The Long Haul

Be­fore you hit the road for a lengthy trip, get an­swers to the 10 ques­tions I’m most often asked about trailering horses long dis­tances.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY BARB CRABBE, DVM

An­swers to 10 of the most-often-asked ques­tions re­gard­ing trailering your horse a long dis­tance.

You just learned about your big pro­mo­tion—greater re­spon­si­bil­ity, more money…and a move across the coun­try. Or maybe you learned that you qual­i­fied for your first cham­pi­onship show…which re­quires a cross-coun­try haul. Per­haps you’ve been in­vited on a once-in-a-life­time trail ride…that’s a few thou­sand miles from home. If you’re like most horse own­ers, these kinds of ex­cur­sions are no big deal by air­plane without your horse. But haul­ing your horse that many miles? Now that’s an­other story.

Even if your horse is a sea­soned trav­eler, there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween trailering to shows and rides in the neigh­bor­ing town and trav­el­ing across the coun­try—or to an­other coun­try. In this ar­ti­cle, I’ll ex­plain how a long trip im­pacts your horse’s health and the risks he’ll face. Then I’ll an­swer the 10 most com­mon ques­tions I hear from my clients about long-dis­tance haul­ing to help you min­i­mize risk when plan­ning your trip.

Trans­port Stress: What Hap­pens?

Most stud­ies con­firm that the longer your horse spends on the road, the greater the threat to his well-be­ing. Trips less than three hours in du­ra­tion are un­likely to cause trans­port-re­lated dis­eases. At the 12-hour mark, risks in­crease dra­mat­i­cally. So what ex­actly hap­pens in your horse’s body to cre­ate that risk?

From the mo­ment you load your horse in the trailer, his body re­sponds by re­leas­ing the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol into his blood stream. Cor­ti­sol lev­els con­tinue to in­crease for the du­ra­tion of travel, and may take 24 hours or longer to re­turn to nor­mal once he ar­rives at his des­ti­na­tion. Cor­ti­sol has mul­ti­ple ef­fects on your horse’s body that can in­crease his risk for trans­port-re­lated dis­eases. In gen­eral, it stim­u­lates “act now” emer­gency mech­a­nisms and shuts down less-im­me­di­ately-crit­i­cal func­tions of the body.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts of cor­ti­sol is its im­pact on your horse’s im­mune sys­tem. Specif­i­cally, the ra­tio of neu­trophils to lym­pho­cytes (two dif­fer­ent types of white blood cells cir­cu­lat­ing in your horse’s sys­tem) in­creases in re­sponse to cor­ti­sol. This leaves your horse less able to fight in­fec­tion and at risk of de­vel­op­ing ship­ping fever, a po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tion that pro­gresses rapidly once it starts. Signs of ship­ping fever can ap­pear soon as four to six hours after

de­par­ture, and this dis­ease oc­curs in as many as six-per­cent of long-du­ra­tion hauls.

Your horse also be­comes de­hy­drated dur­ing trans­port be­cause he drinks less, eats less, and sweats more. De­hy­dra­tion in­creases risk for colic, as well as other meta­bolic ab­nor­mal­i­ties that can threaten your horse’s health.

Fi­nally, long-dis­tance travel puts stren­u­ous de­mands on your horse’s mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem. Blood tests show in­creases in cre­a­tine phos­pho­k­i­nase (CPK) and as­par­tate amino­trans­ferase (AST), two en­zymes that are re­leased from the mus­cles, fol­low­ing trans­port. This in­di­cates your horse’s mus­cles are work­ing hard to help him keep his bal­ance while rid­ing in the trailer. It takes 24 hours or longer for these val­ues to re­turn to base­line lev­els, leav­ing your horse stiff and sore fol­low­ing a trip.

Your Top 10 Long-Haul Ques­tions, An­swered QUES­TION #1 Is it bet­ter if I haul him my­self, or should I use a com­mer­cial ship­per?

When you buy a new horse from a dis­tant seller or are mov­ing your horse to new barn in an­other state, you might con­sider a com­mer­cial ship­per. That is, a pro­fes­sional who hauls horses and other livestock cross-coun­try for a fee. These haulers often drive big­ger rigs that pro­vide a smoother ride and more space for your horse—think box stalls—than your own trailer, and have mul­ti­ple driv­ers that can re­sult in a more ef­fi­cient trip.

