Transport Impacts on Horse Health and Injury

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Research looked at the association between transport management with injury and disease.

Competitive horses not only are subjected to the rigors of their training, but they also are asked to travel short and long distances in confining, tubular contraptions like horse trailers and airplanes. To examine the association between transport management with injury and disease, B. Padalino, et al., conducted a survey in Australian horses with results published in 2016. (Free access to this article can be found at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0162371.)

Besides the demographic information of those interviewed, the researchers examined specific strategies implemented before, during and after non-commercial transport and how these factors impacted injuries or disease experienced by 797 horses over a two-year period.

Specific equine health issues considered included diarrhea, colic, heat stress, muscular problems (tying-up), laminitis, and shipping pneumonia. Traumatic injuries (lacerations, bruising, swelling) were reported in 45% and were noted primarily by respondents less than 40 years of age and handlers who haul more than 30 horses a week. 

Use of tranquilizers increased the number of reported injuries while protective gear and regular monitoring of the horses following transport were associated with fewer injuries. Straight-load trailers incurred more injuries than slant load or truck trailers.

Diarrhea (20%) and heat stress (10.5%) occurred more often when horses were transported by amateurs rather than by professionals. Of note is that the incidence of heat stress was associated with restriction to hay and water prior to transport. The 13% of tying-up cases occurred most commonly when horse health was not examined by a veterinarian prior to shipping and if drinking behavior following transport was not monitored.

Risk of laminitis following transport is always a concern. The nearly 3% of horses that incurred laminitis had a three-fold greater risk of laminitis when post-transport recovery techniques (rehydration, hand walking and paddock turnout) were not incorporated in their care.

It is probably no surprise that shipping fever pneumonia was associated with duration of transport, with more than 9% experiencing this problem when transported longer than two hours duration. Horses traveling for recreational purposes had less incidence of shipping pneumonia, as did horses in the care of someone handling fewer than five horses per week. Monitoring rectal temperature facilitated early detection of shipping fever.

While colic occurred in over 10% of transported horses, there were no associations with cause based on the predictive variables of the study. The authors reported, “Transportation may worsen gastrointestinal conditions and contribute to colic development, in particular in association with poor watering and inappropriate diet management.”

With these statistics in mind, practitioners can counsel clients on the most effective strategies to haul horses with fewer health or injury-related consequences.

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