Planning a Long-Distance Move With Your Horse

An owner wants to know how to best prepare her senior horse for a move from Florida to Virginia. Dr. Chrissie Schneider offers advice.
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Planning a Long-Distance Move With Your Horse
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Q. I’m moving my 26-year-old gelding from Florida to Virginia this fall. Given his age, are there certain steps I need to take to ensure he makes the trip safely and in good health?

Carly, via e-mail

A. It is great that you are considering ways to make your horse’s travel experience as safe as possible. There are a few things you can do to help keep him healthy during and after the trip. Try to schedule any fall vaccinations at least two weeks before his departure date. This will give your horse’s immune system time to adapt and recover post-vaccination so he is protected once he gets to his new home. Your veterinarian can advise you on which core or risk-based vaccines your horse might need this time of year (TheHorse.com/136534). You will also need a current Coggins (proof of a negative test for equine infectious anemia) and a health certificate to cross state lines, so arrange to have those done at the same time as his vaccinations. 

Ensuring your horse is well-hydrated prior to shipping is very important. Give your horse electrolytes in the form of paste or powder by mouth once daily for three days prior to transport. Electrolytes increase water consumption, which is our goal here, so be sure to offer plenty of fresh, clean water at all times prior to the trip.

Pack multiple large jugs of water from home, and offer your horse water every couple of hours during the journey. Some horses are picky about how water tastes, and providing a familiar source can help us be sure they’re drinking well while on the road. You should also bring a few bales of hay from home and make hay available throughout the trip.

Protect your horse’s legs with either standing wraps or shipping boots during transit. And pack a sheet if you anticipate cooler weather on his journey north. You can easily swap blankets or sheets if needed during transit as temperatures change.

Depending on your horse’s health and risk factors for pneumonia post-shipping (sometimes called “shipping fever”), you might want to ship him untied in a box-stall-type trailer. This configuration allows your horse to put his head down and clear his airways well during the trip. When a horse’s head is tied up, as is the case in many straight- or slant-load trailers, he’s unable to put his head down to help clear the airways. This can set him up for respiratory disease after the trip. If your horse is immunocompromised (e.g., has pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction or is on long-term steroid treatment), as some older horses are, we definitely recommend an untied box stall ­configuration.

No matter the trailer setup, make sure it’s well-bedded with shavings. In addition to absorbing urine and manure during the trip, bedding gives horses extra ­traction. Shipping is an active, tiring process for horses standing in a trailer, so we need to help any way we can. Imagine standing in a subway car, stopping, starting, and turning all the way from Florida to Virginia. It would be tiring regardless of the situation, but much more so if we were wearing slippery shoes on a slippery surface. Bed the trailer well!

When you arrive at your destination, offer your horse water and hay from home as he checks out his new surroundings. Slowly start introducing new hay to his diet over the next two weeks. Monitor your horse’s rectal temperature at least once a day for seven days after the trip to monitor for signs of developing illness. Call a veterinarian if you notice your horse is off feed, coughing, develops diarrhea or nasal discharge, becomes lame, or has a fever (>101.5 F). I hope these recommendations will help prepare you and your horse for a safe and uneventful trip north.

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Written by:

Chrissie Schneider, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Equine Practice), cVMA, is an equine veterinarian living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s had a special interest in preventive care since graduating from The Ohio State University’s veterinary school in 2009. In her spare time she enjoys triathlons and getting back into horseback riding.

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