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Print off the Owner factsheets on Traveling with your horse - safety first!, Traveling with your horse - bad weather conditions, Traveling with your horse - loading problems to give to your clients.
  • Transport of horses is a common practice; involving individuals and groups of animals; over short, medium and long distances.
  • Welfare legislation is often in place to cover the commercial transport of animals.
  • Shipping organizations will also have their own guidelines.
  • Role of the veterinarian will vary from none to accompanying horse throughout journey.
  • Transport over long distances, particularly by air, is associated with development of respiratory disease ('shipping fever'); see equine influenza   Equine influenza  and pleuropneumonia   Lung: pleuropneumonia - bacterial (pleuritis)  .


  • Welfare of horses during transport is addressed by legislation in most jurisdictions. Refer to local authorities for guidance.

For further information in the UK see the Horserace Betting Levy Board's Guidelines on  Transport  in their Codes of Practice.

  • For sea transport The Horses (Sea Transport) Order 1952 amended 1958:
    • Specifies the dimensions of the stalls.
    • Cannot carry horses on an open deck between October and March.
    • Horses must stand athwartships (acrossways) unless vessel is licensed to carry them fore and aft.
  • Transit of Animals (Road and Rail) Order 1975 (amended 1979 and 1988):
    • Specifies details about the construction of vehicles and the management of horses during transit.
    • Prevents transport of unfit or pregnant horses if transport is likely to cause unnecessary suffering.
    • Specifies a range of other details regarding record keeping.
  • In the UK, The Welfare of Animals Transit Order 1997 Transport of Horses came into force in July 1998.
  • This legislation covers maximum journey times, rest periods, qualifications of transporters and journey plans.
  • There are certain exemptions to the order, for example registered horses. However, the Order provides useful guidelines for the ethical transport of any horse.
  • Registered horses are those registered for the purpose of EU Zootechnics Legislation with a recognized Breed Society or companies like the British Horse Database or Wetherby's.

Types of transport

Road transport
  • Trailers, vans, floats and boxes: vary in size.
  • Floats and boxes tend to carry 2-3 horses.
  • Trailers carry up to 6-9 horses.
  • Purpose-built vehicles with individual stalls, feed compartments and groom accommodation. Can carry 4, 6 or 9 horses.
  • Partitions must be provided and used appropriately so that animals are not thrown about and injured.
  • Horse must be able to stand in its natural position, a minimum height of 1.98 m.
  • Do not stock more than one deck.
  • Ensure there is adequate ventilation.
  • Ventilation may include mechanical means and must be adequate for periods when the vehicle is stationary in hot weather, eg in a traffic jam.
  • Do not use ramps with >25° slope.
  • Provide a secure footing on ramps, eg battens to prevent slipping.
  • Recommended stocking densities Stocking densities for the transport of horses.
Loading and driving
  • Behavioral requirements:
    • Clear visual field.
    • Secure footing.
    • Balance without undue effort.
    • Ability to clear respiratory passages.
    • Ability to urinate at will (males need to stretch to urinate).
  • Instability and inclination of ramp plus walking into a dark 'unknown' interior of box/trailer   →   fear.

Print off the Owner factsheet on Traveling with your horse - loading problems to give to your clients.

  • Acceleration   →   center of gravity   →   shifts to rear   →   wide-based stance   →   biomechanical strains on pelvis (sacroiliac/sacrolumbar   Pelvis: trauma - sacroiliac  ) and hindlimbs.
  • Deceleration   →   center of gravity shifts forward   →   collision with structures near head/neck/chest (if front-loaded).
  • Prolonged standing in one position   →   muscle fatigue   →   myositis/back strain   Musculoskeletal: back pain  .
  • Precautions:
    • Rest ramp on a slope so horse is moving to a (more) level position   →   lowers head on entry   →   less chance of poll injury   Head: fractures  .
    • Load stable companion first, eg dog or goat.
    • Where permitted, have a groom travel in a protected compartment, with the horse.
    • Drive carefully and smoothly; minimize braking and steering.


  • Position restraint around hindquarters (note, can   →   resentment).
  • Position a chest restraint   →   provides support during acceleration.
  • Keep a rope secured at the bottom of one side of the trailer   →   pass over the withers and pull down on the neck for emergency restraint.
  • Tie head at withers level to permit normal drainage of respiratory secretions.
  • Sedation   Anesthesia: premedication - overview  :
    • Reduced neuromuscular control   →   incoordination   →   horse less able to cope with vehicle movements.
    • Altered thermoregulatory control.
    • May overreact to sensory stimuli, eg light, wind, noise, moving objects.
    • May be an effective means for loading horse. However, delay traveling until horse has recovered normal neuromuscular control.

    Avoid using sedatives or tranquilizers on horses destined to travel.

Design factors

  • Rear-facing travel:
    • Requires modification to cope with changes in weight distribution.
    • Hindquarters face engine   →   large muscle mass bears impact if sudden braking.
    • Permits forward unloading, horse has clear vision   →   less risk of damage to pasterns and hocks.
    • No evidence of physiologic advantage to rear-facing travel.
    • Position forelimbs over axle   →   most stable part of trailer.
    • Nursing foals are accustomed to 'propping' for balance   →   can travel facing forward while sucking.

Do not transport adult horses in rear-facing position in an unmodified trailer. Excess weight at rear of vehicle increases the risk of sway and jack-knifing during braking.

