Treating Founder (Chronic Laminitis) without Horseshoes, Section 21
Hauling horses in trailers
is germane to a discussion of founder because hauling with the horses' heads facing
forwards can involve so much more muscular exertion than hauling facing rearwards that you
can actually trigger laminitis in
more vulnerable animals from stress, over-exertion, and the resulting lactic acid
Other adverse physical effects of the
stress of forward-facing hauling, some of which make laminitis more likely:
1. Dehydration--due to sweating from fear, and the muscular exertion to brace to
remain standing when the trailer is moving, and an unwillingness to drink in transit.
(When I do long hauls, we take breaks every couple of hours, and I ply them with
water made more interesting by dissolving lots of peppermints in it, or in truly desperate
moments, orange Gatorade in bowls, or even pop, if all else fails.) 2. The stress of trailering leads to abnormal blood values--elevated
glucose, cortisol and CPK; lowered calcium and neutrophilia. 3. Impaction colic and choke are more likely when the horse is not
drinking, but nervously bolting hay. Colic can trigger laminitis. 4. The "anticipatory propping" position the horse assumes to
protect himself causes pain. is much like the "founder stance,"
with the feet far out ahead of the horse, and involves much exertion, because it is
abnormal. This tense, high-headed stance also results in back strain and cramped
back muscles, sore shoulders, etc. 5. The stress of transit can result in weight loss, tying up, and aggravate
6. Mares in estrus can go out during the stress of a trailer ride.
7. Horses being backed out of a trailer, operating blind, can hurt themselves and
PHOTOS AND MORE INFO about a spectacular semi trailer wreck (carrying 59
(Photos from the Kenosha News, and rescue workers, (Oct. 30, 2007)
...We need to take their fears
I began to wonder why my horse, who
had loaded readily when I first got him, became more and more reluctant to load.
I began to wonder why he was breaking butt chains, and rubbing his tail raw on the back
window bars of the conventional, forward-facing 2-horse trailers I used with him.
His former owner had always hauled him loose in a well-bedded, big open stock trailer, and
had none of these problems. I began to wonder why he would not urinate in
transit--on longer trips, he would not do it unless I unloaded him and took him into deep
grass....and then he did not want to get back in again. I saw horses where I boarded
being unloaded, flying off trailers like rockets, covered with sweat and lather, and
trembling in fear. And these same horses would not get in willingly.
I began to search for answers. Fortunately,
I stumbled onto the work of Dr. Sharon Cregier. I saw an article she wrote in Equus
Magazine, which put me onto her work. I obtained a copy of her PhD. thesis,
"Alleviating Surface Transit Stress on Horses," from University Microfilms,
300 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48106.
One of the main points of Dr. Cregier's
thesis was that having the horses standing facing rearwards had numerous benefits.
Below is a "Kiwi Safety Trailer," originally designed by David Holmes in
New Zealand. It was the only 2-horse bumper hitch trailer that can pass NZ's trailer
safety standard of being able to bring the vehicle to a panic stop within 30' at 20 mph
without jack-knifing or knocking the horses off their feet.
The late, lamented "Kiwi"
trailer made by Rice Trailers in the UK.
I WISH they started making them again!
David Holmes' daughter, Odessa Holmes, has carried on and designed a more
luxurious version of the rear face trailer:www.equibalance.co.nzA great deal of care has gone into getting this
trailer balanced, and it is more durable than the original Kiwi trailer.
These trailers are only available by special order.
2-horse rear-face KIWI TRAILER SKETCHES AND APPROXIMATE MEASUREMENTS, Click HERE
In a letter to me, Sharon wrote: "Any
standard [forward-facing 2-horse] trailer will throw the horse forward during
braking...threatening its head, chest, and balance. Once a horse in the rear face
learns that acceleration and deceleration no longer throw him, he drops his head, leans
forward and stands very much as he would in his own stable throughout the trailer's
journey. He stays in a balanced posture because his center of gravity is directly
over that part of the trailer which moves the least [the axles]. During braking in the
rear face, the horse's haunches drop a little, his head drops and leans a little further
forward over his forehand. That's it. No head throwing. No maintaining
an anticipatory propping. No scrambling. If the braking was really hard (for
example, a sudden stop against a barrier collision), the horse's buttocks, not his head,
would bear the brunt." Further, she said that the quickest change a horse would
experience in a trailer was braking. No vehicle can accelerate in nearly as fast a
change as strongly applied brakes.
I set out to see for myself if
Sharon Cregier's claims were true. I rode in various trailers with horses. It was an
eye-opener! Everything Dr. Cregier described, I saw. Only it was
worse than she described it! Hearing about something rather bloodlessly called
"anticipatory propping" is not the same thing as seeing a terrified horse
actually doing it close at hand! I also saw horses in loose invariably turning to
face the rear when they had a choice. I saw horses in slant loads trying to turn
around in their slanted stalls to face rearward as well. I also saw the danger of
the handler leading a horse up into a slant load stall--he was trapped between a wall and
a rearing horse at an acute angle and could not escape.
