Careful management of horses’ nutrition while on the road can help to alleviate some potential causes of stress.
When transporting horses, don’t rush. Provide a rest stop every 3-4 hours, and plan ahead for overnight breaks. Offer water and hay during these rest periods, and allow your horse to pick at grass if you’re in a location that allows you to unload safely. Allowing the horse to graze with its head down in the natural grazing position will allow the horse to drain their sinuses, decreasing the chance of respiratory infections. If you are on a longer journey and unable to unload the horse for a break, try to lower the chest rail to allow the horse to drop its head from time to time.
During the journey it is quite normal for horses to reduce their intake of feed. This does not present too much of a problem for journeys of 3 hours or less. However, going more than 3 hours without eating can increase the risk of colic, especially when combined with dehydration. Thus it is important to try and encourage them to eat and drink something along the way.
Travel diets should be based around good-quality forage. If horses are not keen to eat their usual forage, try soaking the hay in water with some molasses added to improve palatability. This has the added bonus of increasing hydration levels. Lucerne (alfalfa) hay also tends to be more palatable than grass hay. Soaked sugar beet pulp is another potential source of energy and fibre.
Offer as much water as often as possible. Carry your own water with you so the horse is used to the taste and is more likely to drink. The addition of a small amount of molasses or apple cider vinegar may improve palatability for fussy drinkers. Dosing the horse with electrolytes might be beneficial, but only do so if the horse has free access to water (for example, during an overnight rest break) and is drinking adequately.
Another way to get water into the horse is to thoroughly wet down any hard feeds that are offered. Pellet and cube feeds are particularly useful for this, as they can be made into a “slurry” type of mix.
During the journey it is also advisable to put your horse on a gastric ulcer preventative, which acts as a buffer and aids as a physical protective lining in the stomach and small intestine.
Most horses will regain their appetite and exhibit a thirst response once travel has ceased and they have settled into their new location. It is advisable to supplement horses with electrolytes (paste forms are helpful for this) once they are drinking freely.
The horse’s energy reserves might need to be replenished following a journey, especially if the horse did not eat during travel. This can be accomplished by feeding slightly larger meals, preferably four or more times per day at approximately 4-6 hour intervals rather than one or two large grain meals.
Remember when travelling your horse for long periods you can minimise the stress and impact of the journey by correct preparation, maintenance and replenishment of your horse’s energy, nutrient and water requirements pre, during, and post transport.
This article is reproduced with the permission of Kentucky Equine Research.