The latest research is that your horse needs to be cool as well as protected
Horse Deals finds out that less is more when it comes to using travel gear for your horse
At one time, kitting a horse out for travelling meant wrapping him up as if he were a china ornament, with thick rugs and layers of padding round his legs. Now, thanks to research from vets such as Dr Des Leadon, head of clinical pathology at the Irish Equine Centre and a specialist in travel stress, top grooms and transporters know better.
Dr Leadon has shown that there is a fine line between protecting a horse and increasing the risk of overheating and says that when temperatures rise, a horse in transit can be so irritated by boots, bandages and rugs that the risk of injury and dehydration increases.
Zanie Tanswell, former head girl for eventer Pippa Funnell, says most professionals now take this into account.
“I can remember when we used to boot and bandage horses up to the eyeballs,” she says. “But now, materials and designs are so good it’s much easier to keep them comfortable.”
The golden rule, says Zanie, is to look at each journey as an individual puzzle. “If you’re travelling one fully clipped horse, he may need rugging for warmth,” she explains. “But if you travel one or two more with him, the amount of body heat generated will rise enormously and you’ll need to take a different look at what you use.”
Modern travel boots are lightweight and functional
In most cases, Zanie prefers boots to bandages due to their simplicity and because she finds modern designs are lightweight and functional. However, if she’s travelling a young horse, she may put bandages on the hindlegs until it gets used to wearing leg protection.
“Sometimes, the feel of hind boots worries them and they get in a bit of a panic,” she says. “But once I’ve educated them with travel bandages, I prefer boots.”
If bandages are used, it’s important that they’re applied with correct, even tension and always used over pads. Show producer Katie Jerram has her own technique for easy application: instead of holding the pad in place with one hand and wrapping the bandage with the other, she lines up the bandage along the pad and applies both at the same time.
When international road journeys are involved, most transporters recommend that it’s better to travel a horse barelegged and without rugs.
“Our lorries are all well padded and ventilated and sometimes, travelling gear can cause more problems than it saves,” said Jackie Parker of John Parker International. “We don’t advise putting on rugs, either. It’s been shown that travelling horses asks quite a lot of them — it’s the equivalent to exercise, so they can get quite hot even when the temperature’s regulated.”
Travelling a horse without tail protection can be a huge mistake
Travelling is the equivalent of exercise, so horses can get quite hot – Jackie Parker
However, it may often be necessary to take rugs with you. A thermal rug or cooler is essential and sponsored riders often use these to display logos.
Some riders like to use magnetic rugs before or after working in their horses. However, specialist competition horse vet Andy Bathe says that because such rugs stimulate blood flow and thus increase heat production, they should not be used in transit.
Although most owners use tail bandages and/or tailguards for travelling, some don’t bother. This, says Dorset-based horse transporter Lynn Kelly, can be a mistake.
“You’d be surprised how badly a horse can rub its tail without adequate protection, even on a short journey,” she says. “If you don’t want to use a tail bandage, there are padded tailguards that do a good job.”
Her other top tip is that if you’re introducing a horse to travelling and intend to use protective gear, you should get him used to it before he sets foot on the ramp. That way, he won’t have several new experiences to take in all at the same time.