Com­mer­cial rigs may be bet­ter in­su­lated to pro­tect your horse from ex­treme heat or cold, have fans for op­ti­mal ven­ti­la­tion, and might even be equipped with video cam­eras that al­low your horse to be mon­i­tored at all times. Tempt­ing option, for sure. That said, if you go com­mer­cial, se­lect your ship­per care­fully. Look for a com­pany that hires ex­pe­ri­enced horse­men as driv­ers (ver­sus truck driv­ers with lit­tle or no horse ex­pe­ri­ence) who can keep a close watch on your precious cargo. Ask how often the trucks will stop to rest and how they man­age feed and wa­ter­ing sched­ules. Fi­nally, be­ware of any com­mer­cial ship­per who tells you they’re not wor­ried about health pa­pers that com­ply with in­ter­state-travel re­quire­ments. You don’t want to find your horse in a jam half­way across the coun­try.

QUES­TION #2 What about fly­ing? Is it an option I should con­sider?

You might be sur­prised to learn that horses are the most fre­quent fliers next to hu­mans. A three- to five-day trip across the coun­try in a truck can be ac­com­plished in a sin­gle day of air travel. There’s no doubt about it— fly­ing is an option that can be much eas­ier on your horse. Un­for­tu­nately, it’ll be harder on your pock­et­book.

If you're trav­el­ing to an im­por­tant com­pe­ti­tion, one option to con­sider is to fly your horse to the com­pe­ti­tion to en­sure he’ll be in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tion when he ar­rives, then ship him home when he can have plenty of re­cov­ery time fol­low­ing the trip.

QUES­TION #3 What kind of pa­per­work do I need?

Pa­per­work re­quire­ments vary widely de­pend­ing on your des­ti­na­tion. As a gen­eral rule, you’ll need proof of a neg­a­tive Cog­gin’s test that checks for an­ti­bod­ies for equine in­fec­tious ane­mia and a health cer­tifi­cate is­sued by your vet­eri­nar­ian within a spec­i­fied amount of time (de­pend­ing on the state). If you’re trav­el­ing out of the coun­try, pa­per­work re­quire­ments be­come more com­pli­cated. Check with your vet­eri­nar­ian at least a month prior to your an­tic­i­pated travel date so you can sched­ule tests and ob­tain the pa­per­work you need. While you’re at it, make sure your horse’s vac­ci­na­tions are up-to­date—par­tic­u­larly against res­pi­ra­tory viruses such as in­fluenza or rhinop­neu­moni­tis. It gen­er­ally takes two to three weeks for vac­ci­na­tions to be ef­fec­tive, so vac­ci­nat­ing at the time your vet comes out to do travel pa­pers is likely to be per­fect timing.

You might won­der: Do I re­ally need these pa­pers? If you’re trav­el­ing out of the coun­try, you won’t get across a bor­der without re­quired pa­pers. Pe­riod. If you’re trav­el­ing within the United States, you might make it across state lines, but law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers look for ve­hi­cles with out-of-state li­cense plates pulling horse trail­ers. There’s a good chance you’ll be pulled over at some point in your jour­ney and asked for doc­u­men­ta­tion. Fines are steep if you can’t pro­duce re­quired pa­per­work, so it re­ally isn’t worth the risk.

QUES­TION #4 I’m haul­ing to a com­pe­ti­tion. How much time does my horse need to re­cover from the trip?

Plan at least one day of rest for a six- to 12-hour haul, and two to three days of rest for a trip that lasts longer than 12 hours. The av­er­age horse loses five to six per­cent of his body weight dur­ing a 24-hour trip due to a com­bi­na­tion of de­hy­dra­tion and re­duced feed in­take. Although half of that weight loss is re­cov­ered within the first 24 hours of tran­sit, it can take as long as seven days for your horse to fully re­cover. So if he's fac­ing a par­tic­u­larly long or dif­fi­cult trip, plan at least a week be­fore your horse will be com­pletely back to nor­mal.

QUES­TION #5 I’m trav­el­ing from an area where it’s cold to some­where very hot. Should I body-clip my horse be­fore we leave?

This might not be a con­cern in the sum­mer months, but win­ter and spring shows can force horses to en­counter ma­jor cli­mate changes. Be­cause of your horse’s large body size, he’s much more likely to be too hot than too cold. For that rea­son, body clip­ping prior to a jour­ney that’ll take him from a cold cli­mate to a warmer one is al­ways a good idea.

