There are so many safety precautions we take when transporting our horses, from quick release knots, to travel boots, sweat sheets and coolers, a hay net to ensure they are content and have access to hay or forage to keep them occupied for the journey.
Similarly, there has been a vast amount of research over the years examining the effects of hauling and transporting horses, from the impacts to their joints, their feet, to what position they should face, to tie or not to tie them, the list is quite extensive!
But, have you ever really stopped to think how their respiratory health can be affected by transport?
Not only are you asking them to stand with their heads held upright for a period of time, which has its own impacts, but you are also likely to tie them, in very close proximity to their hay net.
Long-haul journeys will almost always include hay or forage of some description, which is tied, within the breathing area, or ‘breathing cloud’ of the horse. The horse’s head is restricted, by necessity of safety, to remain within close proximity to the forage source. So, ensuring your forage is of the highest quality, is vitally important, to limit impacts on respiratory health and ensuring their safe & healthy arrival at their destination. You can purchase the most expensive and cleanest hay you can find, but, by the nature of its storage, saving and indeed how it is grown, all hay contains some level of spores and respirable dust, which for many, can be significantly problematic and lead to depleted performance, and indeed what we so commonly hear about, our equine asthmatics having a ‘flare up’.
Travel can have further implications on our horses though – which is often forgotten – it is a ‘stress’. Even when our horses load perfectly and always travel well, it is a ‘stress’ on their system and ultimately, can impact their immune system. Dr. Desmond Leadon of the Irish Equine Centre in County Kildare, Ireland, is a leading authority on transport stress in horses. He has written extensively on the subject and includes a definition of stress in the context of transport: Stress occurs when a horse is required to make abnormal or extreme adjustments in its behaviour or internal management.
Dr Carolyn Stull DVM in UC Davis, California, USA, has also studied at length the impacts of stress on the horse, and its ability to compromise their immune system. According to Stull, an extension specialist at the Center for Equine Health at University of California, Davis, “The horses’ immune systems (in the study) were suppressed at every level, significantly increasing their susceptibility to infectious illness.”
With that said, we can offer you some advice to help you travel with their respiratory health in mind!
- Always use the best possible quality hay you can source, and ideally steam it or soak it for a maximum of 30 minutes.
- Open Vents, windows & doors to ensure continued air circulation.Take regular rest breaks – allow your horse to walk and move around and put their head down to graze & drink if possible. This allows for natural drainage of the mucous from their airways as the mucociliary clearance of the trachea is commonly interrupted during travel.
- Be mindful that travel is stressful, which can deplete their immune system, & possibly make them a little more vulnerable to viral & bacterial infections.
- Be aware of the signs or symptoms of shipping fever: depression, loss of appetite, fever, increased respiratory rate, nasal discharge, and coughing and can rapidly progress to pleurisy and pneumonia. Act quickly!