72 pages.indd - Victoria Hamilton Dressage
ROAD TRAVEL OF HORSES by Vicki Hamilton
Everyone involved in transporting horses
long distances by road has their own tried
and tested routine that they follow and that
so far has worked for them. There are so
many factors to consider such as the route
being traveled, the weather, the number of
horses versus number of people on the trip,
the age and ﬁtness level of the horses and the
experience of horses and people on board to
name just a few.
WHY IS LONG DISTANCE ROAD TRAVEL SO
Horses are designed to be walking around all the time
with their heads down in a grazing position. To put
animals like this into conﬁned spaces such as a truck
where often they cannot stretch their heads down
leads to all sorts of physiological changes in their
bodies. These changes can lead to some potentially life
threatening illnesses some of which will show either
on the trip or immediately on unloading but others
may take days to develop. The most important of these
delayed hidden problems is travel sickness, a form of
Stress can reduce horses’ gut activity which may result
in colic or laminitis. Concussion may also result in
laminitis. Dehydration can contribute to many problems
as well as being important in itself – drying of the
airways combined with reduced mucus clearance from
the horse being unable to stretch its head down for
a long period of time predisposes the horse to chest
Additionally the long time being immobile can play
havoc with the horses musculoskeletal system even
though the constant balancing during transport uses an
enormous amount of muscular energy and may even
result in tying up.
WHEN IS A TRIP CLASSED AS LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL?
Most researchers agree that after 5-6 hours conﬁned
in a truck or ﬂoat bay horses start to show certain
physiological changes that may be detrimental to their
health and well-being. The majority of horses will
cope and go on to have no problems when arriving at
their destinations but there are the unfortunate ones
who either become too unwell to continue the trip or
arrive and require days or even weeks to fully recover
depending on which body system is primarily affected.
Like people, all horses are different and in important
thing to remember is just because a horse has traveled
many times before does not make him immune to
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72 pages.indd 50
getting travel sick, colic, laminitis, dehydration or tying
up. He may be less likely as he will hopefully not be as
stressed due to his experience one can never guarantee
that all will be ﬁne.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE THE RISK?
Risk reducing practices may be divided into those
associated with truck design and those associated with
the management of the team.
►Plan your trip meticulously. Know how far you will
be traveling each day and where you will stop. Talk to
as many people as possible to see what they do when
they travel the route you are planning.
►Never travel a horse that is unwell. I know from
experience how disappointing it can be to cancel a long
planned interstate trip to a major competition but I am
sure it would be devastating to lose a horse due to the
greed to compete. I won’t travel a horse that has had
even a minor cold for at least 3 weeks.
Travel the horses in familiar position and order (see
section 2 above).
►If possible only travel horses with horses they know.
This is for two reasons – ﬁrstly so that they are not
sorting out their pecking order and secondly so that
they are not exposed to certain potential pathogens
(bugs) that a strange horse may be carrying.
►Reduce all dust as dust irritates their airways. Dust is
in hay so this should always be soaked. We put the hay
in nets and soak them for at least 20 minutes, then hang
them to drain. Sometimes we feed the hay in hay bags
but mostly on the ﬂoor so the horses have to lower their
heads to eat it. This is again where the cameras are so
useful as sometimes it takes a horse a day or so to get
comfortable enough with the truck that they will eat on
from the ﬂoor. We only feed from the ﬂoor on the long
straight hauls we have across the Nullabor. It would not
be possible for a horse to do this when driving on very
windy or hilly roads where constant changing of speed
is necessary. Dust is also from dried manure and this
dust contains a multitude of pathogens. Therefore good
hygiene is essential. We clean the truck at every stop,
so this is once during the day and then again at night
and then where ever possible we hose it out. Dust also
comes from road dust if the ventilation is not correct.
Bedding, if used, is another source of dust.
►Don’t over-rug as if there are a lot of horses they
keep each other warm but on the other hand be careful
►Leave the horses’ heads untied or tied as long as
possible so that they can carry their ears lower than
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►Stop every 2-3 hours to offer water and then after 4-6
hours unload and walk the horses. They usually will
get into a routine and most of ours will straight away
urinate, roll and then go for a walk and a pick of grass.
We redo the horses’ boots and clean the truck before
reloading them. I don’t use tail bandages in our truck as
on the angle they do not seem to rub their tails. When
I have traveled them in other trucks I have used satin
lined tail bags and would never use a tail bandage on a
long distance trip. I would prefer a rub than to lose a tail.
