How to protect your horse’s health on the road

Travel can put a horse at higher risk of contagious disease. Here's how to minimize the health threats to on-the-go horses.

Horses who travel frequently to shows or other events face a double set of risk factors: Not only will they be exposed to a large number of unfamiliar horses, but the stresses of traveling and performing lower immunity and leave them more susceptible to any germs they encounter. What’s more, the conditions in the trailer itself can leave horses prone to shipping fever, a respiratory infection aggravated by inhaled dust.Here are some ways to minimize the risk of illness:

A man tying a horse to the outside of a stock trailer.
To protect your horse’s health when at shows, avoid tying him to communal posts or walls where other horses may have rubbed their noses.

Before you go• Tell your veterinarian that you plan to take your horse to events and ask her to develop a vaccination schedule that will protect him against the pathogens he may encounter.• Make sure your horse is healthy. An ill horse can not only spread disease, but his condition may worsen considerably as a result of the stress of travel. In addition, a horse who has just recovered from an illness may have a weakened immune system.

In the trailer• Sweep out all dried manure, hay and other organic debris before loading your horse. Hose down walls, floors and interior fixtures, and scrub off any stains.• Make sure your trailer is well ventilated.• Tie your horse loosely enough to be able to drop his head below the level of his shoulder, which will help him to clear dust from his respiratory tract.• Soak hay to minimize the dusts kicked up during the trip.

Click here to learn what three things to investigate when your horse is uneasy in the trailer.

At the event• Spray down the walls and fixtures in the showground stall with disinfectant before placing your horse in it. Several commercial solutions come in spray bottles that are easy to transport. Discuss disinfectant choices with your veterinarian. Use only your own equipment, including buckets, bits, muck buckets and rakes, and brushes. If someone borrows something of yours, disinfect it before using it with your horse again.• Avoid tying your horse to communal posts or walls where others might have rubbed their noses.• Discourage visitors from petting your horse.• Do not allow your horse to have nose-to-nose contact with others or to drink from communal water troughs.• Monitor the horse’s temperature twice a day. Alert the official veterinarian and managers of fevers.

Back at home• Keep a traveling horse separate?from the resident herd for at least two weeks. It’s especially important to keep frequent travelers apart from pregnant mares and foals.• Disinfect rakes, buckets and other tools before putting them back in service on the farm.• Continue monitoring your horse’s temperature twice daily for another week or two.• Call your veterinarian right away if you notice any signs of illness, including fever, runny nose, coughs and listlessness.

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