Basic Precautions for Transporting a Safe and Healthy Horse on Short or Long Trips

From "The Hawkins Guide: Equine Emergencies on the Road"
by James Hamilton, DVM and Neva Kittrell Scheve

Each time a horse enters a trailer he is at risk. He may receive minor bumps and bruises just from being loaded onto the trailer. He may injure himself during the trip because he becomes frightened or loses balance. Illness or a trailer accident can create a life threatening situation.

Anytime the horse is loaded into a trailer, whether for a short or long trip, these fundamental measures should be taken:

TRAINING. The best defense against injury and illness is good training. Train your horse to load calmly and to accept the trailer as non-threatening. Forceful training will only teach your horse that the trailer is a bad thing and he will never be able to completely trust it.

MAKE SURE YOUR TRAILER IS SAFE. Once your horse has been trained to trust you and the trailer, don't let him down. Only use the proper hitch, make sure your brakes and lights are working and that they conform to legal safety standards. Check the trailer floor and frame. Check for sharp edges and potential hazards inside and out.

DRIVE CAREFULLY. Remember that you have live cargo in the trailer and drive accordingly. Don't jostle your horse around. Turn corners carefully and give the horse warning by GENTLY braking a few times before you are going to make a turn. Accelerate and decelerate slowly so he can keep his balance.

INNOCULATIONS. Current inoculations will protect your horse from exposure to other horses. Have a current health certificate if you are crossing state lines and a current certificate of negative EIA (Coggins)

WRAP ALL FOUR LEGS. Just walking onto the trailer can result in injury if the horse scrapes against something, so wrap his legs every time your horse gets on the trailer. Commercial shipping wraps are easy to put on and can guard against a costly vet bill. Properly applied standing bandages give more support if the trailer is bumpy or the trip is long. The pastern and coronet band should be covered. Make sure you know how to wrap correctly because a bad wrap can cause injury or come undone in the trailer. (Note: Some people believe that they should not wrap a horse's legs because commercial shipping companies to not allow the horses to be wrapped for shipping and they believe the shipping company has a reason for it. They do have a reason - the shippers do not want to be held responsible for a wrap that comes undone, or a wrap that is improperly applied and causes injury, not because it is best for the horse.)

VENTILATION. Horses are very sensitive to dust and noxious gasses; i.e., ammonia from urine and manure. Open the vents and windows. If you are afraid he will get cold, put a blanket on him that is appropriate for the temperature. Do not let him get too hot. An overheated horse is susceptible to illness such as dehydration which can lead to heat exhaustion and/or colic.

CARRY AN EMERGENCY FIRST AID KIT. Keep it in your trailer and make sure it is always ready and up to date. Include a splint and know how to use it. (For more information, read "Emergency First Aid Kit")

LEARN PROPER FIRST AID OF TECHNIQUES. Learn how to bandage wounds in various locations, control blood loss, and learn to recognize signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and colic. Your own veterinarian is your best source of information.

LEARN TO MONITOR VITAL SIGNS IN THE HORSE. Practice taking his temperature, pulse, and respiration rate when you are both relaxed at home so you know what is normal. If your horse is sick or hurt, you can give the veterinarian the current vital signs when you call. This will help him/her assess the situation and give you good advice on the phone.

CARRY BACKUP SUPPLIES APPROPRIATE TO THE LENGTH OF THE TRIP. Water (At least 20 gallons, not only for drinking, but for cleaning wounds, or sponge bathing an overheating horse), plenty of hay and grain, blankets, etc. Having an auxiliary light that plugs into the cigarette lighter and a backup flashlight with working batteries on board is a good idea. Keep in mind that your trip may be longer than planned due to unforeseen circumstances. You may have a mechanical breakdown, get caught in a traffic jam, or you may simply get lost! (For more information, read "Don't Go on the Road Without it - Emergency check list")

CARRY MEDICAL ID. You should always carry durable, visible, medical ID that lists your doctor, your veterinarian, and a contact person. If you are incapacitated in an accident, it can be important to contact someone who knows you and your horses.

For long trips (12 hours or more), you may want to take more specific precautions.
Get to know your horse. His age, condition, temperament, and environmental factors may change the 12 hour rule for taking aggressive precautions to a 6 or 8 hour rule. If, for instance, your horse will not drink water on the trailer you may have to schedule stops along the way where you can SAFELY take him off the trailer for a rest and a drink.

The following are guidelines, not absolutes. Use them as a starting point for a discussion between you and your veterinarian. Your best source of advice is your own vet. Develop a good relationship with him/her.

ELECTROLYTES. Increase 2 to 3 days prior to shipping. This is most important when traveling in warm regions. Some horses may not drink if electrolytes and mineral supplements are added to the water. Adding them to the feed or using a paste formula is a better plan since anything to discourage water consumption is obviously detrimental to the traveling animal. Follow directions on your particular product label for amounts.

BRAN MASH. Once a day for 2-3 days prior to shipping.

VITAMINS. Add extra for a week prior to shipping.

MINERAL OIL. One pint per day may either be added to feed along with bran mash for four days prior, OR given by a veterinarian via stomach tube the day of shipping 4-6 hours before departure. There are differing professional opinions about this, so discuss this with your veterinarian.

ANTIBIOTICS. When the trip will be over 12 hours, discuss the administration of antibiotics with your veterinarian.

BODY CLIP. When taking your horse from a cold climate to a warm one, a body clip is recommended. However, since clipping is a source of stress for the horse, do it at least a week before departure, and if it's cold, blanket him.

BLANKET. The need for a blanket will depend on the temperature en route. You may need to add or remove it along the way. Do not completely close up the trailer to keep the horse warm, especially if the trailer is insulated. Some vents and/or windows should remain open for ventilation.

For more detailed information about safe trailering consult The Hawkins Guide: Equine Emergencies on the Road by James Hamilton, DVM and Neva Kittrell Scheve, available from the Equispirit Horse Trailer Company.

This horse trailer safety article is provided by EquiSpirit Horse Trailers.
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