Ad­di­tion­ally, avoid blan­ket­ing dur­ing long-dis­tance travel, es­pe­cially if your horse will travel with other horses whose body heat will warm the trailer. Blan­kets not only run the risk of caus­ing your horse to over­heat, they can cause se­ri­ous in­juries if they slip or your horse be­comes tan­gled in a strap. A well-in­su­lated trailer will help pro­tect your horse against out­side tem­per­a­ture ex­tremes (both hot and cold), and proper ven­ti­la­tion is a must. Con­sider in­stalling fans if you’ll

be trav­el­ing when it is very hot. (See “Trailer In­no­va­tions” on page 78 for the lat­est in trailer in­no­va­tions for ven­ti­la­tion and cool­ing.)

If you’re haul­ing your­self, a strate­gic travel route and sched­ule can go a long way to­ward man­ag­ing tem­per­a­ture con­cerns. Avoid south­ern routes dur­ing sum­mer months, and try to travel dur­ing early-morn­ing or evening hours—avoiding the ex­treme heat of af­ter­noon.

QUES­TION #6 My vet told me it’s a bad idea to put bed­ding in my trailer, but all my friends in­sist I should. What’s the right an­swer?

Whether to bed your trailer is a tricky ques­tion—and the cor­rect an­swer varies with your cir­cum­stances. Bed­ding is a potential source of res­pi­ra­tory ir­ri­tants and can in­crease the risk for ship­ping fever—one of the dead­li­est potential com­pli­ca­tions of a long-dis­tance haul. That’s why your vet rec­om­mends that you avoid bed­ding if you can.

Bed­ding does, how­ever, pro­vide trac­tion if your trailer floors are slip­pery and might make your horse more com­fort­able (es­pe­cially if he’s one who re­fuses to uri­nate on a hard sur­face).

One thing is cer­tain: If you do bed your trailer, use the least­dusty bed­ding ma­te­rial you can find, and con­sider spray­ing it lightly with wa­ter be­fore you load up to help keep dust to a min­i­mum.

QUES­TION #7 Should I wrap/use ship­ping boots on my horse’s legs for trailer trips?

Wraps or ship­ping boots can help pro­tect your horse from in­juries dur­ing load­ing and un­load­ing, or from trauma dur­ing haul­ing. How­ever, for a long-dis­tance haul, boots and wraps can cause more prob­lems than they solve if they loosen or fall off en route. The only time to ban­dage for a long-dis­tance trip is if you’re haul­ing your horse your­self, stop­ping overnight, and plan­ning to change ban­dages daily. You should also only apply boots or wraps if your horse is com­fort­able wear­ing them. If you’re trav­el­ing with a com­mer­cial hauler, leave boots and ban­dages at home.

QUES­TION #8 Should I tie my horse in the trailer?

One of the best ways to pro­tect your horse’s res­pi­ra­tory tract dur­ing a long-dis­tance haul is to al­low him to put his head down while he’s trav­el­ing. This means leav­ing him un­tied if your

trailer will safely al­low it. Ideally, he’ll have a box stall to travel in rather than a sin­gle com­part­ment where he can move about at will and eas­ily put his head down to eat. The avail­abil­ity of box stalls is one of the rea­sons why send­ing your horse with a com­mer­cial ship­per might be bet­ter for his health than haul­ing

him your­self. The ex­tra costs as­so­ci­ated with this lux­ury are usually dol­lars well spent.

QUES­TION #9 How often should I stop?

Your horse should have a 15- to 20-minute rest pe­riod ev­ery four to six hours dur­ing a long haul when the trailer is stopped and parked, ideally in a shaded area if it’s hot. Dur­ing this rest pe­riod, of­fer wa­ter, re­plen­ish food sup­plies, and do a gen­eral safety check. If pos­si­ble, it’s a great idea to pick out ma­nure and urine spots to help keep air in­side the trailer fresh. If you’re send­ing your horse with a com­mer­cial ship­per, be sure to ask how often they stop to rest.

QUES­TION #10 My horse doesn’t drink very well, and is a picky eater away from home. Is there any­thing I can do to en­cour­age him to drink and eat on the road?

Ex­pe­ri­enced haulers say your horse is more likely to drink after the trailer has been stand­ing still for 15 to 20 min­utes and he’s had a chance to rest, so keep this in mind. Al­ways of­fer wa­ter at the end of a rest pe­riod. Con­sider soak­ing hay to en­cour­age mois­ture in­take, and of­fer a wet bran mash or beet pulp once or twice a day. Take wa­ter from home if you can so you’re your horse won’t be put off by un­fa­mil­iar fla­vors. If it’s not pos­si­ble to bring wa­ter with you in the trailer, con­sid­er­ing adding fla­vor (such as a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of pow­dered lemon­ade or Kool-Aid) to his at home wa­ter source prior to your trip, then use it to mask the fla­vor of un­fa­mil­iar wa­ter on the road.

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