Written by Brad Heath
“Are we there yet?” If you’ve ever taken a road trip with little kids before, you’ve likely heard this question, and its many variations, over and over. The almost constant interrogation from the little passengers in the back seat can make a long trip even longer.
If your horses could talk, their whinnies and neighs would probably echo from inside the trailer, “how much longer?” Or even, “when are we going to get there?” Just like long road trips can be difficult for little kids, trailering horses long distance can be difficult and stressful for your horses too.
And while little kids are safely buckled up in the back seat, your horses don’t have seat belts to keep them safe and secure in the trailer. That’s why it’s important to have a durable and safe trailer that will protect them in the case of an accident. But even with the best trailer, your horses can still be injured during travel.
Horse owners have an important responsibility to do all they can to keep their horses safe, comfortable, and relaxed during travel. With a few simple tips, you can prevent injury for horses during long distance travel. A horse that travels well in the trailer will be a happy horse that will perform better when you arrive at your destination. Here’s a few tips to keep your horse cool, calm, and collected while trailering a horse long distance.
In this article…
One Australian study done a couple years ago researched what type of horse injury was the most common for horses being trailered by regular horse owners. They found that a very small percentage of the injuries, 6% to be exact, were the driver’s fault. The majority of the horse injuries, almost three out of every four injuries they saw, were “horse associated” (1).
In other words, they were things like scrambling, panicking, slipping, kicking - typical behaviors for a horse that is stressed in the trailer. They also found that a large number of the injuries came from horse to horse interaction, when two or more horses were trailered together.
The majority of the injuries that the horses suffered from occurred mostly in the lower area - on their fragile limbs. Horse legs are especially fragile and prone to both minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, and bruises, and also major injuries like bowed tendons and broken bones.
This study also revealed an important statistic - about 1 out of every 4 horse owners has dealt with a trailer-related horse injury (2). This is a large percentage of horse owners, and the more you trailer, the more likely you are to experience a trailer-related horse injury.
That being said, horse owners should do all they can to protect their horse from danger while traveling. Many of the horse owners who reported horse leg injury in the study mentioned above failed to do the standard safety checks before trailering horses long distance. You can minimize the probability of injury by making sure your horse is well-prepared for travel and taking all the necessary safety precautions.
Getting ready for a big trip can be stressful - not just for you, but for your horse also. That’s why it’s important to take all the right steps to prepare your horse for a long distance trip. Making sure your horse is well-fed and hydrated, preparing a travel first-aid kit, and doing a trailer safety check can make travel much less stressful for everyone.
If you are hauling horses across state lines, you will most likely need to bring veterinary paperwork to show that your horse is healthy and free of contagious diseases. Most states don’t have specific vaccination requirements, but it’s important to check with your veterinarian to see if the region where you are traveling to has any specific health risks for your horse.
We talked to veterinary expert Dr. Hannah Mueller from Cedarbrook Veterinary Care in Snohomish, Washington to ask about travel documents for horses. She recommended, “When traveling with horses, always share your travel plans with your veterinarian. Since rules and regulations are different in every state, and can change without notice, your veterinarian is the best resource you have to figure out what documents you need for your trip.”
Although most states don’t have vaccination requirements, Dr. Mueller recommends vaccinating your horse if you are traveling with horses to a state where rabies is a real risk. Rabies is more common in the south and on the east coast than it is in the western states, so make sure your horse is protected before your big trip.
Having a durable, quality trailer is important for any type of travel, but especially for hauling horses cross country. Make sure your trailer is the right size for your horse’s breed and has all the necessary safety requirements to keep your horse safe during travel.
Once you have a safe trailer that’s a good fit for your horse and tow vehicle, it’s important to do a pre-flight check. Before every trip, check inside your trailer and make sure everything is ready for travel. Check your trailer’s interior for metal pieces that could poke your horse, sharp edges, and other damaged things that could be dangerous.
