With “show season” fast approaching and beginning, there are several precautions that need to be taken into consideration while you’re trailering your horse from show to show. In particular, how hot your horse can get while traveling and what you can do to prevent sickness, heat stroke or even death. Trailers, in general, aren’t designed to have very effective air flow through the core of the enclosure. So, as the owners and providers of our horse it is our job to make the ride as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
To start with, make sure that you’re planning ahead; if you know you’re going to be headed to a show for the weekend, then you should be making sure that your horse is adequately fed and has had plenty of water before the actual trip. This is a sort of “pre-load” of your horse’s essentials before traveling on the road for (sometimes) hours on end. You may even want to soak your horse’s hay for the week beforehand to make sure that they’re getting adequate water intake. Also, while you’re planning your horse’s diet in advance, you also need to think about the coolest, safest and perhaps the shortest route possible to arrive at your destination. This allows you time to go over your planned route of travel, know where you’re going to be stopping and taking breaks and then make sure that you arrive at your show/event early so that you give you horse adequate time to adjust to his/her new surroundings. For example: If the trip is 15 hours or longer, then your horse should have a minimum of 3 days to recover before he’s expected to show or compete.
So let’s talk about an important function that your horse’s body has; cooling itself down. We know that as humans we sweat to cool down, dog’s pant and can sweat through their feet and horses can sweat as well. But, there are some other processes that happen when your horse starts to get hot or overheat. Here are some ways that your horse’s body can effectively try and get rid of excess body heat:
- Convection- This is getting rid of body heat with a light breeze or fan blowing on their skin. There is a limited breeze or air current in your horse’s trailer. So a fan might be able to help you horse to stay cool as long as it’s securely fastened and won’t fall on your horse’s head during the trailer ride.
- Radiation- This process is where heat is “radiating” off of your horse’s body to try and dissipate (go away). This is a dangerous process when a horse is in a trailer because there isn’t anywhere for this heat to radiate away to. It’s going to be trapped in the trailer and will most likely stay in there until you stop to take a break and open the trailer door.
- Evaporation- This process is when your horse starts to sweat. However, just like the heat radiation, after your horse is sweating he’s creating more of a sauna-like environment and could make it hard to breathe with the thick moisture in the air.
- Conduction- This process is where heat transfers to a cooler object. This process of cooling doesn’t help your horse at all in a trailer because every surface is essentially the same temperature.
When it’s hot the heat is moved from the skin of the horse to the “environment” so that your horse can cool itself down. If there isn’t anywhere for the heat to go in the environment, then your horse isn’t going to be able to cool itself down effectively and in a timely fashion. When this happens, there are a number of things that can occur in the horse’s body:
- Increased heart rate
- The lining of the blood vessels and the respiratory tract enlarge to improve blood flow
- This function helps with radiation, conduction and convection
- The blood is being shunted away from the vital organs (i.e. The brain)
- Panting will occur
- Sweating- the horse is now losing vital fluids and there is more heat in the body
- Shallow, rapid breathing with profuse sweating
- Dehydration (horses don’t normally drink when being trailered)
There are 10 tips to remember what to do before, during and after trailering a horse for a long period of time. They are:
- Plan ahead for the coolest, safest route possible
- Have travel papers easily accessible
- Start your trip early/on time so you’re not rushing and forgetting items/checkpoints
- Let your horse trailer naked- you might even be able to forgo the boots/wraps
- Open all vents/windows to allow for convection
- Feed mashes/beet pulp or any large liquid holder meal several days before traveling
- You could also ask your veterinarian to administer fluids via nasogastric tube or IV catheter.
- Increase the amount of electrolytes 5-7 days before traveling
- These can be purchased in a powder or paste form
- Carry familiar water- Some horses will only drink the water that tastes like the water that they drink at home. Bring tubs/gallons of water from your own personal barn water supply to make your horse feel at home
- Soak hay- provides extra fluids and minimizes the possible dust that can be inhaled
- Arrive early to your destination- As mentioned previously, this allows your horse and yourself adequate time to get adjusted and to settle in
Horses were not meant to be trailered as long as some of us trailer them. It is extremely hard on their muscles, as they are constantly compensating for the turns that you take or the bumps that the trailer navigates. Even the most fit horse can be tired after a long trailer ride. Remember this when you’re traveling to your next show or event. And remember, River Road Veterinary Clinic is always here if you should have any further questions or concerns.