Transporting Mares & Foals

Published in the April 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

BY JENN WEBSTER

Photo by Jenn Webster

Due to the advent of shipped semen, it is not as necessary to transport mares along with their foals to stallions for breeding, as it once was. Instead of mares enduring shipping for miles, we can simply pick up the phone and have a stallion meet breeding requirements right in the backyard. Still, there are instances where it might be necessary for a mare and foal to hit the road for long hauls. Re-breds for example, often require that the mare come straight to the stallion farm to eliminate any further complications of getting her into foal for the following year. Or arriving at a new home following sale at an auction.

Hauling is stressful for adult horses, so it only makes sense that it would take a toll on foals as well. With a young horse’s immature immune system and inexperience of being confined for transportation, hauling can subject them to shipping fever, colic, dehydration, fatigue. The stress factors horses must endure during transport include noise, trailer motion, changes in air temperature, changes in eating and drinking patterns and fatigue from constantly having to balance themselves. As such there are several things you can do to help eliminate the risks.

1. Always transport a mare together with her foal, in a box stall compartment, so the duo can move freely.

2. Give the mare hay to eat. The box stall will allow her to put her head down, giving her more opportunity to expel foreign particles that may enter her nasal cavity. Horses get tired from having their heads tied high for too long. As such, lowering their heads offers the chance to balance themselves and rest up from fatigue.

3. A box stall on the road might also mean you can hang a water bucket in for the mare. But use caution! While the opportunity for free choice water is ideal for a lactating mare, it is possible for the foal to bump into the bucket or for the mare to get her mane or tail stuck in the handle clasp or hanging device. Ensure you have foal-proofed and duct-taped any place where they might get caught.

4. If you cannot give the horses free choice hay and water, stop frequently (every four hours) to feed and water them. This also allows you to look in often and see if a mishap has occurred, monitor water consumption, or discover if one horse seems to be poor-doing.

5. Monitor body temperature often. A highly recommended practice for long trips. Slight changes in temperatures can alert you of a potential illness.

6. Be sure to halter break the youngster before he/she is loaded into a trailer. The mare and foal should also be taught to load and unload, to help eliminate stress. In the event you have to unload enroute, you will be prepared without the risk factor of a free-roaming foal.

7. Ensure the trailer has good ventilation and fresh bedding.

8. Monitor attitude, appetite and the development of a cough following arrival at your destination. Recovery time from travel depends on the animal and ailments such as shipping fever and pneumonia, might not cause classical symptoms for two to three days afterwards. While other clinical signs (depression, lack of appetite, coughing or nasal discharge) may be more readily apparent.

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