Do you worry about your horse getting injured in the trailer? If so, you’re probably not alone. But how often do these types of injuries occur? While several studies have focused on injuries during commercial transport of horses going to slaughter, a group of Australian and New Zealand researchers recently evaluated injuries during private transport.

“This seems to be an understudied issue lacking attention and perhaps an area of equine welfare that had not been well-studied,” said Christopher Riley, BVSc, PhD, professor and head of equine clinical studies at Massey University, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. “There was a lack of data on which to make recommendations for positive change.”

To help fill this gap, Riley and his colleagues surveyed 223 drivers (157 women, 62 men, and four of undisclosed gender) transporting horses to 12 equestrian events in southeastern Australia. Their goal was to collect information on driver demographics, driving/towing practices, vehicle and trailer characteristics, as well as incidents involving injury to horses.

The researchers said one in four survey participants had experienced a horse injury during transport at some point—a statistic similar to that reported during commercial transport.

Most injuries (83.6%) were reported to have occurred during transport, but a few were sustained during loading (3.6%), unloading (7.3%), or while the loaded trailer was stationary (3.6%).

Drivers attributed horse injuries to:

  • Behaviors, such as scrambling, panicking, losing balance, etc. (72.7%);
  • Trailer mechanical failure (11%);
  • Traffic-related issues (9%);
  • Driver error (5.5%); and
  • Road conditions (1.8%).

The team also identified several factors that appeared to correlate with an increased likelihood of equine injury, including:

  • Towing larger trailers;
  • Towing older-model trailers;
  • Traveling longer distances to horse events;
  • Answering a phone while driving;
  • Driving on a lack of sleep; and
  • Failing to inspect truck/trailer on a regular basis.

As such, Riley recommended those hauling horse trailers take precautions to help reduce the likelihood of injury.

“Check and carefully inspect your tow vehicle (and) trailer before and after every journey,” he said. “Reduce distractions while driving, and take care to drive for the comfort of your horse, rather than operating a vehicle at the maximum allowable speed limits.

“Take your time to habituate your horse to travel well before it is necessary to take a real journey,” Riley added. “This is critical to (protecting) their welfare and reducing the risk of a transportation-related injury.”

The study, “Horse Injury during Non-Commercial Transport: Findings from Researcher-Assisted Intercept Surveys at Southeastern Australian Equestrian Events,” was published in Animals