Weekend Wellness: Keeping Horses Healthy During Transport

Hauling can be hard on horses and hard on drivers. From horse health to trailer and vehicle safety to state laws, there’s a lot to consider. Three panelists at winter meeting of the Kentucky Equine Networking Association offered advice on keeping your horse healthy and safe during transport.


Last week an array of equine owners and enthusiasts gathered in Lexington, KY at the Red Mile Clubhouse for the winter meeting of the Kentucky Equine Networking Association (KENA), hosted by the Kentucky Horse Council. The audience was made up of a variety of people from the equine industry, including individual horse owners, equine business owners and staff and students from college equestrian programs. Everyone was interested in one thing — how to keep horses safe and healthy during hauling.

Those presenting at the meeting included Dr. Laura Werner, DVM, MS, DAVCS, a surgeon at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington and a FEI Veterinary Delegate at many of the top three-day eventing competitions in the United States, Lance Hayden, a lifelong horseman and now a driver for Creech Horse Transportation and manager of their Lexington office, and Sgt. Jason Morris, Public Affairs Officer for the Kentucky State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division.

The three KENA panelists offered advice on how to ensure that horses travel safely and arrive at their destinations in good health as well as how to stay compliant with Kentucky state laws regarding hauling horses (although the compliance portion of the presentation was specific to Kentucky, the advice offered by Morris is relevant too anyone transporting horses).


Werner is well-versed in keeping elite competition horses on top of their game. Here is what she had to say:

  • If your horse is prone to stomach upset, treat it with gastric ulcer preventative medications a day before, during and a day or two after the travel plans.
  • Since horses can become dehydrated while on a long trailer ride — either because they don’t have the opportunity to drink or they choose not to — oral fluids should be delivered to the horse for a longer period of time. Werner usually delivers them through a nasogastric tube before the horse travels.
  • Horses that are traveling more than six hours should be transported in a box stall. If that isn’t possible, the horse should be shipped in such a manner that it’s able to put its head down to clear its lungs. If horses can’t clear their lungs, they can develop “shipping fever,”  a condition that horses can develop if they’re forced to hold their heads at such an angle that they cannot clear dust, debris and bacterial particles from their trachea.
  • Once the horse reaches its destination, take its temperature ever 12 hours for 48 to 72 hours to make sure it hasn’t contracted shipping fever.

Hayden discussed the safety checks that commercial vehicles and trailers should go through. These included:

  • All vehicle and trailer lights inspected daily
  • Trailer wires, bearings and brakes checked twice a year
  • Vehicle brakes inspected every 30,000 miles

These checks are more rigorous than most personal trailers receive, but for those of us who haul ourselves, we can take a page from Hayden’s book. Further, we should not be afraid to discuss the safety checks employed by commercial haulers we look to hire.

Sgt. Morris spoke about agricultural exceptions and exemptions. Many people in the audience were unclear about what requirements they needed to follow when shipping horses, both commercially and for personal use, so he elaborated:

  • Those who haul their own horses as recreational riders are exempt from the regulations in Kentucky.
  • Those who are hauling horses as a business, which includes trainers, farriers and for-profit transport companies, are subject to the regulations when the vehicles being operated exceeded 10,001 pounds physical weight or gross vehicle weight rating. Those same persons would be required a CDL when the vehicles exceed 26,001 lbs physical weight or gross vehicle weight rating.
  • A “private” carrier hauls only his own goods and commodities, meaning his own horse, tack, hay, etc.
  • A “for-hire” carrier hauls someone else’s horses, hay, etc. Under this definition, there can be absolutely no money exchanged for movement of horses on a “private” trailer; Morris reiterated that this means money in any manner: in the form of fuel, meals, check or cash.

Sgt. Morris pointed out that state law can be more stringent than a federal law, so he encouraged all those who haul horses across state lines be familiar with the laws in the states in which they are traveling. You can find these laws by typing “FMCSA Horse Hauling” in any search engine.

The Kentucky Horse Council is a non-profit organization dedicated, through education and leadership, to the protection and development of the Kentucky equine community. The Kentucky Horse Council provides educational programs and information, outreach and communication to Kentucky horse owners and enthusiasts, equine professional networking opportunities through KENA, trail riding advocacy, health and welfare programs, and personal liability insurance and other membership benefits.  The specialty Kentucky Horse Council license plate, featuring a foal lying in the grass, provides the primary source of revenue for KHC programs.