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  • New Research into Transporting Horses

    Many horses travel by road on a frequent basis and probably 99% of journeys take place without incident. But when things do go wrong it can be serious. Problems range from injuries due to falling or getting trapped over partitions or from road traffic accidents to tying-up, colic, exacerbation of respiratory disease (asthma) and pneumonia (shipping-fever). A large number of researchers have studied horses during transport to try and understand what factors lead to increased risk of illness or injury.

    A study published this week from Australia looked at the response of 26 “light breed” mares aged between 4 and 20 years (average age 10 years) and weighing between 416 and 658kg to 12h of stable confinement and 12h of road transport in single and wide bays in a 16-wheel trailer in both forward and backward directions. The authors studied the horses’ behaviour and physiology, collected blood samples and also undertook gastroscopy (scoping the stomach).

    “The frequency of behaviours relating to stress and balance increased during transport, and horses transported in a rear-facing position and in a wider bay size showed fewer balance-related behaviours.” Not surprisingly the authors also reported that balance behaviours were around 6x more frequent during travel compared with in the stable. Total stress behaviours were also reported to be 3x more frequent during travel."

    “Balance behaviours, particularly loss of balance, were positively associated with the severity of gastric ulceration after transportation and elevated muscle enzymes, while increased stress behaviours correlated with decreased gastrointestinal sounds.”

    Higher heart rates and rectal temperatures after transport were seen in horses that had to balance themselves more frequently. Perhaps not surprisingly, stress behaviours were associated with increased squamous gastric ulceration.

    The conclusion was that rear-facing transport in wider bays is better for most horses. This is in agreement with a study by Waran et al. (1996) available HERE

    Padalino B and Raidal SL. (2020) Effects of Transport Conditions on Behavioural and Physiological Responses of Horses. Animals (Basel). 2020 Jan 10(1) available HERE

    Top Tips for Transporting Horses


    • Take your horse’s temperature before loading and setting off on a journey over 1 hour – if it is raised above normal for your horse then DON’T travel. Your horse is likely to be much worse after travel!

    • Practice loading your horse on days when you don’t have to get anywhere at a fixed time.

    • Ensure your horses has water and hay available during journeys of over a few hours

    • Ensure good ventilation • Use low dust forage or soaked hay and low dust bedding 

    • Drive sympathetically – the more bumps and corners, the more stressed and tired your horse will be at the other end 

    • Stop at least every 4 hours to check your horse and unload and walk it if possible

    • Have your horse examined by your vet and a check of the respiratory system several weeks before any very long journeys (8h or more) or flights

    • Avoid driving in busy traffic or in hot weather


    • Drive 5 hours, expect your horse to compete immediately it arrives and put in its’ best performance

    • Be tempted to leave immediately after a hard competition and drive more than a few hours home. Allow your horse an overnight recovery before travelling

    • Stick to dogma concerning the best way to transport horses. Find what works for your horse.

    • Over-clothe horses during transport. They are better to travel a little cool than too warm.

    • Use laxatives. Transport causes disturbance to gastro-intestinal tract of the horse through “stress” and laxatives can compound this

    • Starve horses during transport

    • Withhold water during or after transport

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