Travelling Your Horse - Saddlery Direct

Travelling Your Horse

Travelling Your Horse - Saddlery Direct

Like people, horses are travelling more and more.

This may involve trundling down the road in a trailer to their local show or being whizzed fur- ther a field in a  horse  truck,  not  to

mention the increasing number that are now flown all over the world.

Whether you're competing, holidaying or transporting your horse for breeding, keeping your horse safe and comfortable while travelling is paramount.

As far as a horse is concerned, it makes little difference whether they are being transported in by air or by road, or for that matter within a box on a boat. What matters is that the journey is smooth and there are no long delays and preparation is the key.


Many horses have been familiarized with transport from a young age. Even many that have never been transported before will often readily allow themselves to be loaded and confined in a transport vehicle. A small minority of horses could be difficult to handle during transport. Tranquilization by a veterinarian might facilitate loading and assist with the safe handling of the horse during transport. However, the medication can interfere with temperature regulation so should be done with caution.


Unless a horse has a history of dehydration, excessive or uncontrolled administration of electrolytes could actually have adverse effects on water and electrolyte balance in the horse. Check that a horse that is to be transported has been drinking normally in the days leading up to transport, and especially immediately before transport. The pre-travel administration of oral or intravenous fluids is not usually recommended unless the horse has a history of developing dehydration during travel.


It is normal for a horse to lose weight during transport. The amount of weight lost can range from 0.45 to 0.55% of total body weight per hour of transport. This weight loss might reflect reduced dietary intake during travel, dehydration, manure and urine excretion, and sweating. Weight loss in transit tends to be regained a short period of time in horses.

It is recommended that horses be weighed before travel to establish a baseline for comparison with weight status on arrival and in the recovery period.


One of the fundamental rules of transport is "sick horse on, sicker horse when getting off." The importance of avoiding the shipment of horses that are even slightly sick (other than for transport to a hospital or clinic) cannot be over- emphasized. This is especially true for horses with respiratory illness. Horses with fever or nasal discharge and those with a history of respiratory disease.


Unnecessary medication should be avoided, especially before travel. Adverse reactions are always a possibility with any therapeutic substance. Tranquilizers should be administered only by a veterinarian and are not recommended unless necessary.


Prior to departure, the transport vehicle should be carefully inspected to be sure that it is safe and road-worthy. Special attention to competency of flooring should be paid in all trailers. Ensure that:

  • All lights are in working order.
  • Brakes are fully operational.
  • Doors fully open and close and can be locked properly.
  • Vents fully open and close.
  • The trailer floor and any loading ramps have been thoroughly checked.
  • If rubber mats are used, make sure these are flush with floor to avoid any tripping during loading and traveling.
  • The trailer's emergency brake box has been tested and is in working order.
  • Tire pressure is adjusted according to the manufacturer’s suggested levels.
  • The spare tire is accessible and properly inflated.
  • The vehicle is stocked with an appropriate trailer and truck jack as well as tire chocks (a wedge placed behind a vehicle’s wheels to prevent accidental movement).
  • The hitch is functional for the trailer and the vehicle.


The route for road transport should be carefully considered. Plan the time of day for transport to avoid extremes of heat or cold. Night travel can be advantageous because ambient temperatures, lighter traffic and refueling might be  faster. Plan the route so that it is possible to stop regularly to check horses and offer them water every four to six hours. Locate vets along the way in case of a medical emergency during transit.


Consult your veterinarian for his or her recommendation for what to include in a first aid kit prior to travel. Some essential items should include sterile bandage material, adhesive wrap and tape, leg wraps, scissors, rectal thermometer, antiseptic solution, latex gloves, etc.


Bandages and bell boots for leg and coronary band protection can be useful if horses are accustomed to wearing them. If  the horse is blanketed (not advised unless it is cold), select a blanket that will not overheat the horse and cause sweating  or slip.


Journeys of three hours are unlikely to be associated with transport-related diseases, dehydration, or fatigue due to energy expenditure and reduced feed intake. Longer journeys, horses should be removed from the vehicle and comfortably stabled to allow the necessary time for tracheal  clearance  and rehydration.


Horse behavior should be monitored regularly throughout any transport.   Consult your veterinarian if concerned.


Clean water should be offered regularly—approximately every three to six hours. For fussy drinkers, it maybe beneficial to bring water from home as some horses are reluctant to drink water that is not from the home sources.

It is important that horses eat during long journeys. However, it is also imperative that the environment on the transport vehicle have as little contamination of the air with respirable particles as possible. It is essential that hay be as dust-free as possible.


Horses should be given as much freedom of movement of  their heads as is safe. Restraint in the head up posture for prolonged intervals can severely compromise lung clearance mechanisms and predispose a horse travel illnesses. Hay nets should be placed as low as possible while still assuring that horses cannot entangle their feet in the nets.


 Orientation of the horse within a transport vehicle has been identified as a potential source of stress. Decisions regarding restraint and orientation during travel should be made on a case-by-case basis.



Ensure that potential factors that can negatively impact air quality within the trailer/van are minimized. The exhaust system of the vehicle should be inspected yearly.   Breathing  of exhaust fumes can be an irritant to the respiratory system and excessive fumes in an enclosed compartment can cause death due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Urine-soaked bedding or poor drainage from the trailer can also have a negative impact on air quality. When urine breaks down, a substantial amount of ammonia fumes can be generated. Excessive inhalation of ammonia fumes can cause respiratory irritation.


Horses that travel well will be bright and alert with a normal rectal temperature upon arrival at their destination. Unload horses as soon as possible to avoid additional confinement and other stress factors. They should voluntarily drink and be keenly interested in eating within one to two hours of arrival.


Regularly monitor your horses behavior and health. Seek veterinary assistance immediately if transport-associated disease is suspected.


A specified recovery interval should be part of the pre-shipment plan for horses making long journeys. For road journeys of six to 12 hours, a one-day rest period is likely to be sufficient. Despite every effort at preventing transport related illnesses, some horses will become ill during or within the first three days following transport. It is advisable to plan for a convalescent period of after a journey to allow for treatment of horses that could be ill. Contact a veterinarian if the horse exhibits nasal discharge, refuses feed, or has an elevated rectal temperature.


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