On the Road Again: Managing Your Horse’s Health When Traveling

The leaves are changing, the temperatures are rising and we’re seeing most of that “white stuff” melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. That can only mean one thing – show season is around the corner. Whether you jump oxers, run barrels, or trot down centerline, it’s important to pay attention to your horse’s needs and the potential stressors of showing and traveling with your equine partner on a regular basis.

This travel schedule imposes additional requirements for managing your horse’s feeding program. Horses like consistency. Changes can cause emotional and physical stress. The more we can keep the routines the same, the easier it is for the horses to cope with the challenges of travel and competition. The following are some suggestions that may be useful to help maintain your partner’s body condition, appearance and performance that is required to stay competitive

Water, water everywhere: First and foremost, it is critical to maintain water intake while traveling and while stabled away from home. Horses should have fresh clean water available at all times when stabled at shows and should be offered water as needed between classes. When on the road, offer your horse water on a regular basis, approximately every 2 hours or so.

But before you start your travels, remember that water may taste different at different locations.

If horses are reluctant to drink water that smells different due to chlorination or water source, try flavoring the water at home with something like wintergreen or vanilla so that you can do the same when traveling. (Just make sure that whatever you use does NOT contain caffeine or anything that will trigger a positive drug test.) Begin this process well in advance of traveling so that the water at home smells and tastes like the water while traveling.

If horses get dehydrated during a show, the risk of impaction colic may increase, especially during hot weather. It may also affect your horse’s performance, particularly in multiple day or multiple event competitions.

Food for thought: It’s also extremely important to maintain your feeding schedule as close as possible to the routine you follow at home. You may have to adjust slightly to accommodate your show schedule, but there are some important rules to follow when feeding on the road.

When in doubt, leave it out. If for some reason you have to miss a feeding, do not double up on the next one. There’s an important adage to remember – it takes a very long time to starve a horse, but one bad choice in over feeding can result in disastrous consequences.

Use the same forage as you feed at home. Keep in mind that ANY sudden changes in diet, including fresh pasture and hay, can disrupt the environment in the gut where communities of microbes reside and be a potential cause of colic. Bring your own hay and minimize any grazing on new pasture at the show grounds if available.

Salt should be offered free choice while traveling. Inadequate salt levels may result in decreased water consumption.

Additional electrolytes may be used prior to, during, and following a competition.

If possible, use an oral dose (paste/syringe) rather than top dress or adding to water, as these methods can create palatability issues and horses may refuse to drink or eat.

Some products contain more sugar than electrolytes, so choosing one where sugar is not listed as one of the main ingredients is very important. Potassium, sodium, chloride, and calcium are the key electrolytes.

Monitor body condition carefully. Adjust feeding rates to avoid excess weight loss while traveling. A horse can appear “tucked up” if he or she goes off feed and water.

Be picky about your horse’s feed. Choose one that is highly palatable so your horse continues to eat. Look for added fat, controlled starch & sugar products with balanced amino acids (lysine, methionine and threonine) and added key vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. These will help maintain body condition and bloom, and work well for virtually all classes of show horses.

Pre-season preparation involves achieving desired body condition, coat condition, hoof condition and the required training. Managing the horse during competition is essential to maintaining your competitive edge, no matter what your sport.

For more information on horse feed, feeding tips, digestive health, and equine management, visit www.HorseFeedBlog.com.