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Hitting The Highway | Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine

Planning your horse’s relocation can ease his transition

By Beti Spangel

Photography by iStock


Relocating to different parts of the country for job changes or family obligations are increasingly common. If you own horses, chances are you’re taking your equine friend with you.

A significant move presents different challenges than merely a trip across the county. Stress levels for horses vary with age, personality, and the amount of time spent in a trailer. But a bit of thoughtful planning can reduce the impact of a big transition for your horse.

One of the most important factors of a successful move is making sure your horse stays hydrated, says Dr. Sarah Ralston, a veterinarian with the Rutgers University Equine Science Center.

One trick is flavoring your horse’s water before, during, and after the move with apple juice, she says, which serves to mask any flavors or odors from new water sources and provides taste continuity for the horse.

“The key thing is to start flavoring his water beforehand so you can get him to drink well when you get to the new place, especially if he’s a sensitive or aged horse,” says Ralston. “Some horses are very fussy about the flavor and/or odor of their water.”

By acclimating him to a certain taste and then carrying that over to his new water, you can help ensure he drinks enough. The flavoring can then be gradually cut back once he’s accustomed to his new home.

Protect his immune system during this stressful time by adding vitamins A and C to his diet for the first three or four days of the trip, Ralston suggests.

“If the horse is going to a totally new environment and you know he’s going to be stressed, he’ll benefit from the addition of these vitamins,” she says.

She recommends a dosage of 5g twice a day of Vitamin C and 1,000 units of Vitamin E once a day.

“Grind up the Vitamin C, and bite the end off a 1,000-unit capsule of Vitamin E and add to his feed.”

Within two to three weeks of your move, vaccinate your horse or give him a booster.

Transporting your horse can cause him stress, lowering his immune system, so vaccinate shortly after your move.

“Vaccinate for influenza, rhino, strangles, (and) any other contagious diseases he might run into. (All horses) should be vaccinated against rabies, tetanus, etc.,” Ralston says. “The stress of the transportation and adjustment can lower their immune system so they can be more susceptible to diseases.”

Bring at least a week’s supply of his regular, familiar feed and hay. Once you reach your destination, slowly transition him into the new feedstuffs available there.

Loading and Unloading

For the trip itself, deciding whether to stop overnight may depend on several factors, such as how far you’re traveling and the horse’s affinity for trailering.

If you have a young, inexperienced horse or a horse that doesn’t like to trailer, loading and unloading during long trips can add stress that puts him at risk for colic and the pulmonary disorder known as “shipping fever.”

The solution here may be keeping him trailered, Ralston says.

“Just stopping, cleaning out the trailer the best you can without unloading, and leaving him on with feed (hay only) and water for a good long rest would actually be less stressful than unloading,” Ralston says.

Consider lengthening his ties so he can lower and rest his head, or moving partitions in the trailer so he can lie down during longer rest stops, she advises.

For a prolonged trip such as coast to coast, stopping for 30 minutes to an hour every three to four hours to give the horse a rest is recommended.

If your horse is an easy traveler and you are in a safe location to do so, try to unload him every 12 hours or so to stretch his legs. Ideally, plan your trip out so that you can give him an overnight break from travel.

“When I was bringing my two horses back from Colorado to New Jersey, I stopped at horse bed and breakfasts along the way,” says Ralston. “I drove 12 hours at a time, checking the horses every three to four hours, and they got to stay in a nice stall overnight.”

One of the most important factors in moving your horse toa new home is making sure he stays hydrated.

After reaching your destination, monitor the horse closely for the first week or so, watching for side effects of the move, such as colic. Hydration is key and adding water to his feed can help.

“You may want to soak his feed when you first arrive. If the horse is finicky about drinking the new water even with flavoring, soaking his feed will increase his water intake,” Ralston says. “I’d soak half a pound of bran with lots and lots of water, and add apples and carrots, assuming the horse is not metabolically challenged.”

Planning and vigilance will keep a big move with your horse low impact and help him ease into his new home in good health and spirits.


Beti Spangel, of upstate New York, specializes in writing about horses.

Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine Home Page