Given the choice between driving across the country stuffed into a Mini Cooper or sprawled out in an RV, the overwhelming majority of people would choose the latter. Why should it be any different for your horses?
Box stalls are not only a more comfortable way for horses to travel, they offer a variety of scientifically proven health benefits over standing stalls for long distance hauling.
Central among these is the absence of cross ties.
Elevating a horse’s head for long periods of time, as occurs when a horse is tied in a trailer, is shown to decrease the clearance rate of bacteria from the respiratory tract. This, in turn, compromises the immune system and may predispose a horse to respiratory disorders, such as pneumonia and shipping fever.
Traveling loose in a box stall, by comparison, allows horses to lower their heads to the floor and clear dust and pathogens from their airways, thus reducing the risk of aspirating bacteria.
Cross ties are also shown to contribute to stress during a transport.
A study by UC Davis found that cross tied horses had a larger increase in specific stress parameters 24 hours following transport than horses travelling loose. In particular, serum cortisol, a steroid released during stressful situations, was greater in the cross-tied horses. The neutrolphil:lymphocyte (N:L) ratio was substantially higher in the cross-tied horses as well, an indicator that has been associated with respiratory disease in horses following long-term road transport.
Finally, horses shipped in box stalls recover more quickly following transport. Extra long hauls (24 hours or more) have been shown to cause elevated white blood cell counts. For horses shipped in box stalls, it takes 24 hours for those levels to return to normal for horses. That time period doubles for horses cross-tied during the trip.
In light of this research, Dr. Carolyn Stull of UC Davis recommends small box stalls over cross-tying during long-distance road transport.
“If you have to use cross ties or a trailer design that keeps horses’ heads elevated, unload every 6 to 8 hours to let them move around, graze and rest,” Dr. Stull advised in CEH Horse Report.
“[If you use a commercial carrier to ship a horse across the country] pay the extra amount to get a box stall. It will be worth it when your horse arrives less stressed and ready to compete.”
Box stalls: common sense backed by science.