A highly contagious horse disease has broken out at a farm, writes Jennifer Mulcahey.

Members of the public are forbidden from walking along a footpath leading up to Hobby Farm, Whitchurch Canonicorum, due to an outbreak of horse strangles.

The disease is a highly contagious, bacterial, respiratory infection and the livery yard has been closed while it is brought under control.

Hobby Farm’s Gaby Reeves said the experience has been ‘absolutely horrific’, with the disease spreading to 12 horses in a matter of days.

“It started with one horse with a runny nose and a high temperature,” she said. “We got the vet out straight away and now 12 of them have it. We’ve had to put them in isolation and keep them away from the others so it doesn’t spread further.”

Asked about how common the disease is, Gaby said: “It’s a very unfortunate thing to get. We never thought we would have to say we have it. But now that we have mentioned it to other people, we’ve heard a lot of people have had it.”

The infection is spread between horses by direct contact or indirectly through equipment or people. It can be picked up in water troughs and can be transferred by clothing.

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It means Dorset Council has issued a temporary closure of part of the public footpath alongside the farm.

The notice has been issued to comply with the Animal Health Act 1981, which prohibits the movement of people and animals through an infected area.

Anyone caught using the footpath faces a fine of up to £1,000.

The notice was issued earlier this month and is in place until January 29.

“You have to be very, very careful,” said Gaby. “We’ve been deep cleaning everything constantly as we don’t want the other horses to catch anything. It’s very important we don’t let anything leave this yard and that we keep in contained.”

Hobby Farm had planned on opening a riding school this year but this will now have to be postponed to ensure the infection has been eradicated.

“This has had such an effect on us,” she said. “Emotionally and financially.”