Horses need to be better trained and prepared for road transportation, British researchers have concluded, after a study examining factors involved in transport-related injuries.
Researchers Carol Hall and Rachel Kay, with Nottingham Trent University, and Jim Green, with The Horse Trust, set out to learn about the factors associated with equine injuries during road transport.
In Britain, it has been found that around 60% of owners regularly transport their horse to events and activities.
The trio, writing in the journal Animals, noted that the number of equines injured as a result of incidents during road transport is currently unknown in the United Kingdom.
“Although previous research has identified factors that affect an equine’s behavioural and physiological responses to transportation, their contribution to incident occurrence and injury risk is unclear.”
The researchers carried out an online survey, targeting those transporting horses non-commercially. Participants were recruited through social media, email and equestrian societies.
Of the 2116 individuals who took part, 342 (16%) reported details for 399 incidents.
The researchers found that 56% of these incidents were put down to the behaviour of the horse during transport, with 65% of incidents occurring during the first hour of the outward journey.
The horse was injured in more than half the incidents.
The importance of maintaining horse trailers and trucks was highlighted in the findings. While incidents involving transport vehicle malfunctions accounted for just 5.5% of those reported, they were most likely to result in an injury.
Horse trailers were involved in 64.6% of the reported incidents, even though only 49% of all respondents reported using trailers. “Significantly more trailers than lorries were involved in the incidents reported,” the researchers said.
In 51.6% (115/222) of the incidents attributed to equine behavior, the animal was fidgeting before the incident occurred, usually based on closed-circuit television monitoring.
The most common area of injury was the hind legs or multiple areas.
“In most cases, the injuries sustained were considered minor, but in 35 cases the equine did not fully recover from the injury.”
In most cases, recovery time was between one week and six months.
The researchers found a significant association between the severity of injury and the presence of an internal partition within the vehicle.
“The odds of horses being injured as a result of an incident during road transport were twice as high as for ponies.
“Injury was six times more likely in an incident involving transport vehicle malfunction than in a road traffic collision, and four times more likely when the type of incident was classed as relating to horse behaviour.”
Discussing behavioural issues leading to injury, which can include scrambling, slipping and horse-to-horse interactions, the researchers said measures should be taken to reduce the adverse reactions of equines to travel.
The fact that injuries were twice as likely to occur in the first hour of travel suggested that additional measures should be taken to help the horse adapt to transport, they said.
“Ensuring that the horse is habituated to the transport environment has been shown to reduce the risk of injury and non-aversive training in preparation for the situation would reduce behavioural signs of anxiety.”
An additional stressor during transport is isolation when transporting single animals, the study team noted.
“In the current study, 63.91% of incidents involved equines being transported on their own.
“Preparation for this aspect of travel or, ideally, the provision of a companion (or surrogate companion, such as the use of a mirror) should be considered to reduce the negative impact of isolation during transport.”
They said the use of closed-circuit television to monitor equines would certainly help to recognise unsettled behaviour. “But devising measures that should be taken to avert a subsequent incident is a major challenge, particularly when travelling on a motorway or somewhere where stopping is not an option.”
The study team said that although the data cannot be used to accurately estimate the number of incidents occurring, or identify the specific causes, the results provide an indication of the proportion of incidents that result in injury and factors associated with this outcome.
Hall, C.; Kay, R.; Green, J. A Retrospective Survey of Factors Affecting the Risk of Incidents and
Equine Injury During Non-Commercial Transportation by Road in the United Kingdom. Animals 2020, 10, 288.