How Often Does Trailer-Driver Error Cause Horse Injury?
Before you load your horse into a trailer, you might wrap his legs and apply a head-bumper to protect him during travel. But one of the most important things you can do to help him arrive at his destination unscathed? Drive safely, researchers say.

Recent study results suggest that as many as 10% of the injuries horses sustain during transport are due to driver error. And that’s mostly because drivers are using their phones (leading to sudden decision-making), taking turns too sharply, braking too hard, driving too fast, not adjusting for slippery conditions, or even causing collisions with horses in tow, researchers said.

The remaining 90% of injuries might be horse-related (moving around, losing balance, kicking, biting, etc.), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t preventable, said Barbara Padalino, PhD, researcher at the University of Bari Aldo Moro Veterinary School, in Bari, Italy. When transporters recognize the behavioral signs that a horse isn’t adapting well to transport, they can intervene—if they know how—to help prevent injuries.

“We recommended that all drivers or transporters attend a course to learn how to drive a vehicle transporting live animals and also to recognize the signs of stress in those animals, which should be monitored by video camera during transit,” Padalino said.

She and colleagues in Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand reviewed more than 1,000 responses from an online survey they created, which focused on transporting horses.

Nearly 18% of respondents reported that a horse had sustained an injury during transport in the past two years, Padalino said.

Recently licensed drivers and drivers with restricted licenses reported more injuries, she said, as did younger drivers and those with fewer than five years of experience handling horses.

The respondents included horse transport professionals as well as nonprofessionals. Professionals reported more accidents within the past two years nonprofessionals, which is understandable because they transport more horses in general, Padalino explained.

Being trained to haul animals, recognizing signs of poor welfare during transport, and managing those animals properly are critical for reducing injury rates, she said. Even licensed professionals need training, as many such license programs don’t include these skills, she added.

“Horse handling and horse transport are two different training subjects, but anyone who transports horses needs both,” said Padalino, who is currently preparing an online course and a book to help people learn to transport horses safely.

The study, “A Survey-Based Investigation of Human Factors Associated With Transport Related Injuries in Horses,” was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.