Horses being transported have specific needs and appear to be at increased risk of disease, injury, distress, and poor performance when these needs are not met, said an equine welfare study group in the United Kingdom.
Focusing primarily on horses transported within Europe for slaughter, World Horse Welfare (WHW) conducted veterinary observations of more than 1,500 horses in Romania prior to transport and nearly 1,300 horses in Italy after arrival. They found that one in seven horses were considered unfit for travel prior to departure, but upon arrival, this proportion increased to one in three. The statistics were the same for shipments that were compliant with European Union (EU) shipping regulations and those that were not.
"All horses, regardless of the reason for transport, are going to feel the effects of travel, and what we have to do as handlers is ensure that they manage the journey in the best possible conditions," said David Marlin, PhD, associate dean for research at Hartpury College in Gloucester and independent scientific consultant for the WHW. "They're likely to be stressed from separation, and they usually take in less water and feed. Combined with sweat and respiratory water loss, this can lead to dehydration and intestinal upset which can lead to colic.
"Keeping their heads elevated can also increase their risk for 'shipping fever' (pneumonia) because they can't clear secretions from the lungs as well as when their heads are down," added Marlin, who has also worked with the Fèdèration Equestre Internationale (FEI) and Olympic committees on travel guidelines. "And horses traveling perpendicular to the road are in the worst position and thus more likely to injure themselves."
Handlers should monitor their horses' temperature before and after travel and should not transport horses who show any signs of being ill, as the immune system weakens during transport, he said. But many horses will not show signs of respiratory illness, so a thorough veterinary examination is called for prior to any trips of twelve hours or more.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.