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Transporting Your Horse

By: Dr. Melissa Mazan

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As a wise traveler, you should arrange for a veterinary visit as soon as possible after arrival at your destination. Your veterinarian will be looking for signs of respiratory disease, dehydration, and colic and may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • A thorough physical examination, with careful auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of the chest.

  • Blood tests. Depending on the distance traveled and the physical condition of the horse, your veterinarian recommend a complete blood count to look for signs of infection, and a chemistry profile to look for signs of organ dysfunction, especially kidney function, which can suffer due to dehydration.

  • Examination of the chest and airways. If your horse shows any signs of respiratory disease, your veterinarian may choose to look at the airways using an endoscope, and will often choose to look at the chest using ultrasonography. Ultrasound is a very sensitive method for detecting fluid in the chest.


  • If your horse has shipping fever (pleuropneumonia), your veterinarian will treat with broad spectrum antibiotics. Your veterinarian may also need to drain the chest of excessive fluid build-up. Frequently, shipping fever is so severe that the horse must be sent to a referral hospital where around-the-clock care can be given.

  • If your horse shows signs of colic, your veterinarian may choose to perform a rectal examination, and will probably want to pass a nasogastric tube. Depending on his findings, your veterinarian may wish to treat with intravenous fluids.

  • If your horse is dehydrated your veterinarian will administer fluids containing electrolytes using a nasogastric tube. If the dehydration is severe, your veterinarian will probably opt to administer intravenous fluids.

  • If your horse is overheated, your veterinarian will use aggressive measures to cool him down. Once the horse's temperature reaches 104°F due to overheating, he is on his way to heat stroke. Your veterinarian will facilitate a rapid cool-down by continually bathing your horse in cold water, offering cool (not ice cold) water to drink, and administering nasogastric and intravenous fluids. Your veterinarian will avoid placing cold towels on your horse – they will soon heat up and act as an insulator to trap body heat.

    Home Care

  • Feeding. Try to make any feed changes two to four weeks before long-distance transport. Soak your horse's hay in water to increase the amount of fluid he is getting, and if your horse enjoys wet feed, then a bran mash with a few 'goodies', such as apples and carrots, will also help to deliver fluid to his system.

  • Rest. Let your horse have a well-earned rest when he reaches his destination. It may take your horse as long as 1-2 weeks to regain the weight that he lost during travel. This rest should not be stall rest; rather, your horse should have as much access to turn-out as possible to help him stretch his muscles and help his gastrointestinal function to return to normal. If you do not have good access to turnout, then you should hand-walk, long-line, or bring your horse on very gentle rides a minimum of three times a day.

  • Monitor your horse. Monitor your horse's temperature once to twice daily in the week after arrival. A gradual rise in temperature may be your first clue that your horse is developing a respiratory infection. Also, monitor your horse's daily manure production and urine production.

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