While hauling during cold weather can be challenging, proper planning will keep your horse performance-ready.
Most performance horses are accustomed to being transported, but doing so in cold temperatures presents challenges for both the animals and their owners. The stress that horses experience during cold-weather hauling can lead to decreased reproductive performance, increased disease and temporary reduction in performance ability, said LSU AgCenter equine specialist Neely Walker, MS, PhD.
“While hauling during cold weather can be challenging, proper planning will keep you and your horse performance-ready,” Walker said. “Keeping your horse comfortable during transportation will ultimately reduce the amount of stress experienced.”
One of the most critical areas to manage is the trailer environment. Most people’s instinct during the winter is to close trailer vents and windows, but ventilation is still important, Walker said. Even in extremely cold weather, heat inside a trailer can build up quickly, which could cause a horse to sweat. Fresh air also helps circulate mold spores, dust, and urine and manure fumes out of the trailer.
Walker recommends opening the roof vents toward the rear of the trailer to draw out heated air. If additional fresh air is required, slightly open the trailer windows.
Blanketing is not always necessary, even when hauling in the winter months, Walker said. As the number of horses in a trailer increases, so does body heat, reducing the need for blanketing. A horse that is body-clipped or being hauled alone should wear a weighted blanket, but a horse with a full winter coat probably doesn’t need one. Use common sense and consider the horse’s condition when deciding to blanket, Walker said.
Horses are more likely to become dehydrated in cold weather because they tend to consume more dry forage, such as hay, to maintain body temperatures. Many horses will not drink while being hauled, so plan to stop every three to four hours to water them, Walker said.
“Providing room-temperature water will increase the chances that your horse will actually drink and stay hydrated,” she said.
It is also important that horses have time to rest between hauling and physical performance. Arriving four hours before an event is ideal, Walker said. That’s enough time for both muscle recovery and reduction in stressed behavior, which improves performance ability.