You should always travel with a full first-aid kit as well, in case you have to deal with a horse injury during your trip. It should be up-to-date and filled with items like bandage material, horse leg injury treatment items, a stethoscope, a thermometer, and medicines and supplements your horse could need in the case of emergency. It’s also a good idea to include eye ointment, antibiotic ointment for wounds, and electrolytes as well.
Make sure the trailer is comfortable for your horse. You can add bedding to your trailer to minimize the stress on your horse’s feet and joints during travel. If your trailer has bare floors, bedding can create a nice cushion for your horse and make the trip more enjoyable.
When traveling with horses, make sure your horses are well watered and well fed. This can prevent many of the travel-related illnesses your horses can face on the road. Dr. Mueller recommends having at least one hay bag for each horse in the trailer. She says, “it’s best to bring hay from your barn at home so that your horse is familiar with the feed. If you can bring the water he’s familiar with as well, that would be a good idea.”
Since you might not be able to transport enough water, make sure to offer your horse water at every rest stop. Sometimes, your horse could be picky about the water he drinks. If your horse has done this before, make sure you are prepared and bring enough water from home that he likes.
If you don’t have room to bring water, what you can do is bring water flavorings on your trip. The trick is to start adding the water flavoring to your horse’s water a few days before transporting a horse long distance, so he can adjust to it. Then, during the trip, just add the flavorings to any water and your horse will be more likely to drink it since the water is familiar to him.
For hydration, Dr. Mueller also recommends electrolytes. She said, “I recommend orally dosing electrolytes starting the day before travel, they help encourage your horse to drink water and are great for keeping horses well hydrated.”
Like we mentioned earlier, horse legs are delicate and especially prone to injury during horse transportation. Bumping into something, kicking a trailer wall or interior divider, or getting kicked by another horse in the trailer are all things that could cause a severe horse leg injury.
But the good news is that even though your horse has fragile legs, there’s a few different things that you can do to keep him safe during travel.
Wrapping your horse’s legs or using shipping boots during transportation can protect your horse from many trailer-related injuries. Horse leg wraps for trailering and leg bandages can also give your horse a little added support and also prevent leg swelling. They can be extremely useful for keeping your horse safe in the trailer.
However, many horse owners don’t know how to properly apply leg wraps for their horses. And if a leg wrap is too tight or unevenly wrapped, it can quickly turn into a tourniquet that can cut off circulation, damage leg tendons and ligaments, and cause horse leg injury.
If you don’t know how to correctly apply horse leg wraps for trailering, make sure you have an experienced horse person do it for you or show you how to do it. And make sure to always start with enough cotton padding on the base layer so it’s comfortable for your horse.
If you decide to go with shipping boots - the velcro fasteners make them much easier to put on and also, they’re re-usable - make sure they’re the right size for your horse. A size too big or too small can make them rub on your horse’s legs, causing irritation and rashes. Even the best shipping boots for horses, if applied incorrectly, can cause severe damage.
Horse leg wraps for trailering are great for giving your horse a shield of protection against kicks and brushes from other horses with him in the trailer. But, if your horse is traveling alone, you might not even need to use leg wraps or shipping boots.
If your horse usually travels alone, be careful when traveling with other horses. When hauling horses, most of the injuries that happen inside the trailer happens because of other horses in the trailer. They can kick each other or move around and hurt another horse’s fragile legs.
To keep your horse safe and your friend's horse safe, make sure your horses are used to traveling together. If your horse is an anxious traveler, it’s better to tell your friends that you can’t transport their horse with yours. It might be an awkward conversation to have at first, but it’s better to communicate your worries than to have to pay veterinary bills and put your friendship at risk.
It’s also very common for horses to suffer horse injury and mishaps during the unloading and loading process. Taking the time to practice loading and unloading with your horse and training them to be comfortable and calm around the trailer can prevent many of these injuries.
