Yes, Social Distancing Extends To The Barn, Too

Mar 26, 2020 - 7:57 AM

Hi again! Sadly, we’re not all laughing together that the concern about COVID-19 was overblown. Instead, we are all, hopefully, practicing “social distancing” to prevent this nasty little virus from overwhelming our health care system.

First, you should grieve about this. It sucks. Some of you spent all winter getting ready for a big show this spring. It’s normal for you to grieve that loss. For the sake of all of us, however, I hope you’re beyond the denial stage of grief because we need people to understand how dangerous this is and stay away from other people.

In Italy, doctors are having to decide who can and who cannot have a ventilator. Because there are not enough, people are being left to die. So, please get past denial. Unfortunately, according to the Kübler-Ross model, that still leaves us to ping around between anger, bargaining and depression before reaching acceptance. Recognize that this is normal. Take deep breaths. Practice self-care. If you find yourself really struggling, reach out for some virtual time with a cognitive behavioral therapist, which research has proven to be helpful.

Needing help doesn’t make you weak because, face it, we’re all screwed up. Spending lots of time with our nearest and dearest is fabulous and exasperating at the same time. After all, the definition of a dysfunctional family is a family with more than one member.

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have your own farm, getting equine time is just a matter of walking out the front door. For many of you, however, your horse is boarded at someone else’s barn, which can bring up several issues. My husband says that horses are like a drug addiction: They’re dangerous and expensive, but, sadly, no Horses Anonymous exists for those of us who have that pesky horse gene activated. I did a sports medicine rotation when I was a pediatric resident with an orthopedic surgeon who cared for all kinds of Olympic and professional athletes. He told me that riders were the hardest to get to take time off. I get it. Horses make us stupid, but you can’t ride if you’re dead.

The safest thing to do is to stay home. Find one of the many videos that teach core strengthening. Do Pilates. Go for a run. You can stay fit for riding without getting on a horse. Use the time to read about your sport. Jim Wofford has published a great winter reading list to work your brain when you can’t work your horse. Watch your old riding videos to see what you can fine-tune. If you can’t get to a lesson, pay your coach to go over an old video with you by phone. You’ll help support a professional and learn a ton.

Missing your barn buddies? Several apps exist that let people watch videos together. Get your horse buds together virtually and watch “The Man From Snowy River” or one of the other great horse movies out there. (If you figure out how those movie horses stay so clean, ahem Hidalgo, please let me know. My farm is on red dirt.)

Though this virus is mainly spread by people who are sick, it’s been reported to be transmitted before someone has symptoms or when they have mild symptoms, so please stay home even if you’re well. If you have symptoms of coronavirus (cold and flu-type symptoms), absolutely do NOT go out except to get medical care. You could kill someone if you have the novel coronavirus and pass it on. Follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines (see below) for isolation, including separating yourself from other people in your household. Although no reports of transmission from infected humans to animals have been verified, the CDC is still recommending limiting contact with pets and other animals if you have COVID-19 until more is known. Per the CDC: “When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick with COVID-19. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.”

If you are well and must go out, be as safe as possible. All 50 states have reported cases of COVID-19 to the CDC. We are in the “community spread” phase, which means that people are testing positive who are not sure how or where they became infected. Treat your home like a sterile space, i.e. make sure nothing comes into it (yourself included) that has not been thoroughly disinfected. Think about other people as horses in a warm-up arena with red ribbons tied to their tails and stay a horse length away. (An average horse from nose to tail is approximately 8 feet, so you will be in good shape.) While COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from the respiratory droplets of an infected person who coughs or sneezes, it may also be possible to get it by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose or possibly even eyes. If you go out, clean and disinfect surfaces (tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, cellphones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks) thoroughly before and after use.

Recent modeling done by Ferguson et al on behalf of the Imperial College of London COVID-19 Response Team showed that, with no changes, we can expect 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. To prevent our medical system from being overwhelmed while a vaccine is developed, their model predicted that “epidemic suppression” with social distancing of the entire population “is the only viable strategy at the current time.” The earlier we practice suppression in this epidemic, the fewer people die.

So, can you go to your community barn? That is up to you. (Unless you are somewhere with a lockdown order, in which case, no you cannot). You could stay 6 feet away from everyone, wear gloves, a mask and goggles (keeping in mind that hospitals are already running low on supplies) while making sure not to touch your nose, eyes or mouth for the entire time you are out and squirting everything you see with disinfectant and washing your hands frequently and correctly so that you can ride. Or, you could take some time off while we see where this thing is going. You might just save some lives.

CDC Resources:

CDC info page

CDC on how to protect yourself

CDC on what to do if you are sick

CDC information on animals

To disinfect:
Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.

Options include:

- Diluting your household bleach.
To make a bleach solution, mix: 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.

- Alcohol solutions.
Ensure the solution has at least 70% alcohol.

- Other common EPA-registered household disinfectants.
Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).


Adrienne Classen, MD, is a pediatrician specializing in the care of children with chronic illness, medical fragility, school and mental health needs. The pediatric practice she started and ran for 13 years was named by the American Academy of Pediatrics as an Innovative and Promising Practice in Pediatric Medical Home Implementation. She and her husband Dale live on their farm in Thurmond, North Carolina, where they breed horses for upper-level three-day eventing. Before her practice became too busy, Adrienne evented through the  CCI3*-L level.

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