On any given weekend the Energy Equine team of amazing clients and their equine partners are heading down the road, off to shows, off to the training barn, and off to the clinic for their regular check-in’s to make sure they can #StartStrongFinishStronger! Between the long hauls to finals and aged events and the hot days that are still creeping into August and September, we thought it would be an excellent time to refresh our readers on some of the best practices they can employ to ensure their horses are stepping off the trailer as happy and healthy as when they left the yard.
1. The Hydration Station
The average horse will drink 5 to 10 gallons, or roughly 19 to 38 litres, of water every day. So, it’s safe to say that when you load your equine athlete up on the trailer for extended periods of time, water intake should be a concern. A great general rule of thumb for watering horses while trailering is to offer water every three to four hours. Some of our horses are pickier than others. While some will guzzle truck stop water, others will only be inspired to drink out of the same hose from home. If you have a picky drinker, having a filled water tank on your trailer is a great investment. If you don’t have a water tank, stop by your local Walmart or Canadian Tire and pick up a few water containers from the camping section. Inexpensive and easy to put in the tack room to quickly fill buckets while on the road.
There are also two tests you can administer to check your horse is hydrated properly:
Capillary Refill Time – press your horses gum in their mouth with a finger, the colour should return back to a normal, healthy pink within two seconds or less. If your horse is dehydrated the capillary refill time may be three seconds or longer.
Pinch Test – As a horse loses water through sweat, their skin becomes less elastic. Take a fold of skin on your horse’s shoulder and pull it up into a tent-like shape. In a horse showing signs of dehydration the skin will stay tented for four seconds or longer.
Tip: Keep in mind that horses may be profusely sweating but can appear dry when you stop due to ventilation and airflow drying them quickly while in the trailer.
Electrolytes are often given to horses a few days before a trip, as well as the day of, to stimulate him to drink more as well as to replace the electrolytes lost as he sweats during trailering. First, test electrolytes before you leave to ensure your horse is drinking enough water while consuming them. The use of supplementing with electrolytes should also be discussed with your veterinarian. If your horse is a picky drinker, you could actually increase the severity of dehydration if you provide electrolytes and they don’t consume enough water while travelling.
2. I’ll Take That To-Go
If possible, supply your horse with hay from home for the entirety of the trip. If dusty and hot out, watering down your hay is an excellent option to keep the dust down and keep your horse eating. If your horse is prone to respiratory problems, it never hurts to water their hay down while travelling. Eating while on the road serves many purposes, it can keep your horse busy while ensuring their digestive tract is moving normally. Eating also encourages horses to drink, so for your pickier drinkers this is another great option to keep them happy, and hydrated.
If possible allow your horse to be able to stretch out their neck and eat with their head in a downwards position. If feeding with hay nets, ensure the nets are sitting around chest level, but not so low that a horse can get their leg caught in them. Horses eat downwards so that they can clear mucus from the airways and so that bacteria can’t travel to their lungs. You’ve probably heard of shipping fever? This is often linked to horses whose heads have been tied up and high, increasing the risk of pneumonia and chest infection, also known as shipping fever.
3. It’s Vital, to Know Your Vitals.
You know your horse, but do you know their vital signs? While trailering if you think your horse isn’t feeling their greatest, a quick check of their vital signs can ease your concerns. It’s also great to keep a log of your vital signs, that way if your horse’s signs have changed dramatically since you departed, you can easily communicate the values to your veterinarian on the other end of the phone.
For an adult horse:
Temperature: 37.2-38.3 C
Pulse: 28-44 beats per minute
Respiration: 10-24 breaths per minute
Gut Sounds: Gurgling, growls and fluid sounds
Mucous Membranes: Moist, healthy pink colour
4. But What Should I Wear?
A tricky question, for humans and horses alike, but especially for equestrians as you are loading your horse on the trailer. Multiple considerations go into what wardrobe your horse should have as you embark on a journey. First, the temperature. If you are trailering during the summer, or un-seasonably hot days in the spring and fall, a sheet, or leg wraps may cause excess sweating that can further dehydrate your horse. While hauling in the summertime, it is best to leave the sheets and wraps off.
If you have a horse that is prone to kicking in the trailer, standing wraps, quick wraps or shipping boots may all be viable options to keep their legs safe from trauma. Standing wraps should only ever be applied by someone who is knowledgeable and skilled in proper wrapping techniques. Shipping boots and quick wraps should also be monitored for causing excess heat, and thus sweat. For any leg wrap monitor that they aren’t slipping and potentially falling off, causing another myriad of problems.
When we’re talking about summer, and trailering during the heat, it’s safe to say that if possible, leave your horse’s wardrobe in the tack room. While you may be trying to protect your horse’s legs, for those long all-day hauls prolonged use of standing wraps and shipping boots can cause a decrease in blood flow, increase in heat and cause unnecessary sores.
5. Let’s Go The Distance
It is recommended that 8 to 12 hours is the longest a horse should be on a trailer per day, the general rule of thumb is that they need an hour of rest for every hour they travelled. So if you pull up at a show after a 12 hour haul, give them 12 hours to rest before expecting anything from your equine partner. Sometimes we are required to haul longer than that 8 to 12 hour mark, and if so, ensuring that you are utilizing all the above tips, tricks and checks can mean a happier, healthier horse when you arrive at your final destination.