June 21, 2012 - With summer heat coming in early, preparing horses for trips in the hauler is more important than ever.
"Many of us travel short distances from the farm to the arena or an event, but if you ever have to travel a long distance, there are some things you need to know," Dr. Valerie Bixler DVM.
"You want your horse to be well hydrated before they ever get on the trailer," said Bixler. "Because, a lot of horses do not drink while they are on the trailer. They will learn if you do it enough, but most of them don't."
The idea is to have them well-hydrated long before they step into the trailer. Beginning three or four days before a trip, Bixler suggests supplementing with electrolytes, so that the horses will begin to take in more water. This way, they are prepared for a longer period without water once they are on the trailer.
"If they are not hydrated and you get to where you are going, you are going to be behind the eight ball," Bixler said.
While a bit extreme for the average Texas rodeo horse, Bixler pointed out that hydration is so important for equine athletes that those involved with Fdration Equestre Internationale (FEI) and other high level equestrians that travel all over the world will have a vet come out, put a catheter in the vein and run liters of fluids to horses before they put them on the trailer.
When it comes to the average equine athlete, Bixler said, "I think just getting them a good electrolyte will help that."
Another thing to consider while hauling is that simply riding in the trailer can be exhausting for animals.
"You are going to want to stop and give them a rest," Bixler said. "So what I do is, I am going to have to fill up with fuel at some point. So, you don't necessarily have to take your horse off of the trailer, some people do. If you just stop for 20 minutes with that trailer standing still your horses will be able to rest."
During stops, it is important to offer animals water and food. The more often it is done, the more comfortable they will become drinking and eating on the trailer.
"I keep hay in front of them the whole time they are in the trailer and every time we stop, if I need to, I will refill that hay rack," Bixler said. "The other thing is, when you stop and offer them food and water, if they are not used to drinking, you may have to use one of those products like horse quencher or put some molasses in the water and you can also start practicing this before you ever leave."
Bixler said not to be alarmed if the horses do not willingly eat and drink on the trailer at first, they will catch on and eventually expect water and or food every stop.
"A lot of them will, if they don't do it at the first stop, they will usually do it at the second stop," Bixler said. "They will definitely do it on the way home, if they haven't done it on the way up there... They learn real quick that this is what we are about on this trailer."
While it is feasible to drive strait through on a 12-hour trip without stopping, Bixler doesn't advise leaving a horse on the trailer for any longer than that. Even on a trip of 12 hours, Bixler said it is important that when the horses reach their destination, they have plenty of time to decompress, at least 24 hours, before they have to perform.
For those that prefer to divide their trip, there are many horse-friendly facilities across the country.
"You can actually find places on your way across the county where you can stay over night for free," Bixler suggested. "Most of the time it is at a fair ground. Some of them have hookups, they have stalls, you know, they have facilities. Most of them will allow you to stay if you just call ahead... We have never had a problem staying over night at a fair ground."
Hydration and rest are the most important factors when hauling horses, but protection against cuts, scrapes and blemishes while in the trailer are also important. That is why Bixler suggests wrapping horses legs with fleece wraps and quilts and protecting their face with fly masks.
"I always put a fly mask on my horses when we are traveling," Bixler said. "You don't know what is going to come up off the road and I like for their windows to be open. Even if it is cold, I want that air going to those horses. So if it is cold, put a blanket on them but don't shut those windows on that horse."
There are many tips for horse owners to get their horses to their destination well-rested, hydrated and safe. The best way to insure that these tips work is to implement them at least three to four days before the trip begins to get horses accustomed to the new routine.