This summer, I'll be trailering my horse for hundreds of miles to trailheads. What can I do to help him overcome soreness, fatigue and stress on the road and when we arrive at our destination?
As you know, long-distance trailering is stressful to your horse. While you're enjoying the smooth ride of your double-suspension vehicle, he's back there feeling constant "road rock." He's constantly adjusting to the motion, which can make him tired and sore. I recommend several things to help reduce pain and maximize his comfort.
Give your horse a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). These mild pain relievers include phenylbutazone (brand name, Butazoldin, commonly called "bute") and flunixin meglumine (brand name, Banamine). Although they're comparable to aspirin for humans, you'll need to get a prescription from your own vet and ask for his or her dosage recommendations. I prefer to give each of my horses one gram of bute every 12 hours, beginning just before I leave on a trip, and stopping when I get to my destination.
Give your horse branched chain amino acids (BCAA). This supplement (brand name, BC2A, formerly known as ProBurst) also helps alleviate muscle soreness associated with trailer travel. Made up of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, BCAA works by removing the lactic acid that builds up in your horse's muscles during exertion; lactic acid buildup can cause cramping and soreness. You'll give it to your horse before you set out. You can also use this supplement to help relieve your horse's soreness on difficult mountain trails. (For more information, visit my Web site, www.equinedoc.com.)
Keep your horse cool and hydrated. Travel at night when it's cool, so your horse will sweat less than he would during the heat of the day. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water on the road and after you arrive at your destination. (On the road, I offer my horses water in a dog bowl that I hold up to my trailer windows.) Tip: Travel with water from home to encourage your horse to drink. Horses sometimes think "strange" water is poisoned and refuse to drink it, especially at first.
Provide electrolytes. When your horse sweats, he loses electrolytes, water-soluble inorganic compounds essential to the chemical processes of his body. To maintain his electrolyte balance, give him a dose of electrolyte paste before you start out each day. (To purchase online, visit www.equineperformanceproducts.com.)
Provide grass hay. As a grazing animal, your horse is happiest when he's eating. Set a reasonable travel schedule. Experiment to see what works best for your horse. My horses seem to prefer getting there in the shortest time. To do this, we take long trips with a rest at the end, rather than short hauls with rests at intervals. I drive as far as I can in a day, taking 15- to 20- minute stops every 200 miles (which double as fuel stops). I wait until my horses are hanging their heads out the trailer windows, taking an interest in the sights, smells, and sounds around them. This usually means they're rested enough to continue.
Avoid unloading your horse. I cringe when I hear of folks who like to unload every time they stop so their horses can walk around. Unless you're in a controlled environment, such as a fairgrounds or farm, your horse is at risk for injury outside the safety of the trailer. He can also pick up internal parasites while grazing on manure-infested forage.
Take it easy. Keep in mind that your horse was willing to go inside that strange metal box on wheels, just because you asked him to. Think about all the turns and bumps in the road, and how quick stops and starts can affect his ride-and drive as smoothly as you can. Once you reach your destination, thank your horse by leisurely touring the trails. As President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "There is no better way to see this country than from the back of a horse."