Whether you’re heading to an endurance ride or a vacation cabin in the mountains, the following travel tips will ensure a safer, calmer and healthier journey for everyone.
- Consider using a stock-type trailer. The design allows for better air ventilation and circulation which helps keep the temperature comfortable and promotes dissipation of urine and manure fumes. It also permits the horse to find his preferred riding position and allows him to look at his surroundings.
- If possible, don’t tie your horse. This enables him to find his balance more easily and lets him put his head down to blow out his nose, helping to clear foreign matter and reducing the chances of respiratory problems, including shipping fever. Not tying also reduces stress; many horses that kick and pull back in the trailer often stop if not tied.
- Avoid using front hay mangers as the horse has no choice but to have his face stuck in this area, inhaling dirt and hay pieces as well as getting debris in his eyes. If you must use this type of trailer, moisten the hay and use a fly mask.
- Be careful about using shipping boots or wraps. They can negatively affect the horse’s circulatory system, especially during longer hauls. Due to lack of movement, the blood pools in the lower leg and causes swelling. Because the wraps or boots were placed on the horse prior to this swelling, unnatural pressure is placed on this area.
- Provide rest stops of 20 to 30 minutes for every four to five hours of travel. If your horse is comfortable with loading/unloading and the area is safe, unload and slowly walk him to help loosen up tight muscles. If the area is unsafe or the horse gets stressed during loading/unloading, just stopping is beneficial. Offer moistened hay and fresh water.
- Try to limit driving to no more than 12 hours a day. The incidence of shipping fever increases after that period.
Support Your Horse
- Don’t start the trip by forcing your horse into the trailer. Take whatever time is necessary to work her past any fears prior to leaving. Forcing her not only makes it stressful for both of you, but will also guarantee a harder loading next time.
- Offer moistened free-choice grass hay. It helps reduce stress and keeps the gut moving.
- Start extra nutritional support a week ahead of the trip, and continue a week after: Provide a good probiotic product to support gut health. Vitamin C powder (2 to 3 teaspoons per day) boosts the immune system. Loose white salt, preferably sea salt (3 to 4 tablespoons per day) promotes hydration. Dried garlic flakes (1 to 2 tablespoons per day) provide anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Dried chamomile flowers (a small handful per day) can help soothe the gut and nerves.
- Promote hydration. Most horses drink less during travel, whether due to stress, different taste or less availability. Dehydration can lead to serious health issues such as colic, so be sure to offer water, preferably brought from home, at each rest stop.
- Consider alternative therapies. Bach Rescue Remedy is well known for its ability to calm animals and humans, and is easy to use. Essential oils such as lavender, patchouli or white angelica can be mixed in a water spray bottle and misted in the trailer to create a calming effect. Plan and prepare
REMEMBER: To entice horses to drink more, add a small quantity of unsweetened apple juice or a tablespoon of molasses to 11 pints of water. Start a week prior to leaving so they become accustomed to the special taste.
- Study your travel route ahead of time and familiarize yourself with alternative routes just in case.
- If crossing state lines, know that state’s paperwork requirements. Most call for a health certificate issued by a vet and dated within 30 days, a negative Coggins test (equine infectious anemia) and an ownership certificate or brand inspection if applicable. Bring a couple of good quality photos showing you with your horse at home.
- Reserve overnight stabling ahead of time. For listings, check out www.horsetrip.com, www.overnightstabling.com or www.horsemotel.com.
- Conduct a trailer and truck maintenance inspection. According to USRider, the leading cause of trailer wrecks is lack of proper maintenance. Visit www.USRider.org for a complete trailer checklist and road emergency kit.
- Put together an equine emergency kit that includes extra halters, leads, buckets, water and hay. Include a basic first aid kit, available commercially or listed at www.USRider.org.
Finally, don’t forget yourself. You need to be at the peak of your performance, so ensure you are getting adequate sleep, water and food. Keeping these simple travel tips in mind will leave you and your equine partner free to enjoy the journey, and the destination.