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Moving experiences: Unprepared ship is ship of fools

by Bill Walsh, Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

Shipping a horse and preparing it for the upcoming rigors requires planning several days before departure if you're doing it right.

"Shipping a horse about 10 hours, I don't think you necessarily have to oil them," Jim Drunagel says, conceding that it's still not a bad idea. For longer trips, he claims, it's a necessity to prevent impaction.

In his experience, "Putting mineral oil on their feed is the most natural way of doing it." This is easier and, claims Drunagel, more effective than having a vet tube the horse.

"If you can start three days in advance, and give two or three ounces to let the horse get used to the oil-and they'll eat it readily -- and then the next day maybe give it a pint. The night before, give another

pint, maybe another pint in the morning that it's going to ship. When you ship, oil is all through the system. Some of it is in the stomach, some is in the intestine, some has already started to come through," he says, sharing his years of experience in moving horses from his Warrenton, Va., base to sales in Florida (24 hours), New York (eight), and Kentucky (10).

About the time horses start getting a bit of oil on their feed, Drunagel introduces them to a new drink as well-flavoring their water with ginger ale.

Ginger ale?

"After you've been down the road five or six hours, it is critical to get water in them; otherwise, you are really looking for an impaction," Drunagel explains. "They are eating that dry hay, not drinking any water, and you can have a problem there.

"But you get to a truck stop and all it has is that nasty chlorinated water, and they're used to good farm water. One thing you can do, too, is to start giving them a little ginger ale or Pepsi or anything like that for a few days in their water bucket at home. Then when you get out at the truck stop you can go right over and get yourself a bottle of pop and pour it in the water, and it is the same taste that they've gotten used to at home. If you can get them to drink a gallon or two of water every so often, then more than likely you're not going to have any kind of impaction problems," Drunagel says.

When the van pulls over for a water stop, "Just about every horse will urinate," the 46-year-old horseman continues. "Just let them stand there for a few minutes while you go and get something to eat or whatever, and in 15 or 20 minutes when you come back, just about all of them will drink water."

If he had his druthers-and circumstances often disallow that-sometime between the start of the oil and the ginger ale and the van's departure, Drunagel would pull all the shoes off horses shipping out.

"The only reason you put bandages on is because they've got shoes on. If you've got a horse or pony that doesn't have any shoes on, I see no reason in the world to bandage him," Drunagel says.

"If you're going a long distance, I think you're better off pulling all four shoes, rounding their feet so they won't break up; then you don't have to worry about any bandages."

If the horse does wear shoes, it's important to check for loose nails-or a spread shoe, potentially even more dangerous. The biggest worry is a horse walking on its coronet band. The likelihood of a horse getting a splint from hitting the splint bone with the shoe is far less than the chances of him stepping on himself, Drunagel says.

A proper shipping bandage goes from just underneath the knee all the way to the coronet band. If the bandage doesn't go down that low, especially with a problem shipper, bell boots are called for in order to protect the sensitive coronet.

"A lot of these new, fancy leg wraps have on the bottom of the bandage almost like a bell boot that goes around there for protection," he notes. "Only your worst shippers need anything like that. The average horse ships fairly well and doesn't need much protection.

"The biggest thing about bandages is you have to use just good ol' sense," Drunagel says. "If a horse has never ever had any bandages on before, well, don't put four bandages on it and then put it on the van. If you have practiced some, or the horse is used to standing in bandages, you won't have any problem. Just because you're shipping it, don't do anything different and then just throw it right on the van. That's where they're going to get hurt.

"If it's an eight- or 10-hour trip, if they have front shoes on, put front bandages on; if they have hind shoes on, put four bandages on. If they aren't used to hind bandages, put the front ones on and just put a pair of bell boots on them behind."

There is nothing more dangerous than hind bandages if they become loose at the top and some straw or something gets in there, the Green Hill Stable owner adds. "They get kicking just because of the irritation of having something aggravate them. Bandages should be put on pretty snugly so that won't happen."

Depending on what kind of animal you're shipping, you might want to make some adjustments in stall sizes.

"If it's a young horse, like a yearling, they ship fine in a small, single stall," Drunagel says. "You don't want them to have too much room. In a single stall, if it does lose its balance, it can regain it quicker, where it might just go down in a double stall.

"Ideally, you don't want the partition to be solid, all the way down to the floor. If the partition stops, 14 inches or 18 inches from the floor, I think that is important. If they do have to move over, they don't get claustrophobic if they can put a foot over into the next stall a little bit.

"For an older horse, I think a double stall is a little better. They're a little bit bigger and they're used to shipping, and that extra space helps them quite a lot."

