Preparing Your Horse for Travel by Dr. Tena Boyd
Travel or shipping of horses can be quite stressful on the horse physically as well as causing anxiety over new or unexpected events. To help prepare for this a few tips “from the pros”.
1. Health examination/certificate. This is required for travel across state lines. Establish normal body temperature, no clinical signs of disease, and to address any special physical needs for the trip (gastric ulcer preventatives, pain medication, electrolytes, diet changes). It is also helpful to carry copies of your horse’s medical records to make special note of recent medications, on-going problems, or relevant medical histories (de-worming, vaccine, shoeing, dentistry histories for example).
2. Have an emergency kit packed and accessible.
3. Pack hay and water from home whenever possible. Water sources on the road may not be as potable or have a ‘funny’ taste that may discourage drinking well during the trip. Soaking hay in your hay nets is a great way to keep wet fiber going through the horse keeping his gut happy!
4. Pain medication to help ease stiffness at the end or mid-way through a long trip may be helpful. Discuss this with your veterinarian during the health exam prior to leaving.
5. Monitor temperature, water and feed consumption, and manure output for several days after arrival. Have a plan to slowly reintroduce grain or switch to a new feed if necessary. During travel it is safer to feed hay only.
6. Consider the prophylactic dose of omeprazole, Ulcergard©. Several studies in horses that compete or travel even on short weekend trips demonstrate the widespread incidence of gastric ulcers. Preventative doses of Ulcergard© have been shown to be very successful in alleviating symptoms associated with gastric ulcers in the horse.
7. For airline shipping across the country or overseas, more diligence and planning are needed to prepare horses. Britta Johnston, internationally known dressage trainer, has successfully shipped many horses from the USA to her native Germany. She recommends for these long flights that horses be supplemented with electrolytes and ‘probiotics’ for 5 days prior to shipping. She gives her horses wet hay, apples, and further electrolyte supplements during the trip all in effort to maintain hydration, prevent muscle soreness, and protect against other complications. She stresses that these horses are kept in containers for hours before and after the flight, placed in quarantine, and then shipped to the destination. An 8- 9 hour flight might mean 45 – 50 hours of confinement for the horse.
To reemphasize, it is very important to monitor the horse’s temperature; manure production; feed, water and hay intake; and to watch for coughing or nasal discharge after arrival at the new destination.
Just a note, your friendly, neighborhood veterinarian may be enticed to be a veterinary flight attendant in order to broaden her (or his) international travel experience!