Cold or heat stress during transport can affect younger or sick animals much more severely than mature, healthy horses. The thermoneutral zone for horses is between 5-20°C. When temperatures exceed this range, increased metabolic energy is required to maintain normal body temperature.
The physical environment should consider flooring materials and lighting. Slippery surfaces should be avoided on loading ramps and the floor of trucks and trailers. Trailers, alleys and ramps should have good lighting for loading horses.
Dry, sanitized and clean vehicles are important in minimizing any chance of spreading disease. Proper ventilation and low dust levels are essential to minimize respiratory health risks to horses when they are transported.
Behavioural stresses can include being isolated from stable mates or aggression between horses during transportation. Horses can also feel threatened in different situations where their routines are interrupted or changed. Some horses become very agitated when they are confined in a trailer. Horses should be taught loading procedures well before the anticipated date of transport. Training to load facilitates loading during an emergency.
Some techniques to reduce stress and prevent injury during trailer loading include:
- teach the horse to lead, stop, turn in both directions, and back up in-hand before asking the horse to load in a vehicle;
- ensure the vehicle entrance is wide and well lit;
- load and unload the horse several times to reinforce training;
- use caution when closing the trailer as some horses may panic;
- consider using positive reinforcement (e.g. giving the horse a food reward when the horse loads successfully);
- use a trailer that is large and open (during initial training); and
- load an experienced horse first (the horse in training may be more apt to load following a familiar companion).
Adapted with permission from Dr. Carolyn Stull “Physiology, Balance and Management of Horses During Transport” (1997)
A satisfactory transportation environment for a horse provides for thermal comfort, physical comfort, safety and behavioural needs. Each of these four areas can be a potential source of stress for the horse.
Conditions and environments that should be provided when transporting horses
Loading Density & Headroom
Horses must be provided with enough floor space in a vehicle or container to ensure that they are not crowded in a way that is likely to cause injury or discomfort. Evaluation of the trailer for sufficient space must be made prior to loading horses.
- When the vehicle is not full, horses should be safely partitioned into smaller areas to provide stability for the horses and the vehicle.
- Each animal must be able to assume a natural stance standing with four feet on the floor and have a full range of head and neck motion without touching the deck or roof of the vehicle or container. As a guide, it is recommended that there be at least 2.5 cm (1 in) of clearance for each hand of horse height at the withers.
- Halters and shanks must be removed from horses immediately if they restrict breathing or otherwise cause discomfort.
- Handlers must pay special attention to prevent horses’ heads from coming into contact with the deck while moving from the upper to the lower deck of a possum belly trailer, and while exiting the trailer.
- Different species and animals of significantly different age or weight must be partitioned separately from each other when transported. Small or young horses must be partitioned separately from mature horses.
- Suckling foals must be transported in the same compartment as their dams and must be separated from other animals.
- Mature stallions, aggressive horses and animals incompatible by nature must be partitioned separately from other horses.
Loading & Unloading
- Horses should not be rushed during loading and unloading. In a new situation or location, all normal, healthy horses are alert and investigative. Consequently, every change or disturbance in surroundings, such as noises, breezes, sudden movement of objects and/ or flashes of light, should be avoided. Abrupt movements by drivers and loaders should also be avoided.
- No gap should exist between the ramp, its sides, and the stationary vehicle to be loaded.
- All flooring surfaces should be free of hazards (i.e. slippery surfaces) to prevent slips or falls during loading and unloading.
- The use of electric prods for handling horses is not acceptable.
- All alleys and ramps should be properly illuminated. Harsh contrast in lighting should be avoided.
Feed, Water & Rest (Adapted from UC Davis)
- Road transport time (per day) should not exceed 12 hours per day. After 12 hours of transport, the horses should be removed from the vehicle and comfortably stabled for at least 8 hours.
- Potable water should be offered to horses regularly, approximately every 3 to 6 hours. Hay can also be offered to horses during transport.
- Ensure that the flooring remains nonslip for the entire trip. Provide absorbent bedding to help soak up any urine and manure excreted.
- Horse behavior should be monitored regularly throughout any transport. Additional skillful help might be required if a horse becomes extremely agitated. Any depression or injury in horses should be noted and appropriate first-aid action taken wherever possible.
- Any person transporting horses is obliged to plan long-distance trips taking into consideration the availability and location of facilities where horses may be unloaded, fed, watered, and cared for in a humane manner. Facilities must provide protection from extreme weather conditions.
- Prior to reloading a vehicle, the interior of the vehicle should be inspected, bedding added and other corrective measures taken to assure continued safe transportation
Precautions in Extreme Weather
Horses must be protected from exposure to severe weather conditions during transportation.
In extreme or rapidly changing weather, horses should be inspected frequently for signs of discomfort or distress from exposure.
In the event of vehicle breakdowns, traffic accidents or other delays during transportation, appropriate action is required to ensure the welfare of horses.
During winter travel
- Increasing stocking density and bedding is not an alternative to proper protection from the external environment;
- All horses must be protected from wind during transportation to prevent wind chill and freezing; and
- Precautions should be taken to protect foals. They must be kept dry and provided with an adequate supply of bedding.
During hot and humid weather
Precautions must be taken to avoid stress or death caused by the combination of high temperature and high humidity. For transportation during hot/ humid weather:
- Sufficient ventilation must be available because horses maintain body temperature under heat stress by evaporative cooling;
- Horses must not be transported wearing blankets and/or hoods;
- Whenever possible, journeys during hot, humid periods should be avoided;
- Necessary movements should be scheduled at night and/or prior to the heat of the day;
- Periods of intense traffic congestion should be avoided;
- Vehicles containing horses should not be parked in direct sunlight. When it is necessary to stop, the duration of the stop should be minimized to prevent the build up of heat inside the vehicle;
- Loading density for loose horses should be reduced;
- The journey should begin immediately after horses have been loaded; and
- Unloading of horses should be accomplished promptly, on arrival at their destination.
Source: NFACC Code or Practice (2018)