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Transportation with horses: How to better help horses cope with this stressful event?

horses in a trailer

Horse transportation is a common and necessary part of equestrian life. Leisure horses and equine athletes alike are frequently transported for various purposes, including competitions, exhibitions, and medical care. Even a short trip can be a highly stressful experience. For horses, stressors during transportation can include: confinement in a trailer, changes in routine, and exposure to new environments with variations in humidity, temperature, air quality, feed and water during the trip and at the destination.
The resulting stress can negatively affect gastrointestinal permeability and microbiota with 30% of transport-related problems coming from digestive origins. In fact, the gut hosts a complex ecosystem of microorganisms that assist in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune system regulation. Any disruption in this delicate gut microbiota balance can lead to decreased feed efficiency and health issues such as risk of colic, colitis and laminitis.1
A study done on four adult horses showed that only two hours of transportation can already induce changes in equine gut microbiota such as reduction of their diversity with increases in Lactobacilli populations, modifications of fecal pH and fermentation profiles.
Ultimately, due to the gut-brain bidirectional connections, gut microbiota deterioration can also impact the horse’s behavior and well-being.

To help reduce risk of gut microbiota disbalance and help cope with the stress resulting from transportation, here are some essential tips:

Acclimate your horse by practicing positive reinforcement training

Entering a trailer – usually a small and enclosed place – can be a stressful experience for a horse who is a prey animal and its instinct to flee is its primary defense mechanism. Sometimes horses also need to be transported alone and that is a real challenge for these social animals whose gregarious instincts make them feel more secure with other horses. Furthermore, the variation in lighting by entering the trailer, passing from an illuminated area to a dark area, can be disturbing for a novice horse because the horse’s eye only slowly adapts to changes in light intensity. These reasons explain why we usually observe a stop time when horses enter the trailer. Training horses to enter the trailer with a calm and smooth gesture allows them to become accustomed to variations, resulting in calmer and less stressful loading.

Prevent dehydration by providing access to water and hay

During transport, a horse can lose 0.45 to 0.55% of its body mass per hour due to water loss through sweating and breathing.2 However, adequate hydration is essential for overall health and gut function.
To prevent dehydration, it is important to offer water at room temperature to your horse every two to four hours during a break so the horse can drink and urinate.
Slightly reducing the feed ration the night before departure and providing humidified hay ad libitum before and during transportation can help horses stay well hydrated. Indeed, fiber will help retain water and limit dehydration but also help limit the risk of gastric ulcers.

Ensure good ventilation to prevent heat stress and respiratory problems

During transport, the temperature inside a trailer can rise very quickly. Ensure good ventilation inside the trailer. You can keep a thermometer inside your truck to evaluate the rise of the temperature. Horses are fine between 5°C and 25°C. Proper airflow can help reduce heat stress and also help promote respiratory health.

Supplement your horse’s diet with scientifically proven probiotics such as LEVUCELL SC

LEVUCELL SC is an active live yeast for use as a probiotic or direct-fed microbial in horse feeds. Its strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae I-1077 has been selected among thousands of strains for its capacity to enhance digestive function. Introducing LEVUCELL SC solution can be a game-changer in maintaining a healthy gut microbiota during transport. As only two hours of transportation can lead to a change in fecal microbiota, it may increase the risk of microbial dysbiosis over the long-term. LEVUCELL SC supplemented to horses two weeks before transportation has been shown to stabilize fecal pH and increase the population of beneficial fecal bacteria such as lactate-utilizing bacteria, which in turns helps prevent risk of acidosis, and cellulolytic bacteria supporting feed efficiency. This helps maintain a healthy gastrointestinal microbiota, even under the stress of transportation. Benefits of LEVUCELL SC extend beyond transportation as it helps horses to cope with the extra stressful events they face upon arrival at competition or exhibition sites. LEVUCELL SC is a nutritional solution for maintaining gut health which helps reduce the impact of stress and ensure optimal performance and well-being.


It is crucial to recognize and address the adverse effects of transportation on horses, particularly on their gut microbiota. By incorporating positive reinforcement training, ensuring hydration, providing access to hay, and employing good ventilation, some of the stressors of transportation can be mitigated. Moreover, the use of high-quality feed ingredient such as LEVUCELL SC stands as a promising nutritional solution to promote gut health and overall well-being in horses, both during transportation and beyond.

  1. F. Chaucheyras-Durand, A. Sacy, K. Karges, and E. Apper. 2022. Gastro-Intestinal Microbiota in Equines and Its Role in Health and Disease: The Black Box Opens. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms10122517
  2. LEADON D.P., 2000. Horse transport – history, current practices, the future and veterinary recommendations.

Published Feb 8, 2024 | Updated Feb 20, 2024


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