Motion Sickness, Trailer Loading Troubles, and Your Horse

Could motion sickness make a horse reluctant to load and cause him to scramble in the trailer? Find out what the research says.

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horse motion sickness
Some horses are relatively easy to load, but start having problems as soon as the trailer starts to move. These horses might be suffering from motion sickness. | Photo: iStock

Q.My 11-year-old gelding is somewhat high strung and becomes nervous when hauled. I would like help in managing his nervousness, especially when trailering and, of course, safety is important! In the four years I’ve owned him, we’ve worked with various trainers and he is easier to load, but still scrambles constantly and lathers with sweat when hauled, even over short distances. I think he might have motion sickness. Do horses get motion sickness and what can I do?

—Via e-mail

A.Some horses do suffer from motion sickness, but not much is known about it or how common it is. Transporting horses involves a number of challenges, including loading, confinement, restraint, environment (e.g., road noise), and movement.1 Researchers Santurtun and Phillips investigated the effect of vehicle motion on a few livestock species, including horses.2 Some animals experienced clinical signs consistent with motion sickness, including: salivation and licking/chewing, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and frequent defecation, eating or chewing on nonfood items (pica), elevated heart rate, stress behaviors, teeth grinding, pawing, and stepping back and forth to maintain balance. Emesis (vomiting) is also a GI sign of motion sickness, but horses can’t

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Written by:

Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, IAABC-Certified Horse Behavior Consultant, is a research professor at the University of Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington. She holds a doctorate in animal behavior and has taught courses in animal learning and behavior for more than 20 years. Her research looks at temperament, stress, and burn-out as they relate to the selection, retention, and welfare of therapy horses. She also provides private behavior consultations and training services in the Seattle area.

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