  • Large stock trailers:
    • Provide pens.
    • Group animals according to age, weight and sex.
  • Ensure good ventilation but protect from wind (   →   food and bedding blown about   →   stressful).
  • Try to keep temperatures down: use foam insulation on ceiling.
  • Reduce noise during transport.
  • Leaf-spring suspension with low pressure radial tyres   →   smoothes (less vibration) ride (but no measurable benefit in terms of biologic indices of stress).

Air transport

  • 'Jet stalls':
    • Partitioned structures.
    • Carry up to 3 horses.
    • Access and space for groom(s) at front.
    • Installed in freight section of aircraft, with passengers at the front of plane.
    • Restricted access if veterinary attention is needed.
    • More readily available - does not require chartered flight.
    • Eg 'Airstable' (Instone Air Services, Crawley, Sussex, UK) is a fully enclosed rigid container with insect-proofing, groom access tent and air conditioning; internal dimensions 292x200x216 cm.
    • Purpose-built containers enable transport on scheduled flights and reduce transport and waiting times at airports.
    • Can be designed to meet quarantine requirements.
    • Provide a more controlled microclimate.
  • 'Open stalls':
    • Most or all of plane is used for freight and/or accommodation of horses.
    • Narrow-bodied jets carry about three horses across the width of the plane.
    • Wide-bodied jets carry up to seven horses across their width.
    • Require chartered booking.
    • Provision of veterinary personnel more likely (more financially viable).
  • Recommended stocking densities Stocking densities for the transport of horses.

Food and water requirements

  • Legislation addressing feed requirements varies internationally.

Do not use moldy hay during transport.

  • Shake out dust from good quality hay before loading on vehicle.

Use a vacuum-driven particle remover on hay to be used during transport.

  • During road transport:
    • Provide overnight stable rest for every 24 hours of transport.
    • Ensure horse is able to lower head during rest period.
    • Provide water every 6-8 hours.
    • Avoid leaving hay in trailer or at horse's head while vehicle is moving (major contributor of dust particles).
  • During flights:
    • Provide hay ad libitum.
    • Offer water every 6-8 hours.


  • For journeys of 8 hours or more, animal must be in the care of staff with demonstrated qualifications to handle, transport, and safeguard the welfare of the horses.
  • For journeys of >50 km the accompanying person must have either specific training or equivalent practical experience that ensures the welfare of the animal will be safeguarded.


  • Know when to seek veterinary help.
  • Know which body or oragnization to contact with general questions, for example about transport conditions.
  • Know matters of law and documentation; inspection powers.
  • Know how to plan journey, taking account of maximum traveling times, rest periods, time to load and unload.
  • Know how to anticipate changing conditions or respond to unforseen circumstances.
  • Understand vehicle construction and use within guidelines of welfare legislation.
  • Be able to load, operate and control vehicle safely efficiently and effectively.
  • Know appropriate handling methods for horses; recognize prohibited methods.
  • Know legislative requirements for rest, feed and liquid.
  • Be able to clean and disinfect vehicle.
  • Understand the effect of temperature and ventilation.
  • Understand the causes of stress and recognize signs of stress and ill-health; know some basic steps to reduce the symptoms.
  • Be able to care for animals when they become unwell during a journey; know the limited circumstances in which it is permissible to transport unfit animals for veterinary treatment or slaughter.

Physiologic effects

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Veterinary care

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Infectious diseases

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Injured horses

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Jones W E (2003) Transporting horses: minimizing the stress. J Equine Vet Sci 23 (12), 543-545.
  • Thornton J (2000) Effect of the microclimate on horses during international air transportation in an enclosed container. Aust Vet J 78 (7), 472-477 PubMed.
  • Ellis P (1998) Pegasus joins the jet age. Aust Vet J 76 (7), 476-477 PubMed.
  • Friend T H et al (1998) Stress responses of horses during a long period of transport in a commercial truck. JAVMA 212, 838-844.
  • Van den Berg J S et al (1998) Water and electrolyte intake and output in conditioned Thoroughbred horses transported by road. Equine Vet J 30 (4), 316-323 PubMed.
  • Smith B L et al (1996) Effects of road transport on indices of stress in horses. Equine Vet J 28 (6), 446-454 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Horserace Betting Levy Board (2016) Codes of Practice. 5th Floor, 21 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3HF, UK. Tel: +44 (0)207 333 0043; Fax: +44 (0)207 333 0041; Email:; Website:
  • Ellis D (1996) Transporting and injured horse. In: A guide to the management of emergencies at equine competitions. Ed: S Dyson. Equine Vet J.
  • Leadon D P (1994)Transport stress.In: The Athletic Horse.Eds: D R Hodgson & R J Rose. Philadelphia: W B Saunders. ISBN 0-7216-3759-0.
  • Cregier S E (1987) Trailer problems and solutions. In: Current Therapy in Equine Medicine 2. Ed: N E Robinson. W B Saunders, UK. ISBN 0-7216-1491-4.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA. Tel +1 (404) 639 3534 or +1 (800) 311 3435; Website:
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Email: Website:
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, DC 20250, USA. Website:
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Animal Health & Welfare Division, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR, UK.
    • Assessment of practical experience in the handling, transport and care of animals.
    • Guidance on the welfare of animals (transport) order 1997 (WATO 1997) (SI No.1480).

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