First-Time Traveler

Q: How do you keep a spooky horse calm during long-distance transportation? I will be transporting my skittish/spooky horse four states away for the first time and want to keep him safe and relaxed.

Sharee Zaleski, Costa Mesa, Calif.

A: First let me say that, depending upon the nature of the spookiness, it might be unwise to set out on a trip of this length if it is not an emergency. If it is an emergency, tranquilization would be warranted.

But if there was no other choice in the matter, in advance of the big trip for a known spooky horse, I would do some preliminary schooling and assessment. I would practice loading and unloading the horse under very controlled and positive relaxed conditions, getting him used to the van or trailer, and seeing how he reacts before the big day. Once the horse seems well-acclimated to the transport vehicle, I would then try some short drives to see how the horse does once the rig is moving. If you can get a video monitoring setup, you can watch the horse to see how he is doing. If you don't have a camera set up, you can stop and check on the horse from time to time. When moving along, many otherwise spooky horses settle down and seem less affected by the noise and stimulation that you might expect would cause a meltdown. If everything about the loading and being inside the van or trailer starts out positive, that environment can appear to become somewhat of a "safety zone" for a horse.

There are some dietary supplements, such as L-tryptophan, that can help reduce some horses' spookiness. You might test out some of these products with your horse ahead of the big trip. First discuss this with a veterinarian who knows your horse's specific temperament and history. He or she might be able to recommend a tranquilization regimen.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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