Horse Trailering

Stress and Health | Trailering Problems | Load Training | Trailer Safety Training | Leg Wraps | Ventilation | Preparing for Emergencies | Accommodations and Rest | After Trailering

  • Because horses are traveling more than ever before, it's easy to forget that trailering can be a source of anxiety for horses.
  • Horse owners should take precautions to be sure the trailer is safe and comfortable, so their horses do not harm themselves or others.
  • Reducing stress before and during trailering and ensuring proper hydration are critical to keeping your horse healthy during and after travel.
  • After trailering, monitor your horse for the development of respiratory disease.
  • After long-distance trailering, horses need several days to recover and regain full immune function.

It has become commonplace to trailer horses everywhere: a short trip to the park for a trail ride, a lesson across town, or an appointment at the veterinary hospital. Traveling three states away for a horse show or field trip or traveling south for the winter used to be a big deal, but not any more. Because horses are traveling more, it's easy to forget that trailering can be very stressful for them. The following guidelines will help improve the trailering experience for your horse and you, whether for short or long hauls.

Stress and Health

It is stressful for horses to enter a small, enclosed trailer and then speed down the highway at 65 mph. Horses prefer open spaces, where their instinctive flight response can be lifesaving. Everything you can do to reduce this stress will be a benefit to your horse.

Young horses up to 3 years of age are particularly at risk for stress-related health problems. Dehydration and/or stress before trailering, such as weaning, showing, racing, or endurance competition can increase the likelihood of acquiring a stress-related health problem. Therefore, reducing stress before trailering and ensuring proper hydration are critical to keeping your horse healthy during and after travel

Vaccination is important in helping to prevent equine influenza and rhinopneumonitis—common viral respiratory diseases of horses. Boosters should be given when recommended by your veterinarian. Your horse's vaccinations should be up to date before going on a long trip. The area you are traveling to may have disease risks which are not present in your home environment. It is prudent to discuss these risks with your veterinarian at least a couple of weeks prior to departure and modify vaccination programs accordingly.

Trailering Problems

Trailering problems include refusing to enter or leave the trailer as well as scrambling, all of which can cause injury to horses or people. Training your horse to safely load and unload should be completed long before you get ready to haul the animal to a show, competition or trail ride.

Horse owners must take precautions to reduce their horses' stress so their horses will not harm themselves or others. Most stress-related trailering problems can be avoided by proper training and by taking suitable precautions.

Load Training

Horses sustain many avoidable injuries while being loaded into trailers. Make sure that everyone who loads your horse into a trailer is trained in proper loading techniques, including secure tying of your horse and wrapping of your horse's legs (see below).

Trailer Safety Training

Everyone who hauls your horse should be trained in all aspects of trailer safety, including driving and hitching the trailer as well as checking the brakes and lights. Always have at least one spare tire (two is better) for the trailer, be sure it is in good shape and know how to change it.

If you are hauling just one horse, load him on the driver's side. If you are hauling more than one horse, always put the heavier animal on the driver's side. Roads are usually crowned higher in the middle so putting the heavier horse on this side helps balance the load.

Be considerate of your passengers. Avoid fast starts, hard braking and abrupt turns. Since your horse can't anticipate or see what is going to happen next, these maneuvers are quite stressful for the animal. Switch lanes smoothly and keep plenty of distance between you and the next vehicle.

Before you leave, make one last inspection of the trailer and hitch. Be sure everything is latched and ready to go.

Trailer Flooring

A slippery or unstable floor surface can be unsafe and stressful for your horse. The flooring should be solid but have some “give” to it. This is best accomplished by installing non-slip rubber floor mats. There are a number of good mats commercially available. The mats provide stable footing even when wet. They also help dampen floor vibrations during the trailer ride.

Leg Wraps

Before trailering your horse, wrap all of your horse's legs. Learn how to apply good leg wraps or buy commercial wraps. Leg wraps help protect the most vulnerable parts of your horse, preventing costly and dangerous leg wounds. Some horsemen also use head bumpers to reduce the chance of injury to the horses' poll.


Regardless of the outdoor temperature, open your trailer's vents and windows. If its cold outdoors, protect your horse with a blanket. Inadequate trailer ventilation can cause overheating and allows infectious and particulate materials to build up in the air. Dusty hay and bedding should not be used in trailers because they can blow around and be inhaled by your horse when the trailer is moving. Tie your horse's head loosely to allow some movement. When a horse's head is tied upright and too tightly, the horse is more prone to developing respiratory disease after trailering.

Preparing for Emergencies

To prepare for emergencies, your veterinarian is your best source of information, but here are some recommendations:

  • Always take a first-aid kit with you.
  • Learn how to bandage wounds.
  • Learn how to obtain your horse's temperature, pulse, and respiration.
  • Know the signs of a dehydrated horse, such as depression, holding the head low, a weak, rapid heart rate (more than 50 beats per minute at rest), and increased breathing rate (more than 12 breaths per minute). Other signs can include a high temperature, over 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn to do the skin “tenting” test to assess hydration status.
  • Attach an identification card to the inside wall of your trailer indicating whom to call if an accident occurs.

Accommodations and Rest

Overnight accommodations should be planned in advance. Some hotels and motels allow overnight parking of horse trailers. Overnight boarding may also be available along your route. For information, check Web sites dedicated to travelers with horses.

Give your horse short rest periods during a long trip. It is recommended to stop every 6 to 8 hours. At these stops, unload your horse, provide hay and water, and encourage your horse to lower his or her head.

After Trailering

After trailering, monitor your horse for the development of respiratory disease. Call your veterinarian if your horse develops any of the following signs: cough, nasal discharge, fever, depression, or decreased appetite.

After long-distance trailering, horses need several days to fully recover and regain full immune function.

Clean your trailer between trips to help prevent the transfer of bacteria and viruses. Be sure to clean out all hay to prevent your horse from inhaling moldy hay on the next trip.