Over the years I’ve come across many horse owners who bring a horse home and then find they are having problems with it in the first few days or even weeks, whether that be changes in temperament, illness or both. Moving home is extremely stressful for some horses and can even lead to colic, tying up and respiratory problems to name just a few. We cannot overestimate the stress of travelling and changing home for our horses, changing forage and feed, bedding material and so forth. However, moving horses is often necessary for competition and relocation, selling and so forth and so to find out how to prevent problems and reduce stress for your horses listen to my podcast…
To hear Dr David Marlin’s podcast on moving horses to a new home click here: LISTEN TO PODCAST
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Here is a transcription of the podcast. (Please note this is an automated transcription, so we apologise for any errors from the original podcast.)
How to help a horse cope with moving to a new home.
Over the years, I’ve come across many owners who bring a new horse home and have problems within the first few days or even weeks transport dehydration, changes in management in particular, changes in forage and feed on what we know as major risk factors for the development of gi disturbance and colic.
And what I’m going to talk about in this short podcast is how to try and prevent or reduce the risk of some of these things happening to your horse.
So moving home for a horse can be stressful, traveling is tiring weakens the immune system, which in turn can lead to an increased risk of respiratory disease and or colic and changes in feed and routine can also lead to an increased risk of colic.
These have been identified as very high-risk factors in a number of different studies.
So the first thing would be, if possible, avoid doing anything that’s potentially stressful to your horse for at least a week after moving them to a new home, for example, try to avoid worming vaccinations, shoeing dental treatment and turn out with other horses and hard exercise at least for that first week until you’ve seen how your horses settled in when your horse first arrives at your yard, if possible, keep them separate from other horses for at least two weeks. Now, whilst this is always not possible, keeping your horse separated will reduce the risk of them passing infectious diseases between each other. So that could be other horses getting to your horse or your horse to the horses that are already in the yard. And it’s important that you and other people maintain a good level of biosecurity. So that would mean washing your hands when you go between horses, not using the same equipment, brushes, bridles, etcetera, on different horses, keeping the tack and everything that you’re using just for your horse. At least as I say, for that first couple of weeks.
It’s not uncommon for horses to show a change in behaviour when they have been moved. This can be due to the fact they’ve been separated from other horses that they are comfortable with. It can be due to changes in management and changes in behaviour may also be an early warning sign of the onset of illness. So it’s important to keep that in mind. It could be that the stress has resulted in some degree of gastric ulceration or some mild colic.
So let’s say, just be aware that that behaviour may be related to something health-related, not just to the change in environment. So as we’ve already said, tried to keep your new horses feed buckets, water buckets, tack, rugs, etcetera separate from those other horses on the yard, which will reduce the risk of infectious disease.
And say it’s a good idea if you can’t wash your hands to have a hand disinfectant when moving between having the horses on the yard and your horse in order to reduce the risk of problems such as tying up colic or respiratory disease in particular, try to keep the management of your horse as close to that when it was at its previous home and make any changes gradually. This is really important when it comes to forage and hard feed if possible, get some of the hay that if the horse was was on hey that it was on its old home and see if you can take a couple of bales at least with you and gradually mix that in with the new hey that you’re going to be feeding at the horses new home.
Similarly with pasture, if the horse was out at pasture a lot, don’t try to avoid suddenly switching to a hey only diet and simply if the horse was on probably a hay diet or hey large diet then try to avoid making a change by suddenly just turning your horse out 24 hour seven at its new home.
One of the things you can do if you are forced to make changes with forage, in particular, is to use something like a protected live yeast probiotic to support the gut because it can take 2-3 weeks for the hindgut to be able to adapt to a sudden change in forage such as going from hate to grass or from grass to hey and similarly with the hard feed, if the horse was on a particular brand of feed and even if you don’t particularly like that brand of feed, don’t suddenly switch one day that the horses with its old owner on feed A and then you suddenly arrive home and put it on to feed.
Make the change gradually By mixing in a little bit of the, of the feed you want it on long term with the old feed and then gradually reducing the old feed and increasing the new feed over a period of sort of 7 to 10 days. And this is really important, especially if a horse has had any previous gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach ulcers, egus or colic.
Horses can often develop respiratory disease after travelling, even actually, after fairly short journeys, perhaps only three or four hours, but the longer the journey, the warmer the weather, the greater the risk.
So for this reason, it’s a good idea to take your horses rectal temperature when it arrives home and then each morning and evening for at least three days horses, normal rectal temperature at rest is usually between 37.5 and 38 and the temperature is lowest.
