20 Hot Weather Trailering Tips

Keep your horses cooler, less stressed, and happier when hauling in hot, humid conditions

The long road beckons: It's summer, and all kinds of diverse opportunities await you and your horse--shows, competitions, sales, trail riding, equine vacations, and more. Some events are just a couple of hours away, while others involve many hours, perhaps even a few days, of trailering.

Should your journey take you and your equine traveling companions through areas of scorching heat or sweltering humidity, you need to take steps to protect your charges from the ovenlike temperatures and stresses that can occur in a horse trailer. Here's how.

Horse Prep

 1  Decrease the risk of stress-related immune problems by supplementing with vitamins C and E, both of which are antioxidants, suggests Carey A. Williams, PhD (equine nutrition), equine extension specialist at Rutgers University. "Administer 1,000 to 3,000 IU per day of vitamin E three weeks prior to hauling, as it takes that long to build up enough of a store to become additionally effective, or throughout the show season if you haul often. Give about 7-10 grams of vitamin C daily for a day or two before hauling and for three to four days after hauling."

  Use caution if providing electrolytes to address excess sweating during the trip or to encourage more drinking of water. "When using electrolytes, make sure to provide water every couple of hours," Williams says. "You could actually increase the severity of dehydration if you provide electrolytes, but not enough water, or if your horse doesn't drink while on a trailer. If your horse doesn't drink while trailer-ing, discontinue electrolyte use until the horse is rested overnight or safely at its destination."

  Teach your horse to load and unload calmly, says Carolyn Stull, PhD (animal science), extension specialist in the Animal Welfare Program/Veterinary Medicine Extension at the University of California, Davis. A horse that's already stressed out from loading is more susceptible to the stresses of heat and travel, reports Stull, who has studied the physiological responses of horses to transportation.

  If possible, transport horses only when they're in good health. She warns, "Transport stresses compromise the immune system of sick horses." This is true for horses of all ages.

  Check and record your horse's resting vital signs before departure to use as a comparison, if needed, while en route.

  If possible, acclimate your horses to trailering and see how they react to trailering by trying shorter trips in hot weather before embarking on a longer trip, advises Randy Lewis, Featherlite national sales manager.

  Skip the sheet or lightweight blanket. "They can help keep the horse clean and dust-free," Stull says, "but sheets and blankets also compromise the horse's ability to dissipate heat."

Trailer Prep

  Ventilate the trailer. "Prior to loading, open all windows and roof vents and turn on fans to help cool the trailer," advises Tom Scheve, co-author with his wife, Neva, of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer and CEO/owner of EquiInternational Inc. (EquiSpirit Trailer Company). "You can install oscillating fans on the same circuit as the interior lights with a remote switch to activate them."

  Make modifications, if needed, by having windows and screens installed by a fabrication company or a body shop. Suggests Scheve, "Remove head dividers (if they're not needed) and lower center dividers to improve airflow. For trailers without screens on the doors, put fly masks on the horses to protect their eyes."

 10  Make sure your trailer's tires are fully inflated, Scheve says. "In hot weather, fully inflated tires flex less, therefore ride cooler, keeping them less likely to blow on hot roads."

 11  Put down two rubber mats where the horse stands. "Two mats really help keep the heat off the horse's legs," notes Stull.

 12  Leave the horse's head unrestricted and don't put him in cross-ties. "Studies at UC Davis found that cross-tied horses were more likely to suffer from dehydration and immune system dysfunction, during and after travel, than horses moved in box stalls without head restraint," says Stull.

 13  Install a thermometer or two inside the trailer (and check them every three or four hours while on the road).

 14  Carry ample drinking water for your horse while en route.

 15  Load everything else first, horses last, and depart immediately after loading in order to avoid heat buildup in the trailer, Scheve states.

En Route

 16  Drive at night or during the cooler parts of the day when the sun isn't adding extra heat and discomfort to the horses, suggests Lewis.

 17  Periodically stop and check your horse's demeanor and vital signs--a pinch test for dehydration, capillary refill time, pulse, and temperature (see articles #11283 and #11076 at TheHorse.com). "Keep in mind that horses can be sweating profusely, but dry off quickly because of the ventilation, so it may not be apparent how much they're sweating," warns Scheve.

 18  Stop and offer water every four to five hours, as some horses don't drink as much or at all on a moving trailer.

 19  Periodically stop and unload your horses. However make sure you do so in a secure area to avoid loose horses or the chance they might not want to reload. How often depends on individual circumstances, says Stull. "Is the horse acclimated to trailering?" she says. "Is he an athlete or sedentary horse? Is he traveling with other horses that are calm and cool?"

 20  Avoid stopping and leaving the horses on the trailer, especially in the sun. "Heat builds up incrementally the longer the duration that you're stopped," warns Stull. "Anytime you can, try to park the in the shade."

Safe Arrival

By taking a few precautions and practicing a little common sense, you can help ensure that your horse arrives at his destination in the best shape and health as possible.

About the Author

Marcia King

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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