As temperatures heat up, so do the competitions. Many equestrians find themselves trailering to an increased number of horse shows, clinics, events, lessons, and trail rides over the summer months. Trailering your horse in hot weather conditions requires an additional set of considerations. After all, overheating horses can’t hop in the truck with us and blast the air conditioner to cool off quickly.
Whether you are traveling for pleasure or necessity this summer, make sure that you refer to our summer equine travel tips to prevent heat exhaustion, deter transportation induced colic, and ensure that your horse arrives at your destination happy and healthy.
Know the Signs
Whenever possible, only travel in the heat with horses that are in good condition and in good health. Trailering is stressful enough for horses, and excess temperatures add an additional layer of pressure to your horse’s immune system.
Establish a baseline for your horse’s vital signs (temperature, pulse, and respiration), so that you are able to determine if an illness or infection is brewing prior to loading your horse on the trailer. Carry a stethoscope and a thermometer with you in the cab of the truck or in an easy to locate first aid kit in the trailer so that you always have it on hand.
Kevin Dwyer, the head trainer at Quarry Hill Farm in Lakeville, CT, trailers his show horses up and down the east coast as well as into Canada frequently. He explains that knowing your horse’s normal vital signs is essential to maintaining healthy horses over the duration of your trip. “I periodically stop to check on the horses when I am hauling, but I stop more frequently during the summer months. At least once on hauls over five hours, I check their vitals against their norm as well as check their capillary refill time to ensure that they are not exhibiting any signs of distress.”
Help your horse to breathe easily and comfortably by providing proper ventilation within the trailer. Follow your trailer manufacturer’s recommendations to maximize air flow throughout the trailer; many times this means opening all of the windows and air vents on the trailer.
Of course, safety is paramount. Make sure that all open windows and slats are covered by heavy duty screens or metal mesh, which will prevent foreign materials from flying into the trailer and potentially hurting your horse. If you are trucking in a stock trailer or do not have the proper screens in place, Kevin suggests having your horse wear a fly mask to protect his or her eyes from any debris.
Some horse owners and commercial truckers have gone an additional step to facilitate air movement within the trailer. Small oscillating fans can be attached to your trailer’s electrical system to keep the air rotating, even when the trailer is at a standstill. If you choose to go this route, be sure that you follow all manufacturer’s recommendations for aftermarket parts and work with a reputable trailer dealership for installation.
On the Move
Driving the trailer keeps air flowing throughout, which aids in maintaining comfortable temperatures for your horse. Try to avoid stopping or parking the loaded trailer for extended periods of time. When you park, attempt to find a shady location, since the sun will heat the interior of the trailer quickly.
When traveling through populated areas, try to plan a route that minimizes the amount of traffic that you will hit. While it may add a few miles to your trip, consider taking a less direct track and driving around cities to cut down on the amount of time that your horses will be standing on a still or slow moving trailer. If sitting in traffic is unavoidable, try to travel early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are lower.
Ready to Roll
In order to keep temperatures in the trailer as low as possible, make sure that your trailer is completely packed before you load the horses. The ambient temperature in the trailer raises quickly when you have loaded horses breathing and moving around, so make sure that you have done all trailer maintenance inspections and packing list checks prior to loading your equine companions.
“Inevitably, some items will need to be packed after the horses are loaded,” says Kevin. “I always leave these items in a wheelbarrow by the tack room of the trailer. This keeps them out of the way when I am loading horses and also allows me to pack them quickly so I can get on the road.”
Keeping your horses properly hydrated is key to them arriving at your destination in top condition. Stop to offer your horse water every two hours, and even more frequently in extremely hot or humid weather. A water caddy allows you to carry large amounts of water and makes it convenient to fill up buckets on the go. It is also preferred over using water from rest stops, so you can be assured of the quality and your horses will be familiar with the taste of the water they’re offered.
“It’s really important that your horses drink throughout the trip,” explains Kevin. “Even if they only want a few sips, they need to keep consuming water. Sometimes, if I have a horse that doesn’t like to drink on the road, I offer them water mixed with apple juice or a soaked forage product like Hydration Hay to prevent dehydration.”
Monitor the Situation
Kevin has installed an indoor/outdoor thermometer in his trailer so that he can watch the internal temperature of the trailer. “It can be hard to know what the temperature is just by feel, especially if you are getting out of an air conditioned truck. The thermometer lets me know exactly what is happening within the trailer, no guesswork is involved. It is an economical tool that I find myself relying on a lot when I travel.”
Traveling with your horses, even in the summer months, can be a lot of fun. By following our quick tips, you can ensure that your horse arrives at your final destination healthy, hydrated, and ready to take on your next adventure.