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by Kim and Kari Baker

Trailering and Transporting Horses

Mirror KB Equine Article Series


Trailering and Transporting Horses

By Kim and Kari Baker


Moving Thoroughbreds across our nation today is far removed from the times when racehorses literally were the ones we “rode in on.” From coast to coast, our horses now log great distances in relative luxury on highways and byways.

Almost every horse will—for some reason--need to ride on a trailer, whether to a breeding or training farm, competition, or horse sale, which might result in a cross-country move to new homes. Whether you pilot the rig to the desired destination yourself, or ship your horse commercially, the comfort, safety, and health of your horse will be of major concern.

Before You Go

If you will be transporting the horse yourself, you will first need to acquire a trailer that is suitable for your horse. There are three basic types of horse trailers: straight load, slant load, and stock. Each of these trailers has positive and negative aspects that you will want to consider.

Straight Load

The straight load trailer is the most common style on the road. Though originally built for short-bodied horses such as the stock horse type Quarter Horse or Arabian, straight load trailers in todays market allow you to haul  the taller, heavier,longer bodied horse. “It’s fairly easy for manufacturers to accommodate any size horse with a straight load style trailer,” says Tom Scheve co-owner of EquiSpirit Horse Trailers in South Pines, North Carolina with wife Neva, who literally wrote the book on horse trailers—The complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer.

The major drawback with this style of trailer is that the fixed manger in some models prevents the horse from bracing during stops by stepping forward, often causing the horse to scramble. Mr. Scheve also points out that the use of lower center dividers in some models restricts lateral leg movement from side to side as well.

Another concern is that the horse’s head is in the hay dust that is blowing around while the trailer is moving and he cannot stretch or lower his head to clear his respiratory tract due to the manger. This might not be as much of a problem on short trips, but it certainly causes stress on a long haul.

The safest straight load model is called a “walk-through” which is open in the horse head area and can use standard hay bags or comes with canvas or vinyl feed bags that are removable,” say Scheve. This model is often referred to as the Thoroughbred trailer. With only a chest bar or strap in front, the horse finds it easier to balance during acceleration and deceleration. This type of trailer configuration also allows the horse freer head movement. The major drawback is that horses sometimes try to follow the handler out the front exit and have been known to get over or under the chest strap during travel.

For long hauls, the center partition in both of the aforementioned straight load styles can be removed, forming a loose box. This allows transportation of a single horse in comfort and is a must when hauling a mare with a foal at her side.

Slant Load

In the slant load trailer, horses generally ride diagonally with heads to the left and was designed thus to allow for the hauling of more horses in a smaller trailer. “Even though the maximum width allowable on the highway is 102 inch axles, most manufacturers end up using a 6 feet 8 inch interior width to eliminate the wheel wells,” says Scheve. “This width limit prevents manufacturers from lengthening the slant stalls to accommodate larger horses.”

Many believe the slant load to be more comfortable for the horse. However, when the horse travels at a slant his body must absorb the affects of the ride unevenly. “In all our research,” says Scheve, “we have not seen any benefit to slant style trailers other than the original purpose. A horse needs to absorb the force of the stop through the spinal column by using all four legs. In a slant style trailer, the horse is only using his front right leg and rear hind leg to absorb acceleration and deceleration.” This means the horse will have to overcompsate for his inability to balance during starts and stops and may eventually become sore over a long haul.

Even if one doesn’t agree with the above argument, there is another major drawback in most slant load trailers. “You cannot get to the front or inside horse without unloading all the others,” says Scheve. “This can be an extremely dangerous situation if you’re traveling down a highway and a horse goes down or up over a divider. This issue can be improved by adding a front unload ramp, but that still won’t help much if an inside horse is in trouble.”

On the plus side, smaller horses transported in this design can generally lower their heads enough to clear the respiratory tract if left untied or tied with an adequate length of lead.

Stock Trailer

Stock trailers are basically open boxes with no center dividers. However, they can be fitted with partitions that create two or three loose boxes, depending on size of trailer. One advantage to this design is that stock trailers can be used for a variety of horse sizes. Most upper walls on the stock trailer are slatted, and because of this many horses prefer this type of trailer since it is more “open” to light and air. Due to better ventilation, the assault to the horse’s respiratory system is lessened.