However, sometimes even the most thorough training can’t prevent a badly-designed trailer. Trailers that have no ramps or large gaps in the area that connects the ramp to the trailer can pose a serious threat to your delicate horse legs. One slip or misstep could cause a serious horse leg injury - anything from a bad scrape to even a broken bone.
To prevent this, and to make the loading and unloading process so much easier, use a SafeTack slant load horse trailer. Rather than having to back your horse out of the trailer backwards, with these types of trailers, you have enough space to fully turn your horse around and walk forward-facing down the ramp and out of the trailer. This is a much more relaxed and safer unloading process for both you and your horse.
The unloading process is also much easier in trailers that have a side loading door. That way, you can load in from the side door, face your horses towards the rear of the trailer (studies have found this decreases stress and horses are better able to balance in this position), then simply walk them out of the trailer when you are ready to unload.
No matter what type of trailer you have, make sure to practice loading and unloading with your horse so that he can unload calmly and safely after a long trip.
Shipping fever is a type of lung infection that is a combination of pneumonia and pleuritis. Horses can contract shipping fever after long distance horse hauling. The stress of travel and remaining in the same position for a long period of time can make a horse susceptible to this disease. Horses that have shipping fever have fluid buildup in their lungs that makes movement painful and uncomfortable.
Dr. Mueller explained “shipping fever is common in horses that travel long distances with a compromised immune system or while experiencing stress.” So, what can you do to prevent your horse from getting shipping fever while trailering horses long distance?
First, give your horse enough space in the trailer to move his head up and down safely. During travel, your horse can inhale particles that can irritate his throat and lungs. Your horse needs to have enough space to drop his head to clear anything he accidentally gets in his mouth. If your horse’s head is trapped in the same position for long amounts of time, it’s more likely that the particles and fluid will build up in the lungs, leading to infection.
Second, when you travel with horses, make sure your trailer is well ventilated and a comfortable temperature for your horse. Horses that become dehydrated during travel have weaker immune systems and are more prone to diseases. Make sure your horse is as cool as possible and that there’s good airflow in your trailer. This will also minimize your horse’s stress, keeping him happy and healthy.
Third, before hauling horses cross country, make sure your horse is healthy. Avoid contact with sick animals, especially before your trip. It’s also a good idea to take your horse for a quick check up before long distance horse hauling. To keep your horse as healthy as possible, you can also give them vitamin C or Echinacea to prevent shipping fever. Dr. Mueller recommends giving it to your horse starting the day before the trip, during the trip, and for a few days after you arrive at your destination.
If this is your first time hauling horses cross country, you might be asking questions like: how long can a horse be in a trailer? How long can you trailer a horse without stopping? Where can I find horse rest stops?
It’s very important to take frequent breaks while hauling horses cross country. Giving your horse the chance to get out of the trailer every few hours to move around and stretch its legs will not only decrease stress, but it can also prevent shipping fever as well. Walking around at horse rest stops, even for just a few minutes, allows your horse’s lungs to expand and prevents fluid buildup.
For safe long-distance transport, make sure to check your horse’s vital signs at every rest stop - their temperature, pulse, and respiratory rate. By making sure these numbers are all normal (a normal temperature is between 98-101 degrees Fahrenheit, a normal pulse is between pulse 36-44 beats per minute, and a normal breathing rate is between 8-20 breaths per minute) you can catch signs of stress or sickness early and prevent horse injury and illness.
You can also check to see if your horse is dehydrated or not by checking their gum color or doing the skin pinch test. A healthy, hydrated horse has moist, light pink gums. If you notice that your horse has white or purple gums and their mouth feels dry, your horse could be dehydrated. You can also check by pinching the skin on your horse’s shoulder or neck. If the skin quickly bounces back into place, your horse is well-hydrated, but if not, then your horse needs more water.
It’s important to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration and colic when trailering horses long distance. Catching these common problems earlier can save your horse from more serious problems and make the trip much more enjoyable.
