Shipping a Horse with Colic (Book Excerpt)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Understanding Equine First Aid by Michael A. Ball, DVM. This book is available from

In my experience, shipping a horse with a severe case of colic can be a dangerous and harrowing experience. If at all possible the horse should be seen by a veterinarian and stabilized prior to transport. The horse might require intravenous fluid therapy, pain medication, and appropriate sedation prior to transport. If a sedative or tranquilizer is to be administered, great care should be taken to pick the proper drug and dosage because when the horse goes into shock, many of those drugs can have a negative impact on the horse's status. At times, when the horse is violent, sedating it may be the only safe way to transport it.

As discussed earlier in this book, every horse has a different response to pain. A horse in pain can be extremely dangerous to be around. It can lash out with its front feet, kick viciously, and spontaneously throw itself to the ground.  (Watch out; do not get in its way when it thrashes.) As a result of this unpredictable nature, going in the back of the trailer or van can be a very dangerous place even if it's only the time it would take to lead the horse inside and clip its headstall to a safety tie. If you use a leadline instead of a safety trailer tie with an emergency release, be sure to leave enough slack so that the horse won't strangle if it goes down.

I recommend carrying a knife with a serrated blade and a hammer in your vehicle. Use the knife if you have to cut the leadline or trailer tie. Use the hammer to knock loose the screw-type latches used to close the trailer ramp. Such latches often get bent and are hard to unscrew.          

In addition, driving the vehicle also can be hazardous if the horse suddenly (and violently) shifts its weight in the trailer or goes down and thrashes. The driver should always be prepared to react quickly and safely if such a problem occurs. 

About the Author

Michael Ball, DVM

Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, N.Y. He is also an FEI veterinarian and works internationally with the United States Equestrian Team.

Ball authored Understanding The Equine Eye, Understanding Basic Horse Care, and Understanding Equine First Aid, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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