Traveling with horses sounds like a lot of fun, right? Speaking from experience, I can honestly say it is fun. Nothing compares to shows, camping trips and beach adventures with your horse. And I think most equestrians would agree. But getting there is not all tails blowing in the breeze and hand rollercoasters out the window.
Sometimes—ok, most of the time—traveling with horses is downright nerve wracking. There are about a million things to worry about and a lot of planning that goes into a successful journey. So, whether you’re taking a short trip to your local show grounds or hauling 15 sales horses across the country, it’s important to be prepared. So here are some handy, vet-approved checklists for all things health and safety when traveling with horses
TRAILER SAFETY & PREPARATION
First of all, preparing and maintaining your trailer is key to ensuring your horse’s safety when traveling. According to Faith Hughes, DVM, Dipl. ACVS in a podcast interview on TheHorse.com, “The most severe injuries are fortunately very rare, but can occur if your floorboards are rotten, or if somebody forgets to close the back door, or someone doesn’t check to make sure that the trailer is properly on the hitch.”
So, the best defense against trailer-related injuries is to double check everything before travel. Even if your trailer is often parked—but especially if it’s exposed to the elements—it’s a good idea to perform regular checks.
- Check lights and turn signals
- Check brakes and perform regular brake maintenance
- Check tire pressure when cool
- Check and tighten lug nuts
- Check hitch and safety chains
- Clean trailer between trips and disinfect regularly
- Check dividers and make sure latches are secure
- Secure and tighten any loose or rattling parts
- Check for sharp edges or exposed wires inside the trailer
- Know the trailer’s weight limit
- Clean out manure or wet shavings from previous use
- Add small amount of fresh shavings to absorb any fluids
- Hook up the trailer to the hauling vehicle and perform safety checks
- Position the trailer in a safe, well-lit place for loading
- Hang hay nets
- Open doors and ramps and make sure doors can’t swing closed while loading
HORSE HEALTH & PREPARATION
Preparing your horse for a ride in the trailer isn’t limited to the things you do the day of travel. Training your horse to load, unload and stand quietly in the trailer are important aspects to traveling with horses safely, and these things have to be practiced. “The most common injuries you see are loading and unloading injuries like cuts and scrapes on the head,” says Dr. Hughes, “If you can get a horse to load and unload smoothly, those kinds of injuries can be avoided.”
Other things to consider are health issues. Never travel with a sick horse if it can be avoided, and know the signs of colic so you don’t accidentally load a horse in distress. Josie Traub-Dargatz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM—who also answered questions in the podcast—points out that owners should talk to their vet about where they plan to travel and make sure recommended vaccinations are taken care of in advance.
- Consider giving electrolytes to encourage your horse to drink
- Ask your vet about giving probiotics before, during and after travel to help prevent colic
- Considering your destination, make sure your horse is properly vaccinated
- Keep an eye on the horse in the couple days before travel and check vital signs regularly leading up to the trip.
- Educate yourself on equine travel-related biosecurity and take steps to avoid contamination
- Train your horse to load, unload, and stand quietly in the trailer, and practice often.
- Protect the horse’s legs with shipping boots or standing wraps if they tolerate them.
- Make sure your horses’ necessary travel documents are up to date, but also in compliance with equine travel regulations in the states you’re traveling through/to.
While packing also includes things like tack, grooming supplies, and equipment, there are a handful of health- and safety-related things you should always have available. Make sure your supplies are not expired and everything is in working order. Traveling with horses in the winter? Check out this article full of winter hauling tips and make sure your cold-weather bases are covered too.
- First-aid kit for horse and human (check out this vet clinic’s checklist for the ultimate equine first-aid kit)
- Water buckets and a short hose attachment to avoid cross-contamination at other facilities
- Extra hay and water
- Extra halter and lead per horse
- Extra jack
- Flares, cones, or triangles
- Fire extinguisher
- Emergency numbers (written down and kept in glove box)
- Extra phone charger or extra, charged cell phone
- Tire iron and tire pressure gauge
BEST PRACTICE HAULING TIPS
We know…there are a lot of things to think about! But hopefully it has become clear that planning ahead is absolutely necessary to ensure a smooth journey for everyone. Here’s a look at some best practices when traveling with horses.
- Plan your trip and stops in advance
- Avoid traffic delays
- Travel during cooler hours in hot months
- Never park in the direct sun
- Ensure proper ventilation
- Bring water from home (horses sometimes don’t drink well on trips because the water tastes so different)
- Load horses as the very last step
- Stop and offer water every 4 hours on long hauls
EMERGENCY AND DISASTER PREPAREDNESS
While planning is probably the best way to ensure a safe journey for your horse, this isn’t always possible. Perhaps you have to evacuate your property or make an unexpected trip to the vet. You can do a lot to be prepared for such an event, but no one is ever truly ready for an emergency. If you want to learn more about being prepared for the worst, check out the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ resources for emergency and disaster preparedness hier.
At Piavita, we want horses and their vets to be happy and healthy, so we offer up valuable information on health and wellness topics every month. If you have a question or suggestion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!