Vet Services Hawkes Bay Ltd

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Richard McKenzie

The transportation of horse to events in NZ [such as HOY] is commonplace but in saying that it needs to be managed to maximise athletic performance, and minimise the risk of any negative impact on horse health. After all it is a long expensive and disappointing trip to an event to have your horse perform below their best.

Road transport can be detrimental to horse's lungs, muscles, gut function and weight


Generally in transit the horses head cannot get down to allow for the natural drainage of secretions and this contributes to increased bacterial counts in airways.

The contamination by dust during transport and also when truck is stopped/refuelling results in a high bacterial insult and occasionally this can result in pleuropneumonia or "Shipping Fever' which potentially can be fatal.


The work of maintaining stability while in transit is not negligible and probably equivalent to the work of constant walking. A wide based stance-the head and neck raised-greater weight being borne on hindlegs can all contribute to increased muscle enzymes [muscle soreness] and energy deficits after a long trip


Transport obviously disrupts routines and decreases in feed and water intake can result in weight loss and dehydration.

A 7 hour trip is estimated to result in bodyweight loss of 2-3% [500kg horse =15kg}

To recover 5% bodyweight after travel can take longer than a week!

Bodyweight improvement depends on horse temperament/experience/amount of loss/length of trip and environmental changes with heat and humidity.


The change of routine and diet increases the risk of colic and disrupting hindgut flora which can lead to changes in digestibility [minor].....  to surgery [major]!!

Ulcers have been shown to develop within1.5hours of travel


 Only travel horses with good respiratory health

  • Monitor rectal temperature pre- and post- travel
  • Any cough/ nasal discharge should be investigated [clinical exam/+/-scope/bloods/ tracheal wash] and treated
  • Introduce any new diet feed at least 1-2weeks prior to trip
  • Ulcer management. Omeprazole ideally 7d prior to trip but even just day of to help maintain appetite during and after travel
  • Antibiotic use is controversial as it has been shown that it does not reduce the bacteria count in lower airways prophylactically but discuss further with your veterinarian as circumstances will vary
  • Weighing horses before transit and upon arrival can help determine dehydration
  • Stomach tubing fluids is helpful for mild dehydration but Intravenous fluids is best for large deficits or more severe dehydration
  • Blood tests can be helpful if any depression/loss of appetite or elevated temperature occurs



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