Transporting a Horse


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How to Transport a Horse

Horses need to be transported for a variety of reasons, from occasional journeys, such as moving homes, changing owners or visiting the vet, to more frequent travelling to attend shows or events. It is important that the horse is safe and comfortable in order to minimize stress.

Horses should be trained for transport by experienced trainers. Horses are naturally claustrophobic and have to be taught how to enter and remain in a confined space. Anyone who transports a horse should have experience driving with a trailer before driving one loaded with a horse. 

Commercial horse transporters should be checked to ensure they follow federal and provincial animal welfare laws and requirements.

Negative loading or travelling experiences can cause horses to become fearful of loading or transport. A horse that is difficult to load can cause challenges for the handler and stress for the horse.

Watch this video by equitation science practitioner, Jody Hartstone, on how to safely train a horse to load.

DID YOU KNOW: Training a horse to handle transport should always be managed by a professional or experienced and trained handler.

TRANSPORT STRESSORS

Whether transporting a horse yourself or checking out a commercial transporter, it is important to be aware of the causes and effects of stress. The possible effects of stress on horses during transport include colic, diarrhea, laminitis, shipping fever, injury, performance impediment, weight loss and dehydration. 

Transport stressors include:

  • Changes in temperature, humidity, and air quality.
  • Mixing with unfamiliar animals.
  • Confinement in unfamiliar places.
  • Unfamiliar movement underfoot.
  • Climbing and descending.
  • Disrupted feed patterns.
  • Restricted movement. 
  • Isolation.
  • Noise. 
  • Vibration.
  • Inhalants.

HOW TO MINIMIZE STRESS DURING TRANSPORT

There are many ways that transportation stress can be minimized. One of the most critical areas is the environment within the trailer, which can contribute greatly to the risk of an animal becoming sick during transport. 

Shipping fever, a common respiratory disease, is the biggest health issue related to transport. This risk can be managed through proper control of the environment within the trailer and by ensuring horses are in good health before loading. The environment within a trailer includes temperature, air quality and humidity levels.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about transportation?

“Horse owners and persons transporting horses have a primary responsibility for determining if an animal is fit for the expected duration of the trip. While the driver should not be relied upon to determine whether the horse is unfit, they have the right and responsibility to refuse to load a horse that they recognize as unfit. 

Do not load horses with a reduced capacity to withstand transportation. This may be due to injury, fatigue, infirmity, poor health, distress, impending parturition or any other cause. Never transport a horse unless you are sure it is healthy enough to withstand the stress of the entire expected trip (including intermediate stops). Each case must be judged individually, and the welfare of the horse must be the first consideration. If you are not sure whether a horse is fit for the trip, contact a veterinarian.

When animals are unfit for transport, you must provide treatment until the animal is fit for the trip or not transport the animal, and, if necessary, euthanize the animal. Per the Health of Animals Regulations, it is illegal to load or unload a non-ambulatory animal unless the animal is being transported with special provisions for veterinary treatment or diagnosis.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Horses must be individually assessed for fitness for transport before being transported. Evaluate fitness for transport in the context of each trip and all relevant factors (e.g. anticipated total trip duration from farm to final destination and prevailing weather conditions).

Unfit horses must not be transported, except for veterinary diagnosis or treatment.

Refer to the Transport Decision Tree for more information. 

LINK: A Transport Decision Tree can be found in Appendix H of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines.

This recommended practice is also provided in the Code of Practice:

Consult a veterinarian if uncertain about the horse’s fitness for transport.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about the preparation of horses for transport?

“Preparation for transport starts long before the trip actually begins. Management factors such as lameness prevention, training to load, nutrition and other factors have a collective impact on fitness for transport, and should be considered as a whole.”

The following requirement is identified in the Code of Practice:

If the expected duration of the horse’s confinement is longer than 24 hours from the time of loading, the horse must be fed and watered within five hours before being loaded.

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Check the vaccination and health status requirements for your destination well in advance of the transport date, particularly for transport to another country or province. 
  2. Avoid changes in diet immediately before or during a trip.
  3. Pack extra feed and water in case there are unanticipated delays during transport.
  4. Develop a contingency plan before each trip, including:
  • Contact details for veterinarians and local authorities along the route.
  • Information on rest stops where horses may be unloaded, rested, fed and watered.
  • Maps or other navigation systems for alternate route planning.
  • Keeping a first-aid kit in the transport vehicle.

If using protective equipment (e.g., wraps and shipping boots):

  1. Seek advice from a knowledgeable and experienced horseperson.
  2. Ensure protective equipment fits the horse correctly and comfortably.
  3. Acclimate the horse to wearing protective equipment before training to load or transport.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about loading and unloading?

“Research on farm animal transport shows that loading and unloading is a stressful part of transport. A combination of stressors can occur in a short period of time, including exposure to unfamiliar surroundings and animals. Injuries may occur when animals slip or fall.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

The requirements for loading and unloading procedures and equipment as described in the Health of Animals Regulations must be complied with. 

Mares must not be transported if they are likely to give birth during the trip. 

Every mare with its suckling offspring must be segregated from all other animals during transport. 

Every mature stallion must be segregated from all other animals during transport. 

Horses must be individually assessed before loading and upon arrival back to the farm. 

Refer to the Transport Decision Tree for more information.

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Ensure handlers are trained in proper loading and unloading practices.
  2. Ensure roads and loading areas are accessible in all kinds of weather.
  3. Ensure loading facilities have gentle ramps and are uniformly lit (avoid sharp contrasts and shadows).
  4. Load horses calmly and quietly.
  5. Clean and sanitize vehicles between uses, especially if transporting horses of different origin.
  6. For vehicles requiring horses to step up: use a rubber bumper to prevent injuries as the horse steps up.
  7. For loose loading: Determine the proper loading density (refer to the Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Transportation) and ship pre-socialized horses together.
LINK: The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Transportation can be accessed on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s website.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about arranging transport?

“Horse owners and managers have a responsibility to ensure that the transporter is trained and qualified.”

These recommended practices are provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Ensure only trained personnel load, unload and transport horses.
  2. Ensure all required paperwork is completed and provided to the transporter. The required paperwork varies – refer to the provincial authority and the Health of Animals Regulations.
  3. Ensure loading facilities are compatible with the type of trailer being used.
  4. Ensure the following information is discussed and agreed upon between the driver and consigner: 
  • Number of horses to be transported 
  • Class of horses to be transported (e.g. yearlings, mature stallions) 
  • Time and point of loading 
  • Destination 
  • Any special considerations for the horses being transported 
  • Protection from extreme temperatures (cold or hot), especially for foals and geriatrics.
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (©2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.

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