How can I reduce the stress that trailering can cause my horse?
Ah, loads of things you can do to make traveling with your horse safe and with minimal stress. You already know what I am going to say first. (Prepare yourself for a little soapbox action!!) Your horse MUST load easily and without a fight. I don’t care if you never go to shows, you never want to go on a trail ride, or you never plan on moving your horse from his current home. He still load easily onto a trailer, this is non-negotiable. There will be a day you change you mind, you have an evacuation, or you need to get him to a hospital pronto. There are lots of training methods and trainers that specialize in loading issues available to help you conquer bad loading behavior. Don’t wait until the week before a show or in the middle of a colic to work on this. Do it now.
So let’s assume now your horse self loads on a trailer and would actually drive himself if you let him. What other things can you do to reduce trailering stress?
Take frequent breaks - every couple of hours. This lets your horse have a drink and a break from the constant balancing of being in the rig.
Make the trailer nice!!
- Have good shocks, excellent brakes, a floor that is inspected regularly for damage and wear, and nice mats for your horse’s tootsies.
- Add the best low dust bedding you can find. Using bedding prevents your horse from slipping in manure or urine as you cruise down the road. He's already using every muscle he has to balance in a moving, swaying, braking and accelerating box, when he passes manure or urintates he has just turned that box into an ice skating rink. Shavings will also help prevent urine and manure damage to the flooring.
- Your trailer must have adequate ventilation, regardless of outside temperatures. Avoid using blankets in colder weather unless absolutely necessary, such as a clipped horse in 30 degree weather. Keep in mind that horses are constantly using all muscles in their bodies to balance as the trailer rolls along. This creates a lot of heat! If you are worried about excessive heat in the summer, you can get a thermometer that installs and reads temps in the trailer and transmits the data to you in the truck. For the most part, adequate vents will keep a trailer breezy and cool in the summer. You can also install camera systems that transmit video in the trailer to your rear view mirror.
- Keep your horse busy eating to alleviate stress. Using soaked hay is best, as this reduces dust flying around the trailer. Stop every two to four hours to offer water, and if you can bring water from home. You can also use water additives like vinegar, electrolytes, apple juice, etc to make a nice flavored water for your horse. Dress your horse in a fly mask to keep the minimal dust from irritating his eyes, especially if you have a slant load in which case his face is much closer to a window than most straight loads.
- Have a travel buddy for your horse if you can! If you must trailer your horse solo, consider adding a safety mirror or stuffed animal with him for company. It sounds weird, but thousands of weaver and racehorses can’t be wrong! Of course try this in his stall before you load up, no need to have a scary fit with a bad reaction to his new unicorn buddy inside a trailer.
- Wrap your horse’s legs for support and safety. Long trips may warrant that you use standing wraps for support, or shipping boots to protect hocks if your horse rests on the back wall. Even if your horse is the most well behaved beast on the planet in the trailer, he can still accidentally slip off the edge of the ramp or off the back step and de-glove his leg. (I’ve seen it, it’s vomit inducing gross, and IF you are lucky there will be no tendon damage).
Talk to your Veterinarian before you load up for any long trips if your horse likes to go on a food and water strike in the trailer. He may suggest hydration with IV fluids before or after a trip. Your Veterinarian may also suggest a course of ulcer medications to prevent stress from doing physical damage. If your horse is susceptible to shipping fever, you may need to shorten your trip, add more stops, and have a plan for what to do upon arrival. Your Veterinarian can also help you with Coggins tests, Health Certificates, and other travel documents required for some shows and crossing state lines.
How do you make horse comfortable and safe in the trailer on a road trip?