Emergency Preparedness - Transporting Your Equine

Hurrying to load horse into trailer.
Hurrying to load horse into trailer. Flickr - Virginia State Parks

Although some horses never leave the area where they live, at one time or another, due to emergency or other needs, your horse will most likely require transportation to a veterinarian's office or to a hospital. Some horses view the experience as an adventure, but other horses are wary and willful when it comes to approaching a trailer, let alone entering it.

Practice Makes Perfect When Trailering Your Horse

Don't wait until you have an emergency and must get your horse to an equine hospital. If you don't have a trailer of your own, know where you can quickly get one. Spend some time practicing entering a trailer with your horse so that it becomes routine, rather than a confrontational situation.

Caution

Never enter the trailer ahead of the horse or put yourself in a position where you can be crushed against the wall of the trailer. Given the size, power, and unpredictable nature of a horse, especially when startled or frightened, always make sure you are in the clear.

Communication between owner and equine is important when trailering your horse. The horse must understand what is required, and it's the handler's job to make the process easy to understand.

If you have a horse that is easily led, cooperative, and good with lunge techniques, you are most likely ahead of the game. With most horses, the initial trailer experience will take some getting used to. Being confident in your expectations and communicating that confidence is important.

First Steps in Trailering Your Horse

Allowing your horse to become familiar with the trailer when you don't have to go anywhere is a good idea. Give your horse the opportunity to sniff at the trailer, walk around it, and possibly feed in or near it so that the horse's curiosity will be satisfied and the trailer will be less threatening.

Once the horse is familiar with the trailer, make the loading procedure a comfortable, safe one. When your horse approaches the trailer and you are getting it ready to walk up the ramp or step into the trailer, you may want to reward the horse with a treat, such as a piece of carrot, as an incentive to keep moving forward.

Some horse trainers say that trailer loading is not about eating and that horses shouldn't be bribed with food to get them into the trailer. They maintain that at times food may not be available and that it can also cause bad behavior on the part of the horse when being loaded and unloaded from a trailer. You know your horse best, so do what you think will make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Since some horses startle at the sound of the hoof hitting the ramp or bottom of the trailer, try spreading some bedding or padding the ramp to muffle the noise and help with the entry. If the ramp is at a severe incline, try to park where the horse doesn't have to walk up a steep grade.

Some horses will continue to balk and will refuse to enter the trailer no matter how patient and rewarding you are. In that case, some trainers recommend that the horse be put to work. You may need to exercise and work the horse hard for a period of time. Eventually, the horse will realize that entering the trailer means that it will be able to relax.

You and Your Horse Are Almost There

Once you have the horse in the trailer, it's time for some petting and perhaps a piece of carrot or apple as a reward. The horse should be tied with enough slack to move comfortably. If possible, long tie horses by the cheek ring of the halter. This allows maximum head movement and facilitates sinus clearing and airway drainage.

Some studies have shown that horses are less stressed when they face the rear of the trailer as opposed to the front, while others indicate that orientation is not a factor in causing stress during transport.

Depending on how long the trip to the equine hospital is and what health issues affect your horse, you may want to offer hay and water during the ride. Hay serves as a pacifier and also helps retain water in the gut during transit. Refrain from feeding grain before or during a trailer trip, since stress affects gut function, causing grain to sit and ferment, with the possible result of colic.

Some horses fear trailers after unpleasant experiences such as sudden stops and starts and traveling on bumpy roads at a high speed. When transporting your horse in a trailer, keep the ride as smooth and uneventful as possible so as to avoid discomfort for the horse.

Unloading Your Horse

Unloading your horse from the trailer takes some time and training. Most horses are ready and willing to get out of that box, but care needs to be taken to prevent injury to horse or handler. Ideally, you want your horse to slowly walk or back out of the horse trailer in a relaxed posture. Whether you are using a straight load or slant load trailer, with or without a ramp, you should be working towards this goal.

Some stock trucks and horse or box vans have steep ramps which may not be safe to back down. In most cases, the reason you want to ask the horse to back up is for safety. A horse that is in a hurry to get out of a trailer may step on or over you to get out of the trailer. Keeping the horse calm by talking to it and moving slowly without banging doors or making other loud noises will help the horse take it one step at a time.

Get your horse used to people being around when trailering and untrailering. At an emergency equine facility, people would be there to meet you and possibly help get your horse out of the trailer. If the horse is used to seeing people and hearing conversations in the process, it will be better prepared for this situation.

As in many activities, practice does make perfect. By working with your horse when you are not in an emergency situation or in a hurry, you can build good habits that will help whenever your horse must be transported.

Remember that the trailer is one of the most dangerous places for you to be with your horse. Make it a little safer by practicing and by following simple guidelines that ensure safety.

USRider Offers These Additional Tips for Safe Trailering:

  • Check to see that the lighting system on your trailer is adequate. If it's not, consider updating your lighting to the newer, brighter LED lights, or even buying a newer trailer for enhanced safety.
  • Drive with your headlights on at all times.
  • Make sure that your brake lights and turn signals are working properly.
  • Try not to make sudden moves and stops, lane changes, or turns without allowing enough space. Always use turn signals properly. Other drivers cannot read your mind and the consequences for a lack of safe driving skills can be instantaneous and tragic.
  • If you need to make a stop, make sure you can pull your vehicle and trailer completely out of the lane of traffic.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and other vehicles at all times. Make sure that your mirrors are adequate and are properly adjusted.
  • Above all, do not make illegal U-turns. The road engineers have made them illegal for a reason. Go to the next exit, or proceed to a safe place to make a turn.

Dig deeperTM

Training a nervous horse to load can be a challenge. This article stresses the importance of having your horse trained to load prior to having an emergency. Techniques used to load are mentioned above, but for the more difficult horse, we recommend using a professional if needed.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying  up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..

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