Now that the summer show and event season has come to an end, it’s time to think beyond clean tack and neat braids. An integral part of a successful competitive season is safely transporting your horse to and from the show. Is your trailer safe? Is your horse comfortable and happy in transit?
The outside of your trailer must be inspected by a professional on a routine basis to be sure it’s road-worthy, but the interior must be inspected and maintained by you. It is imperative that the floor remains clean and free from old rotting manure and urine. If left in the trailer, this caustic debris can deteriorate the floor and result in a leg poking through the rusted bottom. It is safer and more comfortable for your horse if there is a rubber mat or some cushioned non-slip surface on the floor. Some people also prefer to use a small amount of bedding to cushion the horse and make clean up easier. All partitions, bars, and hooks should be routinely checked to be sure no corrosion or weaknesses are developing.
As far as your horse’s comfort and safety are concerned, there are three main areas of potential problems: a) respiratory problems, b) trauma, and c) colic.
Respiratory problems associated with shipping have been known to exist since we first began transporting horses. The old term is “shipping fever,” which can mean anything from a mild cough and upper airway irritation to full-blown, life-threatening pleuropneumonia. The key to maintaining respiratory health is to not tie your horse’s head up, if possible. Make sure that any bedding you use is free of mildew or excessive dust. If you like to give your horse something to munch on during his trip, which is usually a good idea, hay is best, but it should be soaked with water to reduce the dust particles. Your trailer should be well ventilated. Horses have a much more difficult time with excess heat than excess cold.
Increased humidity also adversely affects lung health. When you stop along the way (either for fuel, food, or horse checks) your stops should be kept brief. The longer your horse stands on a motionless, enclosed trailer, the worse the air becomes, increasing the potential for respiratory problems.
Trauma is a relatively easy problem to minimize. Proper shipping boots or wraps and head coverage usually prevent the most common injuries.
Colic is also associated with shipping, especially on long trips. Water stops should be made every 6 hours (on average). The feed and hay you offer your horse while in transit should be the same as that which he gets every day. Sudden changes in feed, even without a trailer ride, can cause upsets in your horse’s GI system. Some people are proponents of having their veterinarian administer mineral oil via nasogastric tube prior to long trailer rides. While there is no concrete evidence that this will prevent colic, it anecdotally has seemed to help certain horses.
So during these slower winter months, insure a safe and comfortable ride for you and your horse by checking your trailer for safety now!