Stephanie Davis, DVM

As the show season starts gearing up, we need to get our trucks and trailers out of hibernation and prepare our rigs for travel. Just as it’s important to do all the appropriate maintenance checks on your truck and trailer to be sure they are ready to haul your precious cargo, it’s also important to properly prepare your horse for travel.


It is well documented that when traveling long distances (4-8 hours or more), a horse’s cortisol level (stress hormone) increases. Even if your horse is a seasoned traveler and does not show outward signs of stress, his physiological response will be to increase cortisol. When cortisol increases, the immune system is decreased and makes your horse more prone to infection. Typically, when your horse is traveling, he is usually destined for a horse show. This is when you want your horse to be at his best, not feeling bad from a respiratory infection that he developed in the trailer. So, PREVENTION is your key to success.

So, what can you do to protect your horse during travel and prevent airway inflammation and possible illness from travel? There have been many studies and discussions (and even more opinions) on how to tie the horse in the trailer. This is a very important topic because the horse needs to be able to clear his airway and nasal passages by natural drainage that occurs when lowering his head. Drainage helps clear out insulting particles that are a risk for infection. I prefer to tie my horses long enough that they can lower their head to their chest, and short enough that they cannot attempt to turn around or fight with each other.

Many people protect the legs of their horses by using some sort of shipping boot and or shipping wrap. It’s important to consider what areas you are trying to protect with the boots or wraps. The most common area that a horse injures in the trailer is the heel bulbs. They will often step on themselves or occasionally each other, and can cut themselves while kicking as well. So, no matter the brand of boot you choose or wrap you like to use, be sure that the heel bulbs are protected. I also recommend that if you want to put standing bandages on the horse instead of boots, then put bell boots on all four feet to protect those heels. Heel lacerations can be very painful and difficult to manage, so, again, prevention is key.

It’s also important to consider the type of trailer you have and how the horses will travel the best. There has been a lot of research and discussions on which direction that a horse prefers to face in the trailer and whether they should be tied or not. I certainly support making them as comfortable as possible, but I am of the opinion that they will have a stress response of some level no matter what direction they are facing. So, for me, it’s more important to know that if there is a problem, I can have access to any of the horses very easily. If you have a slant load trailer, it’s important to consider which horse is to be placed in the middle stall because if there is a problem, other horses have to be unloaded before you can help the horse in the center and that is valuable time when a horse is panicking. So, considering all of these factors will help you be prepared in the case of an emergency.

For a safe and fun-filled trip with your horses, be sure their hay is healthy, their legs are protected, they are tied where the head can be lowered but not allowed to turn or fight, and finally, consider placement with other horses when loading in either a straight or slant load trailer, and of course, have fun and be safe!



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