Single stall, double stall, it doesn't matter: Neither represents the best arrangement.

"If you can, the best way to ship a young horse is loose, in a box stall. If you've got a couple, just put two of them in there together; they do really well. If you were shipping fancy yearlings to Saratoga and money were no object, you'd fix up each one in a box stall. I think the box is the safest way to do it."

A conscientious owner is going to adjust the van or trailer windows and vents, and will remember that, on a long trip, the initial adjustment may be only one of several that will have to be made.

"When a horse gets too hot, that is the worst," Drunagel says with a shake of his head. "If you are in the back of the van, if you're comfortable, more than likely the horse is comfortable. If you feel a heck of a breeze blowing on you, well, that horse is just about the same. You would rather have a horse be a little bit chilly than too hot. If they get hot and sweaty, you're just asking for them to get sick," he cautions.

Any time a horse gets too hot, in a stall or on the van, for a long period of time, you're talking about serious pneumonia, pleuritis, some terrible problems. It's a very, very important thing to make sure that the temperature is right. You want them cool, but then again you don't want an awful draft blowing on them, either. You want to try and keep an eye on the windows and vents to have the horse as comfortable as possible.

Blankets, he adds, are a little bit like bandages. "If they're used to that blanket, I guess it's fine, but all the horses that I've shipped, I think that we've had a blanket on about two of them, and both times they've broken out, they've been hot when they got off the van.

"Unless your horse is just real cold-natured, or you've clipped it all over and you want to put a light sheet on it, I'd stay away from putting on a big heavy blanket. Unless it's attended," he adds. "If you have an attendant, it might be just fine. But when you get where you're going, and he's in a lather, you're in trouble."

On a long trip, it's likely that the van is going to travel through several weather zones, not a factor to be treated lightly, Drunagel says.

"I guess there are a couple of different theories. If you clipped a horse in Virginia and put a sheet on it or closed the windows up on the van, and shipped it to Florida, well then, it's 80 there, so he doesn't have any hair on him, and everything's fine.

"The other side of that is don't clip him, and open the windows up and ship him on down. Then when he gets there, clip him. I don't know which is the best theory, but I think the most practical for most horsemen is to clip them and cover them up in Virginia and then as you get going down the road, start opening those windows and doors up. That always made the most sense to me, but I saw a lot of horses coming out of New York or Kentucky with hair on them like a bear. The next day, they'd clip them. I really don't know which one makes the most sense."

Shipping from a hot climate to cold is the worst, the horseman says. "You can't prepare that horse if he's used to 90 degrees and you get him back up here and it's zero. We always had more problems coming back up this way."

Would a tranquilizer help the nervous or bad shipper, maybe prevent it from breaking out in the first place? "I don't like to tranquilize too much," Drunagel says. "They can choke on the hay, and I do think it's important to give them hay. So if you load them up on tranquilizer, and if you aren't going to be in the back with them, well they could be choking all the way down the road."

Both acepromazine and rompun, the two most commonly used tranquilizers, have pluses and minuses. Rompun is the stronger of the two and could make the horse a little unsteady. But "If you use rompun, that doesn't control the throat muscles," Drunagel says. "If the horse is a bad shipper, give him rompun and then you can put in hay and he won't choke. If you use acepromazine, I think you're running a pretty good risk that he could choke. If I give a horse ace, I won't give him hay for an hour or two.

"A horse doesn't need hay the whole trip, anyway," he observes. "Say you were going from here to Kentucky (10 hours). You might give him hay and drive a few hours and if it's gone, you don't need any more right then. After two or three hours, check him on water and maybe give him a little more hay. Just for him to eat the whole time, that isn't good either, just standing there like that," he says.

"Make sure he isn't coming down with something before you ship him, that's really important," Drunagel insists. "By the time you get him shipped, if he did have a temperature when he left home, he will be some kind of sick by the time that he gets there."

Don't neglect to monitor the horse closely for several days after its arrival, as well, Drunagel counsels. The horse that seemed fine when it got off the van can take a turn for the worse if the rigors of a long haul catch up with it some time later.

And when the last horse loads, get the vehicle under way. "Once you get him on that trailer, have everything packed, everything ready, and hit the road. If he isn't hot when you put him on there, make sure he has the proper air, and maybe he'll just ship perfectly," Drunagel concludes. "If he gets really hot, well, then no matter what you do, it's wrong. If you close him up, he's going to get hotter; if you open him up, he's going to get that cool breeze on that wet hair, and that's going to chill him. If there is any way possible that you can just put him on there and hit the road, you need to do it," he says.

Read the next horse transportation article on Buying a Used Horse Trailer.
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