Three things to check when your horse is uneasy in the trailer
Q: I have a two-horse, forward-facing trailer, and whenever I transport my mare, she “sits” on the butt bar, leaning heavily against it for the entire ride. She settles into this posture as soon as we start to move and when we arrive at the destination, I have to shove her hindquarters or poke her a few times to get her to move so I can unlatch the bar. I suspect she’s doing this to feel more secure or keep her balance, but I worry about damage it might do to her tail and/or my trailer. Is this behavior something I should try to stop or discourage? if so, how do I do that safely?
Buying a new trailer may not be an option, but there are a few things you can try that may make her feel better in this one.
• First, I would suggest removing the stall divider and transporting your mare by herself—assuming that she is comfortable in a trailer on her own. Having more space may enable her to balance herself more easily so she won’t feel the need to brace herself against the butt bar.
• Next, to protect her tail, I would increase padding on the butt bar as much as possible. This will make leaning against it more comfortable for her and may minimize compression forces on her tailbone or hindquarters. Avoid long trips if you can, or build in rest stops where your mare can change positions. This will minimize risk of compression injury.
• Finally, take a critical look at your driving skills. Sudden starts and stops, or going around corners or curves too quickly will throw off your mare’s balance, making her more likely to seek security on the bar.
Your mare has learned that leaning on the butt bar makes her feel more secure, so it may take a while to modify her behavior. However, if you change conditions in the trailer and make sure your driving technique is conducive to her stability, she should be able to learn to keep her balance on her own.
Barbara Padalino, DVM, PhD
University of Bologna