In addition, horses can find the most comfortable way to stand for themselves and the freedom of head and neck movement gives him the ability to rid himself of any accumulated mucous and fluid. The down side of this design is that horses are more exposed to inclement weather, although there are plexiglass panels that can be used to cover the side ventilation. In most stock trailers, the horses are not separated from each other, so dominance issues can arise.

Needs of the Horse

The size and needs of your horse will determine the type of trailer you should acquire. The structure of the trailer (e.g. butt bars, tie rings, partitions) should be sturdy enough to hold your strongest horse.

To increase the horse’s ability to balance, the trailer should also provide the horse with enough room to spread his feet and enough head room so as to not restrict head and neck movement. Horses up to 16 hands do well in a stall length of 10’ and a minimum height of 7’6”, while the larger horse will require 11 to 12 feet of stall length and 7’8” to 8’ of head room.

“Air flow and ventilation are imperative in providing a comfortable non-stessful climate for horses,” says Scheve. There is a much greater danger of the horse getting too hot in the trailer than too cold, and for that reason, if the trailer is equipped with roof vents, they should be open except in the worst weather. Louvered windows will offer more variable airflow adjustment than the bus style sliding window, while slatted sides offer the greatest exchange of air.

We all know horses are creative in finding ways to get hurt, so check the trailer over for safety. “Make sure there are no hooks or sharp edges that stick out in the stall area.” Floors and ramps must be non-slip, and ramps should have a low angle for easy loading and unloading. A ramp should also cover the entire width of the trailer opening to prevent the horse from falling off the side while entering or exiting the trailer.


Make the haul easier on you and your horse by preparing your equine traveler well in advance of the trip. “The horse should be trained to load and travel safely and reliably,” says Phil Cheadle of Pride of the Fleet Horse Transportation based in Conklin, Mich.

Before shipping, all horses, including foals, should be halter broke and trained to lead properly. In the event of a major medical problem, accident, or vehicle breakdown, you or the commercial hauler might be forced to off-load the horse from the vehicle and restrain it away from traffic while help is obtained.

Before traveling, your horse should have up-to-date vaccinations, Coggins, and health papers. Immunizations should be completed at least two weeks prior to transport. Your destination might have health threats that are regional in scope, so be sure to check with your veterinarian for an ideal vaccination program.

Selecting a Transport Company

For the long haul, many horse owners might not want to purchase the trailer required to transport their horses across the state or country, or they might not be able to spare the time. Also, the lack of experience in hauling a horse hundreds or thousands of miles has motivated many owners to seek out an alternative solution. In these instances, the commercial hauler becomes the logical choice.

You’ll want to do some research before selecting an equine transport company. The commercial hauler you choose will be acting as your horse’s travel agent as well as the carrier, so do some research. Ask your veterinarian, horse friends, sales companies, or search the Internet for commercial haulers. Once you’ve compiled a list, prepare a set of questions to ask and expect to get straight-forward, informative answers. Inquire about the care they will give your horse such as how the carrier handles rest stops and lay-overs and find out what type of equipment they will use as well as information on scheduling and contract issues. Ask for references. Take time to get the feel for the type of people you are dealing with.

The commercial hauler will probably be hauling your horse and horses for several other owners at one time. Most haulers will need to be notified at least one month before the horse is due to arrive at its destination so the company can plan and execute a safe, comfortable trip to get your horse to his destination on time.

Create a Traveler Profile

The more the hauler knows about your horse, the easier it will be to ensure his safety and comfort while in transit. Take an objective look at your horse. Start with the basics such as height and weight. The hauler will use this information to decide what type of truck and trailer to send. Include reproduction status. Will the company be hauling a pregnant mare or one with foal at her side? Is the horse an aged breeding stallion or young stud colt? Is he likely to be a good passenger, or is there liable to be behavior problems? Is the horse an experienced, elderly traveler with health concerns or an inexperienced youngster? Be sure to inform the company if the horse is an uneasy traveler, panics in tight spaces, or is aggressive toward other horses.

Be sure to include any special needs the horse might have. “We always ask about the health history of the horse,” says Cheadle.


