Guidelines on keeping horses hydrated when travelling by road have been published in a collaborative effort between industry bodies, veterinary organisations and welfare groups.
The guide, which can be downloaded here, was developed following extensive research.
Input came from British charity World Horse Welfare, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the Federation of European Equine Veterinary Associations, the Animal Transportation Association, Animals’ Angels and the Donkey Sanctuary, among others.
The guidelines lay out simple recommendations to safeguard against dehydration and ensure horses arrive at their destination healthy and comfortable. It provides clear advice for anyone involved before, during and after the travelling process.
Transported horses can require as much as 100 litres of water each day, which is equivalent to roughly one average dustbin-full and whilst hot weather can greatly increase the required amount of water, it is just as important even in very cold temperatures.
The guidelines recommend horses should have access to water and forage at least every four and a half hours whilst travelling and also highlight the importance of unrestricted access to water and forage both before and after the journey.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said that keeping horses hydrated while travelling was one of the most important aspects in ensuring optimum health, behaviour and performance.
“Whilst it is not always easy to spot signs of dehydration the consequences can be devastating,” said Owers, whose organisation co-ordinated production of the guide.
“From fatigue, loss of performance and abnormal behaviour to serious illnesses like colic and in the worse cases even death, it is a key consideration for anyone involved in travelling horses by road, whether it’s a quick trip to a local pleasure ride or a full day journey to a four star event.
“From lead rein ponies to international eventers, the risk of dehydration is just as prevalent so we’ve produced these guidelines to provide a clear and practical point of reference for anyone involved in equine transport.”
World Horse Welfare’s campaigns officer for research and education, Hannah Westen, gives her top tips for keeping horses hydrated when travelling by road:
- Do your homework: If at all possible try to plan your travel around the weather conditions and avoid travelling during high temperatures and high humidity. If it is unavoidable pick the times of day when it’s likely to be coolest – setting off a bit earlier or later will make the experience much more pleasant for both you and your horse.
- Plan ahead: Before setting off, it’s important to ensure horses are fully hydrated by providing them with unrestricted access to forage and water for at least six hours with plenty of space to rest and relax.
- Prepare for the worst: Whilst it sounds pessimistic, when travelling by road you just never know when or for how long you might get held up, so make sure you have plenty of forage and water on board to keep your horses happy and healthy.
- Good quality forage: Access to quality forage will not only maintain a healthy digestive system and provide an ongoing source of energy but also creates a small reservoir of fluid in the horse’s gut to help keep them hydrated.
- Watering intervals: Horses should be offered water at least every four and a half hours whilst travelling, or more frequently in hot weather conditions.
- You can lead a horse to water: Anyone who has offered their horse a drink in an unfamiliar place will know that horses can be choosy about the type of container they will drink from and the taste of the water, but it’s important to stress that this doesn’t mean they’re not thirsty. If possible, take water from home and provide it in a bucket they are used to drinking from. In addition it’s always beneficial to familiarise them to different containers in case you can’t take your own. You can also try flavouring the water with apple juice.
- Minimise stress: Horses can become dehydrated more quickly when they are stressed or unsettled so try to minimise this wherever possible. Loading and unloading are two of the main stressors for horses when travelling so make sure you do as much as you can to keep the process calm and relaxed. Practicing often without the pressure of heading to a show or event will help it become second nature and when you are on a schedule leave plenty of time to load. Ensure the vehicle is well ventilated and drive carefully to make the journey as comfortable as possible.
- Upon arrival: As with pre-planning before a journey, it’s just as important to give plentiful forage and water upon arrival at your destination. If you’re travelling to a show or event then make sure your horse has time to relax, eat and drink before competing or beginning exercise.
- Know the signs: Whilst a dehydrated horse can deteriorate quickly, dehydration can be very hard to spot so make sure you know what signs to look out for and can act fast if required. Indicators include depression, lethargy, dullness in eyes, decreased appetite, lack of or infrequent urination or defecation, licking surfaces, abnormal drinking behaviour such as drinking for extended periods of time, taking long draughts or gulping water.
Information on obtaining a printed copy of the guide, as well as the link for downloading it, can be found here.