Should you use protective gear when you trailer your horse?
One could argue that no safety gear will prevent your horse from hitting steel or aluminum in an accident. You'd have to add air bags, safety padding, and slings, or perhaps yards of bubble wrap.
However, protective gear can help keep your horse safe during the usual bumps and occasional kicks during transport. Here's a rundown of six products, including what I recommend in each category.
Shipping Boots/Leg Wraps
What they are: Shipping boots with hook-and-loop fasteners run from knee to ground, and are easy to apply and remove. Leg wraps are elastic wraps/bandages you carefully wrap around your horse's lower legs; these take longer to apply and require skilled application to avoid placing too much pressure on your horse's tendons. You'll also need to make sure you don't leave the wraps on for extended periods of time.
What they do: Boots and wraps help protect your horse's lower legs as he gets in and out of the trailer, if he falls or is kicked by another horse en route, and even in an accident.
Recommended? I highly recommend leg protection when you trailer your horse. I recommend shipping boots over leg wraps; ease of use means you'll be more likely to apply them every time you trailer your horse.
What it is: A nylon or leather pad with cushioning material that's shaped to fit on your horse's crown.
What it does: A head bumper will help protect your horse's head from injury if he should hit it during the loading/unloading process or during transport.
Recommended? I recommend that you use a head bumper if your horse is tall or fractious, or if your trailer is a little too short to accommodate his height. Head bumpers aren't usually needed for all horses, and can make their heads hot and itchy.
What it is: A blanket or sheet covers your horse from withers to tailhead. These products come in a wide variety of materials (they're usually made from nylon or cotton) and offer varying degrees of insulation.
What it does: During transport, a blanket or sheet provides warmth/wind protection in cold months, and can offer some protection in the event of a bump, bite/kick, or an accident.
Recommended? Normally, horses don't need to be blanketed for transport, because they generate plenty of their own heat. But older or less coping animals may need a light sheet. Watch for heat stress; trailers are very poorly
Temporary Hoof Boots
What they are: Rubber boots designed to go over the hooves of barefoot horses to protect the hooves from rough trail terrain. They're designed to be easily applied and removed.
What they do: In the trailer, temporary hoof boots can provide traction, as well as a layer of shock absorption to help cushion your horse's joints.
Recommended: See what works best for your horse. Barefoot horses can be trailered safely. Note that in very hot weather, boots may contribute to heat stress.
What it is: A see-through mesh product that secures to your horse's face (and sometimes ears) to protect him from flies and other pests.
What it does: When you haul your horse in a trailer that's open to outside elements, a fly mask protects your horse's eyes and ears from insects and dust that whip by.
Recommended? I strongly recommend using a fly mask when you trailer your horse, especially if you have an open stock trailer.
3 Trailering-Safety Tips
In addition to protective gear, your choice of trailer and attention to safety when hauling will also help keep your horse injury-free. Here are three trailering-safety tips.
- Consider a rear-facing trailer. Trailer cams tell us that rear-facing trailer models tend to allow horses to better balance their weight than forward-facing trailers, especially during braking. And in the event of an accident, your horse's strong hindquarters will absorb the shock of an impact much better than his face and head.
- Consider a stock trailer. A stock trailer is also a good choice, because it allows your horse to find his own comfortable space and hauling angle. However, if you haul more than one horse, note there's a higher risk of them injuring each other within the same compartment.
- Keep horses separated. Whatever kind of trailer you use, stock, slant-load, or straight load, the most important thing is to ensure that the horses can't bite or kick each other in transport.
Rebecca Gimenez, PhD (animal physiology), is a primary instructor for Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. A Major in the United States Army Reserve, she's a decorated Iraq War veteran and a past Logistics Officer for VMAT-2. She's an invited lecturer on animal-rescue topics around the world and is a noted equine journalist.