Keep horses healthy and safe during summer travel season

With spring underway, equine events are beginning to pop up on calendars across the country.

Whether you travel with your horse for a local trail ride or head to a big competition, there are health and safety considerations to take into account before leaving home.

Whenever horses gather together from different properties, a risk of infectious disease spread arises.

Horses that travel may also have reduced immunity due to stress from travel and competition.

To combat the added risk of infections, horse owners should check with a veterinarian about appropriate vaccination plans.

The standard core four-way vaccine includes eastern and western equine encephalitis, West Nile virus and rabies.

Your veterinarian may recommend that traveling horses also get vaccines for strangles, equine influenza and equine herpes virus, depending on the risk.

To reduce exposure at the event, limit contact with other horses and their equipment. Take your own feed buckets, water pails and hay nets because sharing equipment can transmit infectious diseases like strangles.

It is a good infection control practice to segregate horses that have travelled off the farm from the rest of the herd for at least two weeks after returning.

Assemble a basic horse first-aid kit that includes a few rolls of vet wrap, bandage tape, gauze, antiseptic cleaner, dedicated safety scissors and wound cream.

Baby diapers are an excellent addition for immediate treatment of wounds because they are clean, relatively waterproof and absorbent.

A set of regular leg wraps and quilts are also useful for leg injuries. Include emergency contact numbers for your regular vet and perhaps a veterinary clinic near where you are going.

Make a horse identity document that includes the horses’ name, breed, age, gender, colour and unique markings such as white on the face or brands.

List any important medical information like medications and dose, vaccine and deworming history. Include contact information for yourself, an alternative contact who is not travelling with you and your veterinarian.

Add photos of the horse from multiple sides that include distinguishing markings. If your horse is registered, attach a photocopy of the registration papers.

Printed copies can be kept in the truck, trailer, at your home and stored on your smartphone or tablet. Should you need to provide evidence of ownership, pictures of you with the horse, registration papers in your name, microchipping, brands and bills of sale are useful. Depending on the event, you may require health-related documents such as a Coggin’s test, so allow plenty of time to get the necessary tests done. If the event is at a place with stables, bring materials to post your emergency contact information.

Sudden diet changes can lead to serious illnesses like colic and diarrhea. To avoid these, take your own hay. If you have to buy hay, mix it with your regular feed to avoid an abrupt diet change.

Hay cubes are incredibly convenient when travelling with horses, but make sure to incorporate them into your horse’s regular diet well in advance of the trip.

If you feed grains and other supplements to your animal, these should be part of a routine ration at home and away.

Owners should get their horses accustomed to loading and unloading into trailers and short-distance travel before the big event. Avoid mixing horses that aren’t familiar with each other in open-concept trailers and of course, stallions should be kept separate.

For longer hauls, plan for stops every four to six hours. If safe to do so, unload and allow the horses time to rest, which should include lowering their heads to promote clearing of respiratory secretions.

In unable to unload, stopping for 15-20 minutes gives horses a rest from the balancing they have to do while the rig is moving. Offer water at rest stops to maintain hydration. Trailers should be well-bedded to encourage horses to urinate and reduce the risk of slipping.

Traveling to horse events, particularly in the warmer months is probably the highlight on any horse person’s calendar.

Plan ahead to prevent and reduce the impact of health hazards that come with hitting the road with your horse.

Dr. Jamie Rothenburger is a veterinarian who practices pathology and a PhD student at the Ontario Veterinary College. Twitter: @JRothenburger

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