by Andie Vilela, Education & Campaigns Manager, Redwings Horse Sanctuary
Redwings is the UK’s largest horse sanctuary, home to over 1,500 rescued residents, and transporting horses in a range of circumstances every day. From joyous journeys transporting a Redwings rehoming pony to their new second-chance home, to the life-saving urgency of moving unhandled horses from a rescue situation, Redwings, with its expert drivers, fleet of lorries and almost 13,000 miles on the road so far this year alone, has seen it, done it and earned its stripes!
Anyone who keeps horses knows that a horse’s health and happiness at all stages of a journey is one of the marks of a good horse owner. There are lots of things to think about:
- Pre-transport checks
- Training a horse to load and unload happily
- Heath and happiness on route
- Having a plan in case of an emergency (veterinary or mechanical)
Horse Transport – a physical and mental stressor
Despite the conveniences of road transportation for humans, it’s far from the natural travelling experience horses are built for. If you can imagine the experience of travelling in the back of a lorry or trailer yourself then you are halfway towards making it a better experience for your horse.
Part of the Redwings lorry and trailer training for drivers involves the rather ‘immersive’ experience of being towed down our sanctuary lanes in the back of a trailer to get a good experiential understanding of just how unstable it is for a horse. Add a glass of water to the mix and the driver is usually surprised at just how slowly they need to go and how much breaking distance they need to keep things smooth!
Remembering that horses do not have the ability to rationalize, plan and or weigh up the pros and cons of travelling helps us as drivers and owners acknowledge the stress it can put on the horse.
We now know that even horses that are transported regularly are stressed physically, if not both physically and mentally. Stress can have serious impact on their health by lowering immunity and making them more vulnerable to infection. For example, a horse that carries the strangles bacteria which can appear healthy in all other ways may begin shedding the disease due to stress. [Read more about Strangles here https://www.redwings.org.uk/news-and-views/speak-out-strangles ]
Transport also puts particular stress on the respiratory system – especially over long distances - however the risks can be minimized using this simple checklist:
Transported horses should:
- Be well rested and fit before travel - able to bear weight evenly on all four legs and if pregnant may not be nearing full-term
- Have had consistent access to fresh water before the journey
- Have breaks during long journeys with a chance to allow their heads to lower below the chest level
- Be transported in a well-ventilated vehicle, with fresh air, plenty of headroom, and not overstocked
- Have the level of ventilation adapted depending on their needs e.g. increase fresh air on hot day - especially when the vehicle is stationary and can overheat - or reduce ventilation in extremely cold conditions, especially if the horse's body temperature is very high such as after exercise. These are all physical stressors that take their toll don the body's immune system.
For more information on transporting horses, please download the Redwings transport leaflet here.