Traveling with Your Horse: Tips for Before, During and After the Trip

The following is a summary of Dr. Gray's presentation on keeping travel safe and healthy for your horse, part of the SmartPak GetSmart series.

Your best chance of having a happy, healthy horse when you arrive at your destination is to start with one. But even a healthy horse may need a physical examination before traveling. Ask your veterinarian what vaccinations, blood tests and paperwork you need for your trip--different states have different rules. Bring your horse's health records, a first aid kit, phone numbers of veterinarians along the way, medications or supplements, and all the hay and grain he'll need for the entire trip. Accustom your horse to loading, riding in a trailer and wearing protective gear well beforehand. Consider giving electrolytes, antioxidants and GI protectants to help him recover quicker from long-distance transport.

According to Guidelines for Horse Transport by Road and Air edited by Catherine W. Kohn, three hours is generally considered the cutoff between long- and short-distance trips. During a long-distance trip, check horses and offer water every four hours. Experts recommend not trailering horses more than 12 hours per day. If your trip is longer, unload and allow eight hours of rest before continuing. If possible, transport horses untied in box stalls so they can face their preferred direction and put their heads down. This helps them balance and clear airways of debris, bacteria and viruses, and discharge which could lead to respiratory disease. Reduce the amount of dust, molds and other allergens by wetting hay and using the most dust-free bedding possible.

Upon arrival, look for injuries that may have occurred during loading, traveling or unloading and make sure he's bright, alert and responsive. After short trips, provide 30 minutes of hand walking or turnout in a paddock, along with water and hay or grass. For trips longer than six hours, your horse may need a whole day before going back to work. Horses that have traveled more than 12 hours may need two or three days before they can be expected to perform.


Upcoming GetSmart discussions with Gray will include "Joint Supplements: What's Hip and What's Hype?," "Preparing Your Horse for Old Man Winter," and "Colic Prevention." Dates for the series are Oct. 25, Nov. 15, and Dec. 13 respectively, with each session beginning at 7p.m. Discussions are hosted at the SmartPak Store in Natick, Mass. For more information see www.smartpakequine.com.  

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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