Trailering On Long Distance Trips

[By Douglas Novick, DVM]

There are several things to consider when transporting your horse for long periods of time and large distances. First, if you are crossing state lines you will need to have a health certificate. This certifies that your horse is not bringing any contagious disease into the new state. To obtain a health certificate you need to have your veterinarian examine your horse. He or she will then issue the certificate. In addition, many states require that your horse be vaccinated for certain diseases. Most states also require that your horse be recently tested negative on a Coggins test (the test for Equine Infectious Anemia). The health certificate is only good for 30 days so the examination needs to be performed close to your departure time.

The second consideration is health risks to your horse. The biggest problem seen in long distance travel is impaction colic's. The second biggest problem is respiratory tract infections. Impaction colic is caused by manure drying out and forming a blockage in the large intestine. The reason this problem occurs in horses being transported in thought to be a decreased water intake during the trip. To address this problem, here are three suggestion. During the trip offer water to your horse every three hours. Horses may decrease significantly their water intake if the water tastes differently from what they are use to drinking at home. Therefore, before your trip put a small amount of vinegar in your horse's water. Then while you travel and during the first few days at your new location continue to add a little vinegar. This will make all the water taste relatively the same. Finally, if your trip is more than 10 hours long, I suggest having the veterinarian out to administer a gallon of mineral oil via a nasogastric tube. The mineral oil will help keep the manure soft decreasing the chances of an impaction.

The second problem is respiratory infections associated with long distance travel. In studies of severe pneumonia in horses over 70% of the patients had recently traveled for long distances just prior to becoming infected. This association on respiratory infection and travel is known as "shipping fever" among cattleman. Shipping is highly stressful and may lower a horses resistance to viral diseases. For this reason, making sure your horse is well vaccinated for Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis is critically important. Bacterial infection secondary to viral infections quickly follow. This leads many veterinarians to give departing horses a dose of penicillin at the time mineral oil is administered just prior to long distance travel.

The chances are the most horses will not have any problems on any particular trip. The problem is that a few horses will have problems. The strategies above are designed to minimize the risk of your horse becoming one of those few.


Dr. Douglas Novick is an equine veterinarian practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His practice is limited to the treatment of horses with special interests in equine lameness, equine dentistry and reproduction. He is also the first veterinarian in Northern California to implant horses with ID Microchips with optional freeze brands as a method of preventing horse theft.


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(C) 2004 Douglas Novick, DVM- This article is copyrighted. It is licensed for personal use only. Any re-use, duplication, re-transmission via electronic or other means without the expressed written permission of the author, Douglas Novick, is strictly forbidden.