Holidaying with your Horse
The trend for “staycations” was started by the recession but for horse owners there are lots of benefits to holidaying in the UK, not least the fact that you can take your horse with you. Dengie are working with Redlands Equestrian who bought the horse holiday company Bridle Rides, to provide tips and guidance on how to manage your horse’s diet when travelling.
Victoria Dewar Operations Manager for Redlands says “we’ve kept the quality UK product “taking your horse on holiday” and added transport, training, guides and horses to make it even better. We offer holidays in the UK at over 17 different networks covering 3000 miles”. For more information on Redlands then please click here and read on for advice on how to manage your horse’s diet if you do decide to take him away with you.
Transporting horses, whether it is a journey that lasts for an hour or a couple of days is considered to be “stressful” for the horse. Horses’ responses to travel vary greatly – some handle the experience well and seem to suffer no ill effects, whilst others will find it to be extremely stressful and as a result there can be a negative impact on health and/or performance. The stress associated with transporting horses come from changes to their environment, feeding, exercise and sleep patterns. In addition there can be effects of noise, vibration and vehicle movements, confinement, reduced water and feed intake, and anxiety.
Appropriate management of horses before during and after transportation will help to reduce the risk of stress problems. It goes without saying that horses should be in good health before travelling, particularly if they are going to work at the other end of the trip. Horses with mild illness before they travel are much more likely to develop health problems such as shipping fever – a respiratory disease associated with air and sea travel.
Effects of travel on the digestive system
Transporting horses often means a prolonged period of time in a confined space with reduced feed and water intake and an altered feeding pattern, all of which can cause a reduction in gastrointestinal motility. Weight loss can also occur during travel, particularly on long journeys. The effort that is required by a horse to maintain its balance during travel has been reported to be similar to that of walking or at least twice that of resting energy expenditure. Therefore on long journeys it is likely that energy expenditure would be reasonably significant.
It is important that horses eat during long journeys as reduced feed and water intake for 3 or more hours could be detrimental – long periods without fibre can increase the risk of colic and gastric ulcers. To maintain gut function horses should have access to good quality forage. However, it is important that the travelling environment does not become contaminated with dust and particles from forage as this can increase the risk of respiratory problems. Hay should be as dust free as possible and should be thoroughly soaked prior to feeding and not allowed to dry out. Haylage is an ideal source of fibre in this instance or a hay-replacer such as Hi-Fi Senior or soaked high fibre cubes can be fed. If a change of forage is going to be necessary whilst the horse is travelling or away it should ideally be introduced gradually in the weeks leading up to the journey or event.
For prolonged journeys that are 12 hours or more it is advisable to reduce the amount of grain and hard feed in the diet immediately before and during the travel whilst maintaining access to forage. Energy requirements can be met by offering fibre and oil which pose less of a risk to the health of the digestive system. Alfa-A Oil contains the same amount of energy as a conditioning or competition mix but with no cereal content at all. Sugar beet is a useful feed to use as it will also help to keep the horse hydrated as it is fed soaked.
Stress can increase the rate of passage of food through the digestive system which can disrupt the natural population of bacteria in the gut which are essential for efficient digestion. Digestive enhancers such as Dengie Digestive Health Plus that contains probiotics and prebiotics can be used before, during and after travel to “top-up” the resident population of friendly bacteria and help maintain a healthy gut.
Water should be offered at least every 4 hours during prolonged road or air travel. Sweating greatly increases a horse’s need for water. A stressed horse that sweats profusely and refuses to take water during travel has a greater risk of colic and horses eating dry forage will need additional water. Some horses won’t drink water they are not used to so it may be necessary to travel with a supply of water from home. This isn’t always possible due to the large quantities required and so an alternative approach is to accustom the horse to a flavouring in the water at home and then continue to use it whilst away to mask the change of water.
Electrolyte supplements can also be used to replace salts lost through sweat. As the body doesn’t really store electrolytes they can be used the day before, during travel and after to replace what is lost. Ideally electrolytes should be given in water but if this puts the horse off drinking they can be added to feed, although the feed should be wet to aid the absorption of the electrolytes.
Appropriate management of horses before, during and after travel regardless of the length of the journey, will greatly help to reduce the risk of stress related problems and horses will arrive in better condition if their nutrient needs are met during the journey.
Top Tips for Travel
Horses should travel in good health
Do not withhold food and water for more than 3 hours at a time – reduced feed intake for more than 3 hours could be detrimental to health and increase the risk of colic.
Travel with access to forage to maintain gut function
Haylage is preferable to hay. If using hay it should be thoroughly soaked and should not be allowed to dry out.
Hard feed should be fed no less than 1 hour before travelling
During long journeys small feeds of fibre and oil based feeds can be used . Soaked sugar beet or Alfa-Beet should help to maintain hydration and gut movement (even small quantities of fibre can help to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers and colic).
Introduce electrolytes a few days before travelling – the body can’t store them but at least you can start with a full tank, and it will get your horse used to the taste of them.
Ideally electrolytes are best added to water as long as it does not put the horse off drinking. If added to feed, make the feed as wet as possible to aid absorption of electrolytes.
Use probiotics such as Dengie Digestive Health Plus before, during and after travel to aid digestion.