Traveling with your Horse

Keep Your Horse Healthy and Happy in the Trailer

It’s almost June, the sun is shining brightly, the flowers are blooming, the weather’s just right. Are you ready to hit the trails? Or the show ring? Or the cross-country course? Trailering your horse can take you and your horse on many adventures that will foster the human-animal bond, but they also can pose risks to your horse’s health. Follow these tips to ensure your horse arrives healthy.

Reduce stress: Hauling is a stressful experience for horses, which can reduce your horse’s immune defenses and predispose him to colic, laminitis, and respiratory illness. It may also increase his metabolic demands. To keep hauling as low stress as possible, choose a route that does not have frequent starts and stops, time your trip to avoid rush hour traffic and bottleneck areas, and avoid hauling during extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures. Ensure your horse is comfortable traveling short distances before traveling long distances. Offer wetted hay or small mashes along the way to keep his digestive tract moving.

Hydration: Make sure your horse is drinking well in the days prior to your departure. Offer water every 3-4 hours. Be sure to pack plenty of water from home in case you become stranded or your horse prefers water from home. Adding molasses to the water may increase its palatability and encourage drinking.

Ventilation: Horses traveling long distances are prone to developing “shipping fever.” This condition can be career and even life threatening. Horses are exposed to higher levels of particulate matter and exhaust fumes during shipping. Decreasing your horse’s exposure by ensuring your trailer is well ventilated (experts recommend 8-10 changes of air/hour), ensuring good quality hay that is free of mold, and allowing your horse to lower his head to clear debris from the trachea all lower your horse’s chances of developing shipping fever. Cleaning manure and urine from the trailer also increases air quality. Studies have shown horses have increased microbes and fluid in their airways after traveling 6-12 hours, and it takes 8-12 hours before they can clear their airways.

Plan for emergencies: Be sure you have a well-stocked emergency kit with bandaging supplies, wound-cleaning supplies, and a rectal thermometer. Also have a list of veterinarians on your route that you can call in case of an emergency.

Monitor: Make sure your horse is urinating and defecating normally. Monitor your horse’s temperature twice daily leading up to the trip and for a few days later. Diseases like shipping fever may take a few days to manifest.


Stull et al. Transporting horses by road and by air: recommendations for reducing the stress. CEH Horse Report. School of Veterinary Medicine, UC Davis. July 2013.

Norton, J. Preventing shipping fever. American Association of Equine Practitioners website. Accessed Jan. 22, 2018.

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