First thing in the morning and increases throughout the day by around about half a degree centigrade. When you arrive after transporting your horse home, the rectal temperature could be slightly increased,
This isn’t unusual for this to happen and in most cases it’s nothing to worry about provided it drops after a few hours in the stable.
It’s a good idea to keep taking your horses rectal temperature morning, the evening for the next few days. A persistently elevated temperature or especially if combined with any sort of nasal discharge or cough may indicate a respiratory infection associated with travel called shipping fever and is an indication to call your vet.
What a good thing to do is to try and get your horse with its head down. If your horse has been previously on grazing, this would be turning out, but even feeding hay off the floor in the stable, particularly feeding soaked or steamed, hay, is a good way to help clear those secretions that mucus clear from the airways.
A big risk is going to going to be colic and especially when there’s a change in forage, as we’ve said, ideally you should ask to take at least a few bales of hay or silage from where the horse was kept previously.
To reduce the risk of colic, you should gradually introduce your own forage over the next week or so at the same time, reduce the forage that you, you’ve taken from the horses old home Again, we turn out, it’s not a great idea to go from a horse that’s on no turn out to full turnout. Try to do this by starting with an hour or so and gradually increasing over a period of a few weeks.
It’s worth checking what bedding the horse was stabled on its previous home and try to use the same bedding at least for 1-2 weeks. Changing bedding can represent a challenge of the horse’s respiratory system and combined with the stress of moving, can lead to the development of respiratory systems, symptoms such as horse cough or nasal discharge.
Another big risk for horses developing colic when they change home is decreased water intake. This may be because the water in your horses New home may taste different to that which he was drinking previously. It may be because he’s drinking out of a different type of bucket. Or it may be because you’ve swapped from buckets to automatic waters.
So it’s important to make sure that buckets and troughs are clean and free from any traces of disinfectant that have been used to clean out water containers if your whole continues to be reluctant to drink after a day or two, you can try a couple of different things if the horses on automatic waters, it’s worth turning these off and switching over to buckets,
at least putting at least two buckets in and ideally hanging them rather than put them on the floor when they can be knocked over.
You can also try adding a small amount of sugar or molasses to the water to mask the taste and encourage drinking. You may also look to put some salt into the diet a sort of half to one 25 Mil scoop of ordinary table salt should encourage drinking in the majority of horses. So it’s really important to ensure your horses drinking, but this may vary with the type of forage as well.
So horses that are at pasture or that are having a large amount of time of pasture or horses that are on high mileage will drink significantly less than horses that are on a hay-based diet. And that’s a reason for keeping horses well,
hydrated is because we know that dehydration is a risk factor for worsening respiratory disease and it’s also potentially a risk factor for the development of impaction colic. So we mentioned probiotics and probiotics already in this instant is trying to reduce the risk of colic.
A protected live yeast. Probiotic is going to be the first thing you should be looking at and it’s worth continuing to feed that for probably the first 3 to 4 weeks that your horse is at its new home, especially if you have had to make a significant change to the type of forage.
You may decide when your horse, your horse arrives at its new home that you don’t want to have it on hard feed. Because you’re not going to put it into work straight away, you’re not going to maintain the level of work.
So it’s important to reduce that hard feed. You can stop hard feed immediately. Unlike where we would not want to introduce hard feed. Suddenly, it’s not so much of an issue if you just want to stop feeding the hard feed when it comes to introducing your horse to other horses in the field, it can be better to introduce your horse to a few horses at a time. If the other horses have been together for some time, they will have established a pecking order, introducing a new horse is likely to upset that pecking order and can be stressful for your horse and for the others. So ideally don’t try to introduce your horse to other horses, perhaps, you know, for the first week or two, till your horses settled in.
So key points travelling and moving home can be stressful for horses and increase the risk of certain problems such as colic, respiratory disease and tying up, try to keep your new horse separate from other horses initially, if at all possible, try to minimize any potential stresses in the first week by keeping your horse on the same forage and same hard feed, avoiding hard exercise, avoiding turning out with others, avoiding worming, vaccination, dentistry competition, hard training, monitoring your horse closely, especially in the first few days, including taking temperature and looking out for nasal discharge or cough.
Make changes to the diet slowly ideally over at least seven days and do this by removing a small amount of the old diet and introducing at the same time a small amount of the new diet.
Remember, it’s important to reduce hard feed, especially if your horse is not being worked as hard to reduce the risk of tying up. And many horses will show changes in behaviour when they move home, but changes in combat hate behaviour, combined with cough temperature, nasal discharge, reduced feed and water intake, et cetera, can be signs of illness.
So remember to consult your vet early if you are concerned.