
An Overview of Different Requirements Per National Federation
At this point, you may have become slightly overwhelmed by all these different dates and intervals. To give some clarity, we have created an overview below. To our surprise, this information proved less accessible than expected, and the list of countries is therefore extensive yet not exhaustive.
Please note that the specifications for the national federations apply to their national competitions. For international competitions, the rules of the FEI must be followed.
Better safe than sorry? The formula that seems to be in compliance with all deviating regulations we have encountered so far is as follows:
- vaccine #1
- interval of 30-60 days
- vaccine #2
- interval of five months – six months + 21 days
- vaccine #3
- and finally, a booster shot within every six months + 21 days.
To enter a show, the horse must have received two primary vaccinations, the most recent one dating back 14 days before arrival at the competition. A few other practicalities to keep in mind are the difference between show date and arrival date and the period of 7/14 days after the most recent shot starts the day after the vaccine has been administered.
Equine Flu Vaccine Shortage Prompts Temporary FEI Derogation
To make matters even more complex, the FEI Board has approved a temporary exemption to the FEI Veterinary Regulations in response to the shortage of vaccines in Europe. The current scarcity is a result of the interruption in the vaccine supply of Boehringer Ingelheim, a key producer of equine influenza vaccinations. Consequently, horses are eligible to compete at FEI Events with the most recent booster taken within a period of 12 months instead of six months + 21 days. All other requirements must be fulfilled during this period. The regulations will revert to the six-month booster interval as soon as the vaccine availability is back to normal. This temporary derogation will be in effect from 1 October 2022 to 1 April 2023. Some federations follow the FEI derogation, while others, including Austria, explicitly hold on to the shorter interval.
The National Law of a Country vs. the FEI and a National Federation
“It is important to note that the national federation does not overrule the FEI during an international horse show. In other words, only the FEI regulations apply. The one exception is the national law imposed by the government of a country. Sweden has a national (federal) law that a horse that received a vaccination cannot compete until a minimum of three days have passed. And this goes for any type of shot, including vitamins, for example. The FEI must adhere to the country’s national rules during an international horse show.
Plus, an annual booster is sufficient if you are not competing. Take, for example, a few driving horses that are under my veterinary care. They only compete internationally during the indoor season. Every September, they are given the influenza vaccine, and according to the FEI rules, they may compete until March because their most recent shot was within the last six months + 21 days. The indoor season ends in March, and since those horses do not compete internationally during the outdoor season, their next shot is due in September again,” Arie Hoogendoorn explains.
Equine Herpes Virus (Rhino Virus)
In 2021, the equestrian community was startled by multiple outbreaks of the Equine Herpes Virus, or Rhino Virus, at major international shows throughout Europe. The FEI drew up a protocol and started an investigation. In 2022, the international federation shared its final report on the matter. Although not unanimous, the consensus among the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group was that there is currently insufficient scientific justification to recommend mandatory vaccination. They agreed that, as current vaccines are also ineffective against the neurological form of EHV-1 – Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) – further research is required to allow the development of improved vaccines.
The Group strongly supported owners/riders making their own decisions to vaccinate their horses. Unsurprisingly, it also sparked a lengthy discussion among the national equestrian federations. So far, however, they seem to follow the vision and course of the FEI and refrain from an obligation, except for the German equestrian federation (FN).
Germany Makes Equine Herpes Vaccination Mandatory
The Sports Advisory Board of the German FN decided to introduce a mandatory vaccination against the Equine Herpesvirus-1 for all competition horses. The FN thereby followed the recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Commission for Veterinary Medicine (StIKo Vet), which had been recommending herpes vaccinations for all horses for many years.
The regulation came into effect on the 1st of January, 2023. A horse entered in a competition must have been administered three primary vaccinations. The interval between the first and second vaccination is either 3-4 months for a live vaccine or 28-42 days for inactivated vaccines.
The German federation thus makes a clear distinction between the live and inactivated vaccines. The live vaccines produce an immune response that closely resembles natural infection, while the immune response to an inactivated vaccine (with the killed version of the germ) is mostly antibody production. The FN stresses that the same vaccine must be used for the first two vaccinations of the primary immunization. After the first two vaccinations, one may switch between live and inactivated vaccines.
That third vaccination must follow within six months + 21 days, and the repeat vaccination must be given according to the same interval. A horse may participate in competitions 14 days after the second shot and seven days after the third or a repeat vaccination. Elder horses that have been vaccinated for a long time must have been correctly vaccinated for at least the last three years (Source).
In Switzerland, only racehorses and their stable mates are required to be vaccinated against the Equine Herpes Virus. As of the 1st of January 2022, horses active in this discipline must be administered three primary vaccinations, intervals being 21-60 days and 120-180 days, respectively. The follow-up booster shots need to be repeated every 365 days, and participation at events is possible eight days after the most recent, but at minimum second, vaccination (Source).
Unfortunately, the Rhino Virus recently flared up again at several international horse shows popular among riders from all over Europe. Despite the topic becoming more relevant again, Arie Hoogendoorn does not believe the FEI will change its approach on Equine Herpes vaccinations any time soon: “The FEI is the international governing body of equestrian sport among many countries all over the globe. However, the Equine Herpes Virus has primarily emerged in Europe and is not as relevant in other continents. Plus, there are issues with the supply of the vaccine. You cannot make a vaccine mandatory if it is not sufficiently available.”
