Equine Transport: A difficult and stressful situation for the horse
Equine Transport Fatigue: the result of energy expended during continuous physical and mental activity while compensating against the forces of road-to-wheel impacts, changes in inertia, and whole body vibration associated with trailer transport.
Hurtling down the road at highway speeds in a metal box is an unnatural situation for a horse. A horse reacts to unnatural situations by activating protective physical and mental responses which consume energy. It is estimated that for each hour of road transport, a trailered horse can exert up to 2-3 times the energy used at a continuous walk. This means that a competition performance horse arriving at an event after a 2 hour trip may have already expended 4-6 hours of constant energy!
Horse enthusiasts of all disciplines, even novice riders, know that the equine body is extremely responsive to external stimuli. Just as the dog’s sense of smell is substantially greater than that of a human, so is a horse’s response to external forces! The jarring impacts to the hooves and legs, and the continuous whole body vibration experienced during a trailer ride are amplified due to this higher degree of sensitivity. Equipped with a complex system of muscle reflexes, developed and evolved as a protective mechanism against injury, the horse exerts both physical and mental energy in response to the forces experienced during transport.
Highway terrain consists of an unending series of bumps, tire impacts, and vibrations that transmit through the trailer floor (yes, even in air ride trailers) and then up into the horse’s legs and body. The result is an equine passenger constantly reacting to these forces by contracting leg muscles, shuffling and repositioning feet, as well as mentally responding to the constant sensations of imbalance and discomfort.
This energy expenditure during transport drains the equine athlete both physically and mentally. Performance horses trailered to an event may seem less alert, dull, and tired as a result. Some will appear anxious or unable to concentrate, with their physique being tense, slow, and less responsive. The horse’s performance suffers. It only takes one misstep by a slightly tired horse to lose a competition or, even worse, suffer a serious and debilitating injury.
Making equine transport as low stress as possible will result in a more alert, relaxed, and competitive horse upon arrival at the event.