Words of warning
of them, even though his case was by far the most critical. Arnesen said he’d never seen a horse survive if he had to draw more than two gallons from his chest. Parker had had more than six gallons drained.
After my experiences with Parker, I began to hear of other cases of shipping fever. I met one woman who had returned from a trail ride and brought her horse directly to the veterinarian because she thought he had a lameness issue. The horse was stumbling on the trail and just seemed like he “didn’t feel good.” The horse had been trailered six hours, then tied to a highline overnight. The signs appeared the next day. The woman was surprised to find out the “lameness” was actually shipping fever. I was sorry to hear that the horse died within the first 24 hours, after a little over two gallons of fluid were drained from his lungs.
While I was still contending with Parker’s illness, a friend of mine returned from a trail ride out West with a group of seasoned riders who have spent many years trailering their horses. When she arrived home after the 20-hour drive, she could not get her little mare to unload---the horse just stood with her head down and would not move. She had shipping fever. After nearly three months of antibiotic treatment, the mare did survive, but unfortunately her lungs have so much scar tissue that she can no longer be ridden on trail rides.
When I tell people what happened to Parker, I usually get one of two reactions. If the person knows about the dangers of shipping fever, they try hard not to tell me how stupid I was to travel so far with a very large horse who could not get his head down to clear his airway of the bacteria that builds up inside the trailer.
More frequently, however, the reaction I get is total disbelief that a horse could get sick from riding in a trailer. People will tell me they have hauled horses from Texas to Seattle to Minnesota and back and never had any problems with shipping fever. I always reply, sincerely, that I hope they never do. But I do urge them to look into the recommendations for helping to keep a horse’s airways healthy on long trips.
I’m happy to report that Parker made a full recovery. He has full lung capacity and has returned to his previous fit and athletic self, and we are once again participating in strenuous ranch versatility events. Even though I’m extremely careful with how I ship now, we had a slight scare when he developed a cough shortly after we returned from a trip. After phone consultation, I drove to Pott’s clinic immediately to pick up antibiotics. Fortunately, the cough disappeared quickly. Perhaps it wasn’t a respiratory problem at all, but I’m not about to take chances. I know what shipping fever is now, and I never want to deal with it again.