Transport Is a Tricky Thing For the Health of Your Horse

Transporting your horse can be a stressful experience for you and your horse. For example, horses lose two to five pounds of body weight for every hour they travel – and that's in cool weather. This can increase dramatically in hot weather due to evaporation at the body surface or sweating. Horses also run the risk of respiratory disease during long-distance travel.

Any journey in a car, truck, trailer, boat or airplane of greater than five hours is considered long distance. Some of the effects of long distance travel on your horse include:

Plan Carefully

As pointed out by Mimi Porter, DVM, Equine Therapist, Lexington, Ky, "When the horse is faced with stress and copes with it successfully, he is better equipped to cope successfully again in the future. Thoughtful preparation can help him cope with stress and avoid fatigue or assault to health."

If you have any concerns about your horse's health, have your veterinarian give him a thorough physical examination during the week prior to travel. Chronic diseases may progress during travel. Also, delay your trip if your horse has had an infectious respiratory disease, such as influenza, during the two weeks preceding your trip. Prior respiratory disease will predispose your horse to developing pleuropneumonia. Try to make any feed changes two to four weeks before long-distance transport.

Other measures include:

What to Watch For

If you notice any of the following signs, call your veterinarian immediately.

Veterinary Care

Arrange for a veterinary visit as soon as possible after arrival at your destination. Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination, with careful auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of the chest. He will look for signs of respiratory disease, dehydration and colic. Some diagnostic tests may include:


Home Care

Once you arrive at your destination, let your horse have a well-earned rest. It may take as long as one or two 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.

Again, 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. And monitor your horse's daily manure production and urine production.