Although the frequency and severity of outbreaks of the Equine Herpes Virus does indeed differ across the globe, the FEI states that the virus is found in many parts of the world and that cases can be seen at any time of the year. Exactly one year ago, an ongoing EHV-1 outbreak in the California region compelled the United States Equestrian Federation to cancel several shows, including the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup qualifier of San Juan Capistrano that was set for May that year. The FEI often refers to their fact sheet about the Equine Herpes Virus for more information on the disease.
Although vaccination against Tetanus is not mandatory under FEI or national federation rules, it is highly recommended on nearly every federation’s website. Luckily, most influenza vaccinations also contain the tetanus vaccine combined in a single injection, a cocktail so to say. Additionally, some federations furthermore advise vaccines that protect against infectious diseases that may be prevalent in their environment, such as the West Nile Virus or the above-mentioned rhino virus. Keep in mind that although the choice to vaccinate is up to the owner /caretaker of the horse, it is mandatory under FEI regulations to record all vaccines in the horse’s passport.
Please note this information may become outdated quickly. Regulations are ever-changing and federations may update or revise their policies. We recommend contacting the respective federation when you have in-depth questions or visiting their website for up-to-date information.
Overview of Influenza Vaccinations
|Country||Primary course**||Repeat vaccinations||Participation permitted if|
|FEI SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 7 months after the second vaccination. Exemption of third vaccination for horses born before 2005, provided that they were vaccinated according to the previous regulation and have had their annual boosters and most recent booster less than 6 months + 21 days prior.||Within 6 months + 21 days *||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations, period between last vaccination and arrival at an event must be 7 days minimum.|
|Netherlands (KNHS) SOURCE||2, with an interval of 21 to 92 days. For horses born after January 1st, 2022 a third primary vaccination is required with an interval of 5-7 months after the second vaccination.||Annually, within 365 days||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations. 7 days after most recent vaccination.|
|Germany (FN) SOURCE||3, with a first interval of 28 to 70 days between the first two vaccinations and an interval between the second and third vaccination of max 6 months + 21 days.||Within 6 months + 21 days||14 days after second base vaccination or 7 days after third/repeat vaccination.|
|Belgium (KBRSF) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 7 months after the second vaccination. Exemption of third vaccination if the two primary vaccinations were administered before January 1st, 2016.||Within 6 months + 21 days *||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations, period between last vaccination and arrival at an event must be 7 days minimum.|
|France (FFE) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 6 months + 21 days after the second vaccination. Exemption of third primary vaccination for horses born before 2005, provided that they were vaccinated according to the previous regulation and have had their annual boosters.||Annually, within 365 days||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations, period between last vaccination and arrival at an event must be 7 days minimum.|
|Spain (RHFE) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 7 months after the second vaccination. Exemption of third vaccination for horses born before 2005, provided that they were vaccinated according to the previous regulation and have had their annual boosters and most recent booster less than 6 months + 21 days prior.||Within 6 months + 21 days*||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations, period between last vaccination and arrival at an event must be 7 days minimum.*In rare cases, regional or local events may require additional vaccinations against the equine herpes or west nile virus.|
|Great Britain (BEF) SOURCE / SOURCE Ireland(SJI) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow 150-215 days after the second injection||Differs per discipline, in general within 6 months + 21 days*||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations, period between last vaccination and arrival at an event must be 7 days minimum.|
NB: in the UK these regulations differ amongst the various bodies (dressage, jumping, etc.). Contact the specific governing body to which standard (Gold-Bronze) of the BEF they adhere to.
|Portugal(FEP) SOURCE||2, with an interval of 30 to 90 days between.||Within 6 months + 21 days||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations. 7 days after most recent vaccination.|
|Denmark(DRF) SOURCE Switzerland (FNCH) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 7 months after the second vaccination.||Annually, within 365 days||Minimum 2 primary vaccinations. 7 days after most recent vaccination.|
|Austria (OEPS) SOURCE||3, with an interval of 21 to 92 days between the first two vaccinations. The third vaccination must follow within 6 months +21 DAYS after the second vaccination. Exemption of third vaccination for horses born before 2005, provided that they were vaccinated according to the previous regulation and have had their annual boosters and most recent booster less than 6 months + 21 days prior.||Within 6 months + 21 days|
*Due to a temporary derogation to the FEI rules, the booster interval was extended to ‘within 12 months’ (SOURCE). National federations marked with an asterisk have announced to adopt this temporary exemption.
**Federations do not all employ the same definition of the primary course and for example regard a third primary vaccination as a ‘first booster’. We consider any booster that differs in interval from the (bi-)annual repeat vaccination a part of the primary course.
During my time at business university, I started working as a freelance equestrian journalist. Nowadays, I jokingly refer to it as my impassioned side quest which has grown from writing articles to organising auctions, being a press officer at major shows, providing livestream commentary, and more.
I currently run my own business consultancy company, and my father and I founded a small stud farm called Eickenrode Sporthorses. A life without horses has become unimaginable and, in my book, true happiness is described as a foal frolicking in a sunny, lush pasture.
When learning of the HorseGrooms initiative, I immediately loved the idea of connecting similarly minded people from all over the globe. Some questions are not asked or answered elsewhere. So why not build a platform to share these thoughts, ideas, and information!