Springtime has arrived and flowers are beginning to bloom! For many of us, the dawn of spring signals the start of that time of the year that we hit the trails with our horses. Often this entails making trips to state parks and other locations where the best trails are to be found. Whether or not your horse is a seasoned traveler, or a rookie having her first experience being loaded into a trailer, it is a stressful time for her. Here are some tips and tricks to make it easier on your horse when you do head down the road.
Foresight means better preparation. Being aware of the stresses that your horse will experience while being transported will make it easier to minimize its impact, and ensure that your horse arrives at the destination in good condition.
According to RWST it’s important to ensure the horsebox is insured before you take the horses out. Unfortunately, issues occur so insurance is a necessary if travelling with horses.
Fatigue is the enemy of good health. Are you aware the muscle fatigue and stress during transport are virtually identical to those experienced from exercise? It’s true! Take precautions to prevent an avoidable injury, particularly on longer trips. If you plan to travel further than 12 hours, overnight stops are essential. Schedule your trip to have you arriving a minimum of 48 hours prior to any ride or competition to allow a proper cool down period for your horse.
It is common for horses to become dehydrated during transportation because they are contained in a small space with little air circulation and no access to water. Minimize this by making frequent rest stops and offer your horse some water to drink at each one. Providing a quality electrolyte will help as well. It’ll help her recover her energy levels expended during the trip. Experienced horsemen recommend supplementing electrolytes for three days prior to the trip.
Most trailers have facilities that allow for free access to hay. If yours doesn’t, consider buying a tie-on hay bag to mount in your horse’s stall. Having free access to hay gives your horse something to do while traveling, and helps to keep her stress levels lower. It also is useful for retaining water in the gut. If your trailer is of the stock type that allows air to blow freely inside, wet the hay first to help control dust. Do not feed grain while traveling as it can lead to laminitis or colic.
Good ventilation is essential to prevent pathogens from dried manure overwhelming your horse’s respiratory system. Clean the trailer before and after every trip. Open windows, if possible, to allow more airflow. If your trailer is equipped with an exhaust fan, make sure it is working properly prior to the trip.
Consider your horse your passenger. Driving slowly and steadily is far less stressing on your horse than driving at high speed down a curvy road.
Use high quality probiotics to supplement your horse’s diet. Travel stress can tax a horse’s gastrointestinal tract, leading to an unbalance of bacteria in your horses gut.
Whenever possible leave horses untied for shorter trips and tied on longer ones. Leaving your horse untied will allow her to lower her head below the shoulder, which lessens the risk of respiratory distress and allows mucus to drain more efficiently. Use common sense. If your horse is one that is likely to fight with other horses, the risk of injury is greater by leaving her untied.
Loading is the most stressful part of traveling with horses, particularly the first time out. Horses are nervous and even a well-trained horse can be difficult to convince to load. Familiarize yourself with the loading process prior to the scheduled trip, and practice with your horse. There is no worse feeling than to cancel a trip because your horse injures herself as you were preparing to leave.
Talk to your veterinarian about how to monitor your horse’s vital signs if you don’t already know how. Knowing how to monitor your horse’s vitals will enable you to respond much more quickly if something happens. You’ll also be able to communicate with your veterinarian much more clearly if you can describe what is happening.
Be prepared for emergencies. Keep an emergency kit in your trailer so that you always have it close at hand. Learn how to provide basic first aid, and learn to recognize the signs of colic and dehydration. Carry extra feed and water just in case your trip takes longer than planned.
By taking these precautions you can ensure that your trip with your horse is an uneventful one. So get prepared, schedule a ride with some of your riding buddies, and enjoy the spring weather before it gets too hot!