2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
By Joseph Hahn
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
Whether your destination is a veterinary clinic, a competition, or a secluded spot for a long country ride, getting there can be more than half the battle with some horses. The following advice will help make traveling with your horse safer and more enjoyable.
"Trailering goes against all the natural instincts of a prey species like a horse," says Dr. R. Dean Scoggins, equine Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "They are asked to enter a relatively small, often dark, confining space with no apparent exit. Noise, motion, and possibly even flashing lights are present. The horse sees no means of escape and thus no way to survive. For the horse, the situation is tremendously stressful."
Responsible horse owners will find ways to reduce the stress on the horse. You should consider both the trailer and the horse as you seek safe ways to travel.
The trailer should be large enough for the horse to move its head about, which helps it maintain balance. The stall should allow the horse to move a step forward or backward and shift its weight from side to side slightly.
According to Dr. Scoggins, many hauling problems are created by poor or careless driving habits. Sudden starts or stops, going too fast around corners, and frequent lane changes all cause anxiety in horses and can result in their developing bad habits. Keep in mind that the weight of the horse in the trailer increases the distance needed for stopping and increases the "whip" effect if the trailer swerves.
"Be certain the loaded trailer pulls level, the tires are inflated and sound, and the brakes and lights work," says Dr. Scoggins. "Check these elements frequently."
Other tips for safe trailers include ensuring adequate ventilation, especially in hot weather. Avoid congested stop-and-go traffic when possible. Leave the interior lights on at night so the headlights of vehicles coming from behind do not startle the horses.
Teaching a horse to load requires some patience and is best accomplished when plenty of time is available. Dr. Scoggins explains that most horses can be taught to enter and leave a trailer with control in 1 hour or less. "Don't use treats, bribery, or excessive force," he says. "Videotapes and clinics are available to show owners how to teach a horse to both enter and leave a trailer. Horses that learn to properly load and unload will also haul better."
Dr. Scoggins advises using drugs to restrain horses only in emergency situations. Most competitions test for depressants, and anything given to the horse within in the preceding 5 to 7 days may result in a positive test. Some of today's newer sedatives can result in serious instability problems at relatively small doses.
Common sense and taking a little extra care will help avoid major problems in hauling horses.
For further information or questions contact you local equine