Sooner or later every horse has to be transported somewhere else, whether he is moving to another stable, taking part in a tournament, going to the clinic, attending a training course or being ridden outside. Some horses don’t mind travelling, but others baulk at entering a trailer as far as possible. This is perfectly understandable from the horse’s point of view: A narrow trailer restricts freedom of movement and visibility and also jerks disagreeably when set in motion. To make travelling in a trailer as pleasant as possible for the horse, we now list 10 handy tips that allow both horse and owner to prepare for transport to optimum effect.
1. Driving with a horse trailer takes practice.
One good way of reducing stress is training. Practice makes perfect, and not just for tournaments. Entering and exiting the trailer is something horses should learn, as well as not losing their balance while the vehicle is moving - The best way of doing this is to repeatedly lead the animal to the trailer, praising him as appropriate, and making short practice runs. The horse will then learn that the dark hole he is supposed to enter is not so dreadful, nor will anything bad happen en route. Ideally, the destination should always be something that the horse will like: a pasture or his favourite ride, for example.
2. The horse trailer must meet the road regulations.
This first rule really makes sense: at the end of the day both horse and rider benefit from a stable trailer construction with a sound coupling, good tyres and reliable brakes. The driver must also hold the right licence (since 2000, a category E licence is required to transport a trailer). It is also necessary to check that the towing vehicle is even permitted to pull a trailer. Something else to bear in mind here is that the horse’s weight must also be added to the weight of the trailer. Exceeding the permitted weight may result in damage to the vehicle (and injury to the horse!) and turn out to be a costly affair. Don’t forget to think about taking out suitable insurance. The right leg protection when transporting horses Leg protectors are mainly used to make sure horses don’t become injured or bruised from the body striking against the trailer during transport. Normal bandages with or without pads or over-reach-boots can be used for this purpose, as well as standard closed or special transport gaiters. The strength of the material depends on the temperament of the horse. It is important that the cannon bones and hock joints are covered and that the leg protection extends over the coronary groove to the ground.
3. Driving a trailer must be safe.
Besides having the right trailer equipment, the procedure used for training is also relevant to safety. Please make sure you start practising loading your horse into the trailer before the actual day of the trip and show the required patience. Here the horse should be fitted out with what he will be wearing on the day so he can familiarise himself with the accessories used during transport. Strategies such as blindfolding the animal with a cloth over the eyes or manoeuvring him into the trailer with lunges crossed over behind won’t contribute to well-being, but will make the animal nervous. And a nervous horse standing before or in a trailer is always a safety risk.
4. The trailer should be “horse-friendly”.
A trailer above all needs a non-slip floor. This should be freshly sprinkled with shavings before setting off as this will be good for both hooves and joints and cushions bumpy roads. Inside, the trailer should be light in colour and at least 2.30 in height. The side walls should be padded to waist-level as well as the rails/posts. If necessary, you can do this yourself using foam rubber and double-sided adhesive tape.
5. The horse trailer is preferably state of the art.
This of course means that trailers with roofs that flap about need to be put to one side. Every trailer should be inspected for possible deterioration while not in use or for any loose parts before each journey. State of the art however also includes possibly installing a little camera showing via a display in your vehicle whether your horse is managing all right in the trailer.
6. The horse trailer must be properly equipped.
A short tether rope or chain should be securely affixed in the trailer. Alternatively, a lead rope with a panic snap may be used, allowing the horse to be quickly freed in any emergency. The horse himself should wear a properly fitting halter and be held securely with a long rope during loading and unloading. Leg protection is also recommended for horses that are frequently transported, are restless when standing or are shod.
7. The horse should be happy in the trailer.
Confined in a narrow trailer, a horse is unable to keep warm by moving around. On cold days it is therefore important to think about using a rug and on wet ones a rain blanket. As the windows should stay open in warm weather, so possibly producing a draught in the trailer, a light fly rug is recommended, even in summer, especially for horses with a sensitive back.
8. The horse trailer must be driven properly.
The driver should take bends slowly and with care, where possible refraining from suddenly braking or accelerating wildly. A vehicle responds more slowly with a trailer attached as it becomes heavier. You should therefore plan the route carefully and think ahead as much as you can while driving.
9. Ensure the horse’s welfare in the trailer.
On long journeys make sure you take a hay net with you. Chewing will make the horse calmer and distract his attention. The net should not however hang too low so the horse could get caught up in it or has to take up an unnatural position to eat. Short stops every two to three hours will not only do the driver good but also the horse. During stops offer the animal water from your own stable. You should therefore take along one to two 10l canisters in your vehicle. As well as a first aid kit. You never know if you might need it. Important According to Commission Regulation (EC) No 504/2008 of 6 June 2008 implementing Council Directives 90/426/EEC1 and 90/427/EEC2 regarding methods for the identification of equidae, it is necessary to carry the animal’s passport whenever transporting a horse. Detailed information can also be found here.
10. When the journey comes to an end.
Remember that when you open up the trailer on arrival, your horse will probably be delighted to be able to move about freely again and will be correspondingly boisterous. You should also check that everything really is all right. Despite monitoring your horse with a camera, you may have overlooked a scratch or scrape or he may have lost a shoe. Incidentally In some cases feed supplements with soothing properties may also be useful prior to or during the journey to avoid stress or improve anxiety management, particularly with nervous horses. Here it is important to consider beforehand how long in advance you should start administration if you are to achieve the desired effect. Don’t forget that this might be relevant in terms of doping. In addition, it may be useful to have a blood test done to find out in advance whether the horse has too much or too little of a particular substance to possibly make up for this through selective supplementation
Vet Dr Caroline FRITZ