There are several health requirements that must be met before you or a commercial transport company hits the road with a horse. Out-of-state trip requirements vary from state to state, but proof of a negative Coggins test (EIA) is mandatory for today’s traveler, as well as a current health certificate. Check with your local or state veterinarian for information pertaining to all states through which your horse will be traveling.

Even if the horse is staying within state lines, there might be paperwork to obtain. States such as Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming require that you secure a Certificate of Brand Inspection just to transport the horse outside the county your horse resides in. Other states such as Oregon and Washington might only demand a brand inspection in a certain portion of the state.

Health Considerations

Horses are individuals. While some might actually enjoy travel and do well on long hauls, others may become “stressed out” when merely transported across town.

“Horses can pass the pre-flight exam and be given a clean bill of health, but the veterinarian may not know the full scope of the horse’s recent or past history or even be aware of recent treatments that are okay if left on the farm, but may actually increase the risk of acquiring a bacterial or viral illness under the stress of travel,” says Cheadle.

There are numerous factors that can cause stress during transit, including thermal stress and insufficient hydration as well as the onslaught of bacteria, dust, and toxins to the horse’s respiratory tract. Identifying and minimizing stressful situations while in transit will allow for greater well-being and health as well as protecting the horse’s performance potential once he arrives at his destination.

Thermal Stress

The horse’s optimal thermal comfort zone ranges from 30° to 75° F in still air. But when temperatures reach the upper critical temperature (UCT) of 75° F or more and the air is humid, the horse might not be able to dissipate enough metabolic heat to the environment to maintain his body temperature, resulting in thermal stress.

As expected, ventilation is tremendously important during warm weather. You can become snarled in traffic, or have a flat or breakdown and have to pull off the shoulder of the road to repair it. Every time you slow down to a crawl or have to stop, the interior of the trailer can easily reach as much as 20°F hotter than the outside temperature. /p>

An aggressive attempt to minimize thermal stress should be made when hauling in hot, humid conditions. Keep the trailer moving if possible to augment air exchange, make frequent stops in shady areas to offer water to the horse, and avoid travel in the hottest portion of the day.

Gastrointestinal Health

In extreme conditions, the horse can lose as much as four gallons of water per hour through sweating, breathing, urinating, and defecating. Dehydration is one of the more serious problems that can occur during transit. This can interfere with proper gut motility, and since horses can be very fussy about drinking strange-smelling water, you might want to take plenty of water with you from home.

If that isn’t an option, you can prepare him for strange water while still at home by adding a new taste to his drinking water. The addition of a sweet flavor such as a soft drink or some other flavor such as apple cider vinegar or a few drops of wintergreen can disguise other tastes. Once he is accustomed to it at home, you can add it to his drinking water on the trip, and he will be less likely to refuse it.

To prevent digestive disturbances while in transit, the horse should have free access to hay and water for at least six hours prior to loading. During the trip keep the horse contentedly eating and drinking. Cheadle recommends that no sweet feed be given at least the day of travel due to the potential for colic.

Furthermore, horses eating hay are apt to drink more water then when grain is fed since roughage requires about four times more saliva production than grain. “In addition, we require a bale of the horse’s hay go along on the trip so that he doesn’t have to adjust to a new taste while in transit,” says Cheadle.

Once on the road, horses often eat well for a while, but as the trip approaches 24 hours, feed consumption drops sharply due to stress. Hay and water should be provided around the clock, and you should stop every three hours to offer fresh water and restock hay. If the trip takes more than one day, plan to stop for the night so the horse can relax in a clean stall or corral.

Be aware that some horses won’t defecate or urinate in a moving trailer, so keep an eye on their bodily functions.

Take-Home Message

You don’t want to push the horse after a long haul, so try to schedule your arrival a couple of days before the horse will be competing or working. “If possible immediately after arrival,” concludes Cheadle, “turn the horse out in an area large enough that he can work out the kinks before going into a stall where he cannot get the musculoskeletal extensions necessary to feel relaxed.”

Once he has settled in, monitor his behavior for several days for signs of depression or illness. Does he act detached or dull? Keep an eye on his eating habits and make sure he urinates and defecates on a regular basis. Watch for signs of a developing cough or nasal discharge, and record his temperature daily.

Transportation is extremely stressful on horses, so make sure you do everything you can before, during, and after your trip to keep the horse healthy.


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