When hauling horses cross country, you should take a rest stop every two to three hours. During these breaks, unload your horse and give him some time to walk around and stretch his legs. Refill your horse’s water and feed, check the inside of the trailer, and check your horse to make sure everything is going smoothly.
For horses, trailering is constant exercise because they have to balance the whole time the trailer is moving. For that reason, Dr. Mueller advises that horses “should be healthy, strong, and well conditioned before travel. If not, transporting a horse long distance could cause your horse to become sore, tired, or put them at risk of having their muscles tie up during transport.”
When hauling horses cross country, your horses are exposed to huge amounts of vibration. The movement of the trailer tires creates vibration that’s transferred up from the trailer floor to horse legs. But the vibration doesn’t just stop there - it’s transferred from your horse’s legs to his spine, where it can cause serious damage.
Dr. Joren Whitley, a horse chiropractor in Oklahoma, has seen firsthand how excess trailer vibration can cause spine deterioration in horses. He says, “putting a horse’s joints, especially their spine, under vibration can increase damage twice as fast.” Vibration puts excess stress on a horse’s bones and body and creates an unnatural and dangerous movement that can cause a horse’s spine to deteriorate.
During a short trip in a trailer, your horse might not feel the effects of road vibration as much as he would during long distance horse transport. While traveling long distances, your horse is exposed to vibration during long periods of time, which can cause serious spine decay and deterioration problems. But, there is something you can do to minimize the vibration your horse experiences during travel.
To prevent injury for horses, and minimize the amount of rattling and discomfort your horse experiences on the road, it’s important to have a trailer that minimizes vibration. Double D Trailers are specifically designed with supported floors that minimize not just heat transfer from the road but also vibration and noise.
Correctly rated tires and axles are also essential for a smoother trailer ride. If your trailer has overly stiff tires, it makes for a rough, bumpy ride for your horses - putting them at greater risk for spine deterioration, horse leg injury, stress and illness. That’s why Brad Heath always recommends “ST” tires and not “LT” tires. He says, “I always warn customers not to buy tires rated for overly heavy loads. These types of tires put too much strain on your trailer’s axles and brakes and cause a bumpy, uncomfortable trip for your horses.”
When it comes to minimizing vibration, it all depends on the quality of your trailer and the building materials the manufacturers used. If your trailer has a thin, aluminum floor, vibration from the road will quickly and constantly travel up your trailer tires and onto your horse’s legs. Make sure to choose a horse trailer with safety features like synthetic Rumber flooring that minimizes vibration.
To prevent injury for horses during long trailer rides, Dr. Joren Whitley suggests frequent horse rest stops during travel. This gives your horse time to get out of the trailer and walk around and change the type of movement and exercise that he’s been experiencing for hours in the trailer. Giving them a rest from the constant vibration during travel is essential for keeping their spines healthy and relaxed.
Dr. Joren Whitley also recommends getting your horse’s body adjusted and warmed up before going into the trailer. Walking around with your horse for 15-30 minutes before traveling minimizes the damage to your horse’s spine. Dr. Joren Whitley says, “what you're doing is minimizing the probability of damage because you're keeping the body moving. So when your horse gets in the trailer, he can freely move around without being locked down.”
It’s also important to do all you can to minimize your horse’s stress while hauling horses cross country. Stress has a profound impact on not just your horse’s well-being and behavior, but also how their body functions. Dr. Joren Whitley says, “If your horse is experiencing stress, it creates changes in their body - first, their body doesn't make the right amount of stomach acid. That leads to not absorbing the right amount of nutrients. Which can lead to malnutrition issues because the horse’s body isn’t working like it's supposed to.”
One of the ways you can help your horse cope with the physical stress of horse transportation is by taking your horse to a horse chiropractor. Horse chiropractors like Dr. Joren Whitley adjust your horse’s spine, correcting the spine’s alignment and decreasing stress in your horse’s body. This makes it possible for your horse to perform better and even behave better.
