07/25/2014 10:24AM

Preparation key for safe travel


With summer racing at its height and the yearling sales season just beginning, horse trailers are everywhere – hauling horses to racetracks around the country, to the sales grounds, and to training centers to start their lessons.

As is well documented, horses have surprisingly delicate systems, and the stress of a change in routine or environment can lead to a number of physical maladies. Steps should be taken prior to and during a lengthy van ride to ensure the horse has a safe and healthy experience.

“You want to take away as many stressors as possible,” said Curt Lange, a spokesman for Brook Ledge Horse Transportation. “You try to take away things that can be problems before they become problems. The thing I have learned about horses and continue to learn is that you have to assume they’re like an infant child and they’re going to get themselves into trouble. The way you childproof your house or your car, you try to childproof the van ride.”

Preparation should begin well before a trip, as paperwork, including a horse’s health certificate and immunization records, must be in order, particularly when traveling between racetracks that may have varying requirements.

“Some tracks want a health certificate within 72 hours,” said Judi Baumann, Kentucky area manager for Bob Hubbard Horse Transportation. “Every track has different requirements. A lot require a vaccination history on [equine herpesvirus]. Some also want a statement on the health certificate that a horse has not been exposed to it or was on the premises where there was a quarantine for it.”

In any event, pre-shipping health checks provide a final opportunity to ensure a horse is in top shape and ready to travel, as a healthy horse with no pre-existing conditions will be less susceptible to catching an illness en route.

“If I’m an owner and shipping a horse, I want to make sure he’s shipping healthy,” Lange said. “If you ship a horse who’s half-sick, it pretty much ensures that by the time you get there, he’ll be wholly sick from the stress. You don’t know what the horse may come in contact with. There’s a transient population on that trailer.”

A horse preparing to travel should be up to date on all immunizations – particularly those against respiratory viruses, which easily can be spread when horses are confined to close quarters. Some veterinarians recommend giving a broad-spectrum, long-term antibiotic prior to travel to ward off any unforeseen illnesses a horse may be exposed to while traveling. Lange said he favors giving the horse an immune stimulant shot prior to travel.

Preparation for shipping also entails deciding if a horse will be outfitted with protective leg gear – and if so, making sure the horse is accustomed to wearing it, a particular concern as young horses head off to sales or training centers.

“If it’s a yearling who’s not used to shipping and now you wrap them, you might cause more trouble than it’s worth,” Baumann said. “If you’re going to use standing bandages or wraps, you should get the horse used to them.”

In addition to the experience level of the horse, the type of trailer and the length of the trip also can influence bandaging decisions. Some trailers have partitions extending all the way to the floor between stalls, and horses might be more comfortable traveling unbandaged. In trailers where a partition does not extend all the way to the floor, bandages might prevent a horse from incurring injury inflicted by a clumsy or aggressive neighbor. Some types of wraps should not be worn long term, which means that it will be important to know beforehand where there will be stops or layovers on the trip and who will be available to change the horse’s bandages.

Lange stressed that other tack and equipment a horse may be wearing should be fitted properly and checked carefully to ensure safety.

“I go to a lot of horse sales and things, and one of my pet peeves is the halter not fitting properly,” Lange said. “Either it’s too tight, and if the horse goes to resisting for any reason, it can snap, or it’s too loose and can slip off the head. And then you’ve got a loose horse in the trailer.

“If they’re shod, make sure their shoes are on tight,” Lange added. “That’s a big one. If they pull the shoe half off, they can get a nail from a spun shoe through the sole.”

Hydration is vital to equine health, and water intake must be monitored while shipping, particularly on a long trip in the summer months.

“We do like to give horses electrolyte paste,” Baumann said. “It keeps them drinking, well hydrated, and replenishes any loss of minerals if they’re sweating.”

Baumann said she recommends that owners provide electrolyte paste but that Bob Hubbard also keeps the product on hand in trailers. Some owners prefer to give electrolyte granules, to be dissolved in water – but if a finicky horse won’t drink from an unfamiliar water bucket, supplements in the water do no good.

“I use paste because you can take it, put it in the horse’s mouth, and you know they got it,” Baumann said.

Lange said that to encourage horses to drink, a water bucket should be filled when a horse leaves its original location, to provide something familiar. For the same reason, he also advocates providing hay that the horse is used to while en route and upon arrival.

A horse should be checked for signs of dehydration throughout the trip, with a simple skin test providing a major clue. A hydrated horse’s skin is elastic and when pinched snaps back into place almost immediately; a dehydrated horse’s skin may “stick” in position when pinched. Urine and manure output also can offer clues as to a horse’s internal health.

Providing mineral oil before shipping might help keep a horse’s digestive system regular during the stress of a trip, preventing some forms of colic.

“We recommend – and a lot of racehorse people do it anyway – prior to pickup that you have the horse oiled,” Baumann said. “It helps keep their system loose so there’s no impaction colic. It’s a good thing to do.”

Lange said that when it comes to providing mineral oil or any type of preventive therapy, it’s wise to discuss issues beforehand with a medical professional.

“It’s up to you and your vet,” he said.