Then it is on the road again with another offer of water
after 2-3 hours and then stop and yard them overnight.
(Obviously all these stops are not possible for major
transport companies where there may be 12-15 horses
to only 2 drivers. Also in these situations some of the
horses may not load very well so the stress of un-loading
and then re-loading them would probably greatly outdo
the stress of staying on the truck and arriving earlier.
There is also the risk of unloading horses in unfamiliar
areas, often completely open.)
►Know your horse’s temperature and check twice
daily on trip. We always do this for 2 days before the
trip and then for another 4 days on arrival and always at
the same times of the day when the horses are quiet (ie
before breakfast and then again before dinner).
►Prophylactic antibiotics were used routinely years ago
but haven’t been for some time now. The idea behind
their use was to help the horse ﬁght any infections he
may be challenged with along the way. Current thought
is that these actually may do more harm than good by
altering the horses’ natural ﬂora both in his gut and
in the respiratory tract. If gut ﬂora is affected then
digestion may be altered leading to problems such as
colic and laminitis and alterations to respiratory natural
ﬂora may allow nasty pathogens to get a head start.
►Feed a probiotic such as Protexin or Opti-Minz for a
week before the trip, the duration of the trip and a short
time afterwards. These help to maintain normal gut
►Let down for 2-3 days before traveling – less ﬁt
horses travel better
►Reduce grain over the last few days before leaving
and then feed none during the trip – just hay/chaff. This
is to lessen the risk of colic or laminitis due to stress
related reduced gut function. Instead of being digested
normally the feed may end up being fermented in the
gut. If traveling for days on end I keep my horses on a
small amount of Mitavite Munga as this is a completely
extruded feed and therefore minimizes the chances of
fermentation occurring. The other advantages of this
feed is that I can buy it in all States and being extruded I
can take it through strict quarantine checkpoints.
►Carrots! Carrots! Carrots! Anyone having been on
an East-West trip with me will have memories (or
nightmares) of chopping up kilos of carrots. I use these
to encourage horses to eat off the ﬂoor of the truck by
giving them a kilo each at every stop. That works out
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to at least 3 kilos of carrots per horse per day - a lot of
carrots for a full truck on the road for a few days!
►Carry a range of supplements to cover all situations.
Routinely I give the horses Tripart paste for 2 days prior
to the trip and then each day just before loading to help
prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of cramping. At night
on arrival they are given ►Recovery paste to assist
muscle cell recovery and offered an electrolyte and
energy drink. We mix up the Energetic Isotonic powder
sachets as they seem to love the taste and it can mask
different waters. I also carry Tranquil paste to give to
horses that do not seem to be settling on the trip or into
their new nightly accommodation and VAM paste if any
of them seem ﬂat and need a pep-up
►Joint protectants – I feed Cosequin routinely to all
my competing horses but also give them a course of
Pentosan Equine before a trip across the Nullabor. This
is to ensure their joints are in the best possible shape to
cope with the concussion of the trip.
►Do your homework re feed and quarantine regulations
for each state (ie tick spraying, liver ﬂuke faecal testing
and drenching). Check what feed you may take across
certain state borders and if you are going to lose all
your hay and chaff at one point make sure you ﬁnd
somewhere to buy it. This is very important if you will
be crossing this point on a Sunday morning. Sometimes
if doing a short, return journey it is possible to leave
feed to collect for the way back.
►Arrive early enough so the horses can rest and recover
from the trip before having to compete– usually one
week for us from Perth.
►Get the horses used to drinking different water and to
settling into strange areas quickly. We do several smaller
trips throughout the year such as 5-hour trips where they
will stay overnight as test runs and then if we have a
horse with a problem we work out our plan of attack.
►First Aid Kit – this has to be extensive especially if
traveling routes where it may not be possible to visit a
vet for up to 36 hours. It is best to discuss this with your
vet before every trip and remember to keep everything
in date and cool if necessary – including sticky bandages
which can become unusable if left in a hot truck for too
►Farrier tools also should be carried and a set of spare
shoes. My farrier always shapes an extra set of shoes for
each horse traveling the last time he shoes it before we
leave and we take these for emergencies.
WOW! I hope I haven’t turned anyone off the idea
of taking his or her horses interstate to compete or to
perhaps relocate! It is a fantastic experience and as long
as everyone keeps a close watch for potential problems
as opposed to believing they will never happen to them
the trip will probably go very smoothly. Just remember
it is “better to be safe than sorry” and although some of
the management measures I mention above seem like
overkill they are all there for a reason.
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