Shipping Horses Long Distances

Consider these factors when transporting horses afar, be it to a show or a new home.
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I’ve recently begun searching for a new horse to welcome into my life, and I find myself looking at animals farther and farther away from of my home state of Texas. The process has reminded me how important climate and other considerations can be when shipping horses long distances. The following are some factors to consider when transporting horses afar, be it to a show or to a new home. 

If you’re planning to ship a horse for more than three to four hours, think about his health first. Practice proper preventive care, vaccination, and deworming prior to travel. If your horse isn’t a frequent shipper, you might need to update his vaccines and have your veterinarian perform an overall health check at least two weeks before hitting the road. Your vet might also recommend doing blood work to determine if your horse is healthy enough to undertake long-distance travel or getting an updated Coggins test if your horse’s is more than 6 months old. Some states require proof of a current negative Coggins pulled within the prior 6 months for travel across their borders. 

If your horse requires vaccination, schedule it early enough that the horse’s immune system gets a boost before the stress of shipping—which provides its own set of challenges to even a healthy immune system—and any disease exposures off the farm. This is also a good time to talk to your veterinarian about health certificate requirements and any concerns he or she might have about your horse’s destination, as animal health regulations can vary from state to state and often change depending on disease outbreaks. 

Keep an organized folder of vital paperwork such as vaccine history, Coggins test results, health certificates, and registration papers while traveling. Talk to your veterinarian about preparing a first-aid kit to keep on your trailer in case of emergency. If you already have one, make sure all medications contained in it are labeled and have not expired.

If hauling your own horse rather than hiring a shipping company, it is important to make sure your truck and trailer are ready for long-distance travel. Check your tires and lights to ensure all are in good working order. Give yourself time to repair any potential issues so you are not in a last-minute rush. This is also a good time to clean out the trailer and pack it with necessities such as enough water for your horse to consume during the trip. Water in different parts of the country can taste significantly different, and some horses are very picky about the water they drink. The last thing you want to deal with on a long road trip is a horse that suffers an impaction colic because he does not want to drink water along the way. I also recommend taking enough hay to cover your travel needs plus at least a couple of days. Just as with water, hay and hay quality can vary greatly throughout the United States and other countries. 

If possible, do not restrict your horse’s head or neck position during long trips (six or more hours) because researchers have linked upward head restraint with compromised lung clearance and an increased risk of shipping fever. Also remember that ventilation is vital to healthy travel, and horses locked in a trailer with no air flow can become very hot, especially during summer. On long trips schedule rest stops for your horses and, if possible, time for them to unload and drink water. Offer your horses good-quality hay and water at least every four to six hours during travel (every three to four hours in summer). If you are able to unload horses during stops, this is also a good time to remove any manure and urine-soaked bedding from the trailer so horses are not breathing ammonia-filled air any longer than necessary. Another good idea for long-distance travel is to plan overnight stopping points along the way. Many farms are willing to rent space to owners traveling with horses. Scout these facilities out ahead of time, and have a backup plan in case there is a problem with your first choice.

After arriving at your destination, allow your horse sufficient recovery time before asking him to work or perform. For travel times under 12 hours, 24 hours of rest is typically adequate for recovery. Horses shipping for longer than 12 hours or by plane often require at least two to three days of rest and recovery. During this period watch your horse for any signs of illness, such as nasal discharge or coughing, inappetence or poor water consumption, and abnormal manure production. Call your veterinarian should you note any of these problems, as they can indicate shipping fever or colic post-travel. 

With proper preparation and planning, you and your horse can have an easy and enjoyable long-distance trip.

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Written by:

Kristen Slater, DVM, practices with Kasper & Rigby Veterinary Associates in Magnolia, Texas. Her practice interests include preventive medicine, reproduction, sports rehabilitation, and conditioning.

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