Hauling Stress – Part 1
Competition is heating up as we move into the summer months. Many horses will transition from small schooling shows to regional and national events lasting 3 days or more. Horses will be hauled thousands of miles in a short amount of time to participate in multiple events in the hopes of winning big paychecks.
While this is exciting for owners and trainers, the horses are put under a tremendous amount of stress. Some handle the change of environments quite well, while others struggle to stay competitive when taken out of their normal routine at home.
The most common issues you may come across are:
- Tying up
- Muscle Soreness
- Illness due to a compromised immune system
Contributing to these problems is the lack of consistent feed while on the road, temperature changes, and lack of turnout.
The stress of hauling is unavoidable, but with a little planning you can be prepared to take the best care of your horse possible while competing. Prevention is much easier than having to address a health crisis in an unfamiliar location with a veterinarian you don’t know after hours.
In this 3 part blog post we will discuss:
- Behavioral Issues
- Immune Health
- Temperature Changes
Access to fresh water is the most critical element to health when hauling your horse. The average 1,000 pound horse will require a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons of water per day in order to function normally. Deficient water intake can lead to impaction colic, dehydration and tying up.
It is important to provide fresh water every day. Clean out water buckets each morning to remove any debris (hay, shavings, manure, insects) that may hinder the horse from drinking. At that time, also check to make sure there are manure piles and urine spots in the stall.
If your horse is fussy about drinking water while away from home, consider utilizing a water flavoring agent at home before hitting the road. Start a few days before you leave, then when traveling any unfamiliar odd-tasting water will be masked by the flavoring agent. It is not uncommon for horses used to well water to turn up their noses at city water that has added chlorine.
On the road, make sure to stop every 4-6 hours to provide water. These scheduled stops will allow you to get your horses out of the trailer to walk around and drink. This will help with hydration, digestive tract function, and gives muscles the chance to relax.
During the stress of hauling and competing, water alone may not be enough to supply needed electrolytes. Proper cellular function cannot happen without the correct balance of electrolytes. Horses deficient in these commonly display evidence of chronic fatigue, irritability and/or muscle soreness. Adding a powdered electrolyte supplement to feed or water or giving a tube of paste can help keep your horse feeling it’s best.
Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are the primary electrolyte minerals. The cheapest forms of these minerals are bound to chloride, which is NOT recommended for long term use. Sodium chloride in particular can be harsh on the esophagus and digestive system. In addition, avoid products that contain unhealthy ingredients like soy, vegetable oil, sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, corn oil and corn syrup.
You need to also find a balance between eating and drinking. While it is recommended to keep hay in front of your horses in the trailer, if they aren’t drinking, you will need to cut back on forage and carbohydrate intake to avoid impaction colic.
Complete feeds (commonly referred to as ‘grain’) are often considered essential to provide the energy required by performance horses. Unfortunately, many of these feeds provide the type of quick burning energy you get from a candy sugar high, rather than a steady supply of energy from foods like rice bran, beet pulp, and forages like alfalfa.
The best way to evaluate these feeds is by using the Glycemic Index. The GI will help you to determine if a certain feed will elevate the blood sugar level creating an insulin spike once ingested. Looks for feeds with a value of 50 or lower to provide the best nutrition.
Avoid ‘grains’ that contain molasses, corn, soy, by-products or middlings. These can be hard to digest, usually contain high amounts of herbicides, and may induce an allergic response from the immune system. In addition, high-sugar feeds cause increased levels of acid production during digestion and promote ulcer formation. They may also lead to immune compromise, hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s Syndrome.
It is important to notice when you read the feed bag label HOW MUCH you are supposed to feed to achieve the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals. Some ‘grains’ require you to feed as much as 10 POUNDS a day for horses in moderate to heavy work. It is extremely difficult for the horse’s digestive system to process that large amount of complex carbohydrates under stress.
As an alternative, consider a combination of alfalfa pellets and rice bran or beet pulp (without molasses). If you are feeding grass hay, then alfalfa pellets are a great choice because they have a low GI and provide a lot of fiber. If your horse needs additional fat to keep up with a busy hauling schedule, you can increase their rice bran intake or add olive oil as a top dress.
You will also need to provide a good quality complete daily vitamin and mineral supplement. Again, watch out for ingredients like soy, wheat, corn, and molasses.
Providing high fiber hay, including in the trailer while hauling, will prevent periods of fasting. Feeding smaller meals more often is better for your horse than just twice a day. This ensures there is always food in the stomach to prevent unchecked acid from irritating the stomach lining. This will help avoid ulcers and a sore back.
It is not recommended to change what you are feeding while you are away from home. It will disrupt both the good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract, which can lead to diarrhea, ulcers and even colic. If you are gone for such a long period of time you cannot take enough feed with you, research ahead of time where you can buy the most similar products to what you are currently feeding.
In Part 2 of the series we will cover behavioral issues which can be brought on by the stress of hauling.