Competition season is upon us which means transporting your horses long distances to shows. As tough as trailering can be on horses, there are a few things you can do to make their time in the little box more enjoyable.
Wrapping your horse for travel can be a good way to protect his or her legs in the trailer. Shipping boots and standing wraps are two ways to do that, as long as they are used properly. You should make sure that the shipping boots fit your horse well, since they tend to not be available in sizes as variable as standing wraps. Standing wraps need to be done properly, otherwise they may do more harm than good. When wrapping, start at the front of the cannon bone and wrap towards the back of the horse, making sure all layers lie flat against the leg so that no pressure points are created. It’s important to wrap tightly enough so that they don’t slide down, but not too tight as this can cut off blood supply and damage the tendons. You should be able to fit 1-2 fingers inside the wrap. Using thick enough padding under your standing wraps is key to insuring correct wrap tension as this allows you to put enough tension on the wrap while at the same time not transferring excessive tension to the leg.
If you are trailering when it’s hot out, you should be aware that using shipping boots and wraps will hold in heat around your horse’s legs, which can be bad for tendons. Heat can increase swelling and fatigue of tendons, raising risk of injury. The decision to use either can sometimes be a calculated risk assessment. Bell boots can be used with standing wraps or alone but again may rub on long journeys especially in warm weather.
Trailering is quite stressful on a horse’s body. Their muscles are constantly working to maintain balance for the duration of the trip, causing them to lose a fair amount of sweat and become dehydrated. We tend to not notice this as air movement in the trailer, especially if the windows are open, provide a breeze to dry their sweat. Dehydration and electrolyte loss from sweating can also cause fatigue, decreased function of nerves and muscles, alkalosis, and more. This can greatly affect performance, so if you’re travelling to a competition this may be especially important. In order to avoid dehydration from hauling, preventative measures should be taken in the days leading up to the trip. Electrolytes can be given in addition to daily salt either via grain or mixed in their water, in order to encourage your horse to drink more water and stay hydrated. Starting your trip with a well-hydrated horse will make a difference! Make sure your electrolytes are at least 60% salt, as sodium is the most important part of restoring ion balance. After trailering, be sure to offer your horse plenty of water and give more electrolytes if they aren’t interested in drinking. Always make sure that your horse has access to plain water if placing electrolytes in drinking water.
Air quality and tying your horse
Another very important consideration while trailering is your horse’s ability to breathe on the road. Firstly, if you like to provide your horse with hay on the road, consider the type and placement of your feeder. Nets are widely used as a way to keep horses busy on long hauls and have a few pros and cons. They act as slow feeders to keep a low, steady state of feed in your horse’s digestive tract thus aiding in ulcer prevention. Other alternatives like mesh corner feeders or hay bags with a small, netted opening are other options. It is important to alter these based on the height of your horse. Do not make them too low otherwise they may hang a hoof on them. Also try to avoid hanging them in such a way that the horse has no opportunity to move his head away from them. Having hay in the trailer can be a major source of dust and may cause breathing issues. This is especially true if your horse has to breath into the hay for the entire ride.
Research also illuminates interesting points about tying your horse while trailering. Untied horses choose to travel down the road hind-end first—essentially “backwards” of traditional practice. The “rear-facing horses have fewer… total impacts [with the trailer walls] and losses of balance” than those that are tied (Clark et al 1993). It is recommended that you practice this on a case-by-case basis. This method works in a stock trailer, box stall, or slant trailer with the dividers removed. Additionally, a study conducted by Stull and Rodiek 2010 found multiple compatible horses can safely travel untied, but practice this on a case-by-case basis.
Stull and Rodiek also found the levels of white blood cells and cortisol were higher in tied horses than untied horses. The number of white blood cells (often used as indicator of infection) during recovery were three times greater in tied horses than untied. This confirms the findings of many other studies linking elevated head posture to an increased number of tracheal bacteria. Horses need to lower their head for tracheal secretions to flush the area and prevent bacteria build up. Failure to do so can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory problems. If your horse frequently experiences respiratory issues after travel, you may consider loosening the lead rope (if safety permits), traveling with your horse untied, or making stops to let your horse drop his head.
Whether you are trailering for a show or a weekend trail ride, lessening the stress your horse experiences while on the road makes the trip more enjoyable for all. It is especially important to consider these tips before embarking on long hauls where horses undergo extended periods of stress and fatigue. Always hydrate and offer electrolytes post-travel. It is important to walk your horse to let them stretch their legs and assess soundness as well as to get the gastrointestinal tract moving. Happy travels!
Clark, Diana K., Ted H. Friend, and Gisela Dellmeier. "The Effect of Orientation during Trailer Transport on Heart Rate, Cortisol and Balance in Horses." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 38.3-4 (1993): 179-89. Web.
Stull, C. L., and A. V. Rodiek. "Effects of Cross-tying Horses during 24 H of Road Transport." Equine Veterinary Journal34.6 (2010): 550-55. Web.
Gross, W.B. and Seigel, H.S. (1983) Evaluation of the heterophil/lymphocyte ratio as a measure of stress in chickens. Avian Dis. 27, 972-979.