Planning a road trip for your favorite 1,200-pound passenger? Here are 13 travel tips to get him from point A to point B safely and stress-free.
1. Make sure your horse is healthy…and carry proof of it
Before a long trip have a veterinarian assess your horse’s health to ensure he is up to the journey and to provide all the paperwork required to travel across state lines. According to the Kentucky Horse Council, you will need proof that your horse has had the proper testing and vaccinations and meets the health requirements for the state into which you are traveling. At the minimum, all states require a current negative Coggins test and certificate of veterinary inspection or health certificate within 30 days of the date of travel.
2. Consider a box stall for your horse
While horses can be shipped safely in either a standing stall or box stall, box stalls are typically the better option. A UC Davis study of horses transported 24 hours by road in a commercial van found that it takes one day (24 hours) for white blood cells to return to their normal levels for horses transported in box stalls. It takes even longer (an additional day) for horses that have been cross-tied in standing stalls during the trip.
3. Avoid dusty bedding
No matter how skilled the driver, balancing on a moving trailer for hours isn’t easy on a horse. Bedding the trailer can help reduce leg stress, finds Dr. Hannah Mueller of Cedarbrook Veterinary Care in Snohomish, Washington. Dusty bedding, however, should be avoided as it can cause respiratory problems and/or irritate your horse’s eyes, especially when used in an open stock trailer. Consider the use of a fly mask if dust might be a problem.
4. Be prepared for an emergency
No matter how well you prepare, you can never foresee all situations. It’s always a good idea to carry an equine first aid kit in case of an emergency. Be sure to store it in an easily accessible spot and to alert the driver to its location.
5. Weigh your horse
It’s normal for horses to experience some weight loss during travel, particularly over long distances. Research has shown that horses can lose up to 5% of their body weight when traveling more than 12 hours, even under cool conditions. Most healthy horses will regain that weight within three to seven days of shipping. Weighing your horse prior to travel and upon arrival can help you determine how many days he may need to recover after a long haul.
6. Plan your route
Consider both the route and time of day for travel prior to your trip. A trailer in the sun can be 20 degrees or more warmer inside than outside, which could make long waits in traffic uncomfortable for the horse. When the weather is very hot, night travel may be advantageous, as the temperature will be cooler and traffic is likely to be lighter.
7. Consider standing wraps
Standing wraps and bell boots can help protect your horse’s legs and coronary band during shipping. But, cautions UC Davis’s CEH Horse Report, they can become “a liability instead of an asset” with horses that are not already accustomed to wearing them. If you do wrap, acclimatize the horse to the bandages prior to shipping and watch for irritation and/or rubs during transit. Bandages should be changed daily.
8. Make regular rest stops
Rest stops are an important part of any road trip. The Kentucky Horse Council recommends that parking breaks take place every four hours, and last for at least 20 minutes—preferably in a shaded spot with open windows to increase airflow in the trailer. It is not recommended that horses be unloaded from the trailer, as many will be skittish with road noises in an unfamiliar setting.
For long journeys, horses should be unloaded after 12 hours of transport and stabled for at least eight hours to rehydrate and clear the respiratory tract.
9. Allow free access to hay
While you should limit or eliminate grain from your horse’s diet while traveling, free access to a horse’s regular hay is advised during transport. Pack enough hay to last the entire trip, as well as a few days in the new location. If you hang a hay net, hay bag or feeder, it should be at chest height or higher and out of hoof’s reach.
10. Keep your horse hydrated
To stay hydrated during his trip, horses should be offered water every three to six hours. The Kentucky Horse Council suggests sending a supply of your own water with your horse, as some will not drink water that tastes or smells unfamiliar. If you can’t bring enough of your own water to last the whole trip, consider acclimating your horse to flavored water in advance. Adding Kool Aid or Gatorade to your horse’s water can mask changes in water and help keep him drinking.
11. Avoid electrolytes unless necessary
UC Davis’s CEH Horse Report notes that “excessive or uncontrolled administration of electrolytes may actually have adverse effects on water and electrolyte balance in the horse.” Unless a horse has a history of dehydration or has not been drinking normally in the days leading up to and immediately before transit, administering electrolytes is not recommended prior to long journeys.
12. Prevent shipping fever
Shipping fever is a catch-all term for any viral or bacterial respiratory infection a horse may catch while traveling. Characterized by a strong cough, it can sometimes last for weeks after travel. One of the best ways to avoid shipping fever, finds Dr. Mueller, is to make sure your horse can drop his head while traveling and clear particulate matter from his respiratory tract. Since shipping fever is often triggered by stress, shipping with a second horse is advisable.
13. Give your horse time to recover
No matter how well your horse has traveled, he will need time to recouperate after a long trip before being put back to work. UC Davis’s CEH Horse Report states that a full day of rest is usually sufficient for a horse that has journeyed six to 12 hours. For longer distances (or trips by plane), the recovery period can last two to three days. Contact a veterinarian if the horse refuses feed, exhibits nasal discharge or has an elevated rectal temperature upon arrival at his destination.
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