Riding puts a lot of pressure on a horse’s spine, specifically the part that connects to their ribs. And that pressure is directed towards the area in your horse’s body where their vital organs are located. Sometimes, this pressure and stress can cause a horse’s organs to not work like they're supposed to. With proper realignment from a horse chiropractor, the spine is adjusted and your horse’s organs can work properly and more efficiently.
Dr. Joren Whitley says that a lot of times, horse owners bring their horses in because their horse isn’t behaving like it used to. Maybe your horse isn’t jumping like he used to, or suddenly starts having an attitude and doesn’t want to train like before.
He explains, “more often than not, after making one or two simple adjustments, the horse completely chills out and it's a completely different animal.” How can just a few tweaks at the horse chiropractor completely change your horse? Well, it’s quite simple actually. Most of the time, horses start acting out or behaving differently because they’re in pain. If you solve the problem and get rid of their pain, they’ll return to being their normal, happy self.
Remember, as a horse owner, it’s your responsibility to keep your horse safe and happy. Whether it’s during long distance travel, or during a normal day at the ranch, your horse’s health and safety should always be a top priority.
Having a durable and reliable trailer made with your horse’s safety in mind is the best way to keep your horse safe and secure while on the road - especially while hauling horses cross country. A high-quality trailer with all the necessary safety features can make long distance travel much more enjoyable and can better prevent injury for horses during travel.
Choose a trailer that will minimize road vibration, protect your horse from danger, and keep your horse relaxed and happy even on the longest trips. Start designing your custom horse trailer today. If you have any questions about long distance horse hauling or choosing the best trailer for your horse, don’t hesitate to contact Brad Heath.
This article was written by Brad Heath and published on Friday, 11 March 2022.
What’s the best leg protection for horses during long distance travel?
Horse leg wraps for trailering and shipping boots are two different types of leg protection for your horse during travel. Many horse owners prefer shipping boots because they are easy to use and you can put them on your horse quickly and easily. Wrapping your horse’s legs, when done correctly, is a very effective type of leg protection as well. In the end, the best leg protection for horses will depend on what your horse is used to and comfortable with during travel.
Where can I find horse friendly rest areas?
When planning where you’ll be stopping during your horse rest stops, look for stables or fairgrounds along your route. These open areas usually have lots of room for trailers and can serve as horse friendly rest areas. Make sure to call ahead to make sure they have room for you and are okay with taking a pit stop there.
What are the best shipping boots for horses?
To find the best shipping boots for your horse, it’s important you make sure the shipping boots are the right size. Shipping boots that are too big or too small can rub your horse’s skin and cause rashes and irritation. Make sure to choose shipping boots that are secure and provide full protection of your horse’s legs.
What are good places to stop when traveling with horses?
For horse rest stops, stables and fairgrounds are a couple great options. But if you’re looking for a place to stay overnight with your horse, Equine Info Exchange has a great directory of horse motels and overnights that you can check out here. It’s organized by state so you can easily find places along your route to stay the night.
How long can a horse travel in a trailer?
Most experts and sources say that you should not trailer your horse for more than 12 hours. However, to keep your horse healthy and safe, you should plan on taking a 20-30 minute break every two to three hours to let your horse walk around and take a break from being in the trailer.
What are some tips for hauling horses long distances?
When hauling horses long distance, make sure you have all the necessary vaccines and paperwork for your horse depending on the state you are going to. Be sure to plan ahead where you will stop for your horse rest stops, and plan to stop every two to three hours to give your horse a break from travel. Also, before traveling make sure your horse is well hydrated (you can even give your horses electrolytes the day before the big trip). Always make sure you are prepared with extra water, feed, and a first aid kit.
Should I feed my horse before trailering?
Your horse should be well rested, well hydrated, and well fed before a big trip. It’s also a good idea to give your horse electrolytes the day before travel. Don’t make any big changes in your horse's diet or routine before a big trip, as he could react badly and stop drinking water or eating like normal. Always try to keep things as normal as possible for your horse so both you and your horse can avoid stress during the trip.
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