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Guest Opinions

Guidelines for Horse Transportation

Written by Amy McLean

By Amy K. McLean, UW Extension Equine Specialist

There are many factors that can affect the welfare of our horses when they’re transported. It has been reported that horses that go on one to six trips a year have a higher incidence of colic compared to horses that travel more than six trips a year.

Things that can create stress in your horse during transportation include extent of social isolation, travel duration, hydration status, ventilation and air quality, temperature and humidity, previous transport experience, means of restraint and the horse’s temperament. It’s important to keep both you and your horse(s) safe during transportation.  

Precautions should be made prior to hauling, such as checking the floor, brakes and lights on the trailer. The rig should be in good operating condition before putting you or your horse at risk. One should also consider checking for insects, especially if the trailer is not used on a regular basis. Trailers can make excellent habitats for stinging insects to build nests. By being prepared and checking your rig prior to traveling, you can help reduce the stress of your horse being hauled.

During a haul it’s not unusual for horses to show an increase in white blood cells, weight loss, dehydration and changes in body temperature. These physiological changes in the horse’s body during traveling can cause a decrease in your horse’s immune response. Often times the horse’s heart rate will also be increased while the trailer is moving.

To decrease stresses in your horse, consider offering your horse a hay bag/net and having your horse travel with a companion. For long hauls that are six to eight hours long, consider rest stops. Many state parks, or even county fairgrounds, have areas where you can unload your horse and let him stretch. This is also a good time to offer water to your horse. Depending on the weather, some may choose to supply water during hauling, too, but keep in mind that, if the water spills, it could compromise the horse’s footing in the trailer. You can also offer your horse electrolytes to encourage him to drink, but keep in mind you may need to offer twice as much water because of the substance higher in salt.

Other things to think about when hauling include adding a flavor to your horse’s water to encourage him to drink. Typically, horses prefer sweet tastes to bitter or citrus tastes. Also, consider bringing enough hay so if you do have to buy and change to new hay you can do so gradually.  

Other things to consider when hauling include protective gear for your horse. Most hauling injuries occur during the deceleration period and happen to the lower limb. Ideally, you want to make him as comfortable as possible and safe as possible.     

Many people may choose to wrap legs or use shipping boots. These items are helpful in keeping a horse’s lower legs safe during hauling if they are used appropriately. Loose standing wraps can actually create more harm by coming unwrapped, or allowing bedding to irritate the horse’s leg, versus no wrap if they are not properly placed and wrapped on the horse’s leg. The same is true for shipping boots. Make sure the boots fit your horse and stay in place.
In regard to hauling with blankets and sheets, consider the weather and how much ventilation your trailer offers. Tightly enclosed trailers generally stay warm from the body heat of the horses, so consider possibly a medium weight or light blanket versus their winter turnout blanket. In trailers with more ventilation, such as stock type trailers, consider a heavier blanket if hauling in the winter.

If you happen to transport your horse by air, follow the same guidelines you would follow for preparing your horse to travel by truck. Many horses are flown today and generally experience the same stress as horses being hauled in trailers. During take off and landing an increase in heart rate will be seen, and an increase in body temperature will often be noted. Horses flying for nine hours may take up to seven days to return to normal pre-flight ranges for both heart rate and temperature.