I tried getting down on all fours in
trailers, or even in the backs of station wagons or pickup trucks, and found that when I
was headed forward, a sudden stop landed me right on my face. When I was
facing the rear, however, a sudden stop was easy to absorb by my "hindquarters,"
which are designed to push me forward, but not hold me back. If worse came to
worse, my butt would hit the front bulkhead, which stopped me rather painlessly. It
was enough to keep me calm; facing forward, I was always on the alert for the next braking
that might throw me on my face. By being on all fours, I do not mean crawling on
your knees, which does not fairly replicate the full effect. I mean, stand on the balls of your
feet like a horse would, and your hands in the front.
Next, riding with my horse in my
standard, forward-facing 2-horse trailer, which I had regrettably bought before I knew
better, I saw for myself how and why he was breaking butt chains. He was doing the
"anticipatory propping" Dr. Cregier refers to. He was actually
standing in a "founder stance," with his front legs far out ahead of him, his
hind legs way up under his belly, his head held high in the panic/flight position, and
sitting on the butt chain. He was crushing his tail into the door. He was
terrified, scrambling and trembling during even "normal" driving. On the
turns, he was flinging himself into the center divider, and scrambling. Yet when he
got off the trailer, he was not nearly as sweated and lathered as many horses I had seen
getting off other trailers. How much more traumatic their rides must have been!
The hind end is not designed to
comfortably stand any length of time with the hind feet propped out to the side
to provide stability in turns; ligaments are stretched uncomfortably.
This is why they teach you in pony club to ask for the hind feet straight out to
the back, not held out to the side, when you pick the hooves out. The
front end, on the other hand, is much better able to comfortably maintain a
wider stance. When the weight is on the forehand, as it can be in a
rear-face trailer, the horse is free to balance side to side against the
vehicle's turns by leaning into his thoracic sling. Ligaments are not being pulled; the
horse's front end is more laterally fluid than their hind end. Dr. Cregier
likens the thoracic sling to gimbals.
While riding in the tow vehicle with Odessa
Holmes while we were hauling horses in her Equi Balance trailer, we could view
the horses over a closed circuit video monitor. (This is a great idea for
anybody's trailer, by the way!) I was surprised to see how much more
effectively the horses could balance leaning into their thoracic slings, their
weight resting naturally on the forehand, to stay balanced while the vehicle was
taking turns. Another very important consideration is that they were
tethered in a way that would allow for a relaxed, low head carriage. The
front-facing horses I rode with earlier were throwing themselves into the center
divider, and sometimes scrambling in the corner where the wall and floor met, if
turns were taken at speed. A very sturdy divider was needed to support
them doing this. In Odessa's trailer, even with turns at some speed, the
horses were barely touching the center divider. My initial misgivings that
the center divider looked too weak to support them if they would throw
themselves into it turned out to be unfounded. Odessa's claim that the
center divider could really be dispensed with turned out to be truthful. I
admit it was initially a stretch for me to accept this idea until I saw what was
actually going on in the trailer. As I watched the video monitor
while we drove along, the horses were barely touching the center divider, even
during turns. They weren't stomping or scrambling; they stood calmly and
quietly, even during turns, and going up and down hills. This was quite a
contrast to what I saw riding in trailers with horses facing forwards.
In any event, the sheer physical exertion
needed to maintain the anticipatory brace position over a longer haul might be enough
stress to trigger laminitis in a susceptible horse. Commercial haulers have been
offering rear-facing stalls in their rigs for years. Wentworth Tellington of the
Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm did a study Dr. Cregier mentions in her thesis.
He monitored heart rates of horses hauled first facing forwards, and then
rearwards, in the same van; their heart rates were slower, indicating less stress, when
facing rearwards. Commercial haulers also know that horses facing rearwards are less tired
by traveling. They also have found that horses traveling with their heads
free tend to stand facing the rear of the trailer. Further, a horse with
his head free is better able to balance and relax.
Dr. Cregier warns you not to try and
convert a conventional, forward-facing bumper hitch 2-horse trailer into a rear-face model
without moving the axles somewhat forward,
enough to reduce the tongue weight of the fully loaded trailer to 100 lbs. max.
(on the original Kiwi trailer design, without a dressing room.) If
you load the horses rear-facing in a trailer with the axles too far back, the increased
tongue weight will result in a rough ride, transmission and engine wear, poor steering and
possible jack-knifing during braking. She also notes that the Kiwi trailer could
come to a panic stop quicker than other trailers without jack-knifing, etc.
Some advantages of rear-face trailers over
1. Loading and unloading the
rear-face trailer are considerably safer and easier than with conventional forward-facing
2-horse trailers because with a rear-face trailer, you lead the horse up onto the
ramp, do a turn on the forehand, and back him in. To unload, you just lead him
straight out. You are never in his kicking zone, or a blind spot--you remain at his
head at all times. You are never trapped between a wall and the horse. You are
never leading him into a dark, confined place head-first. He can see where he is
going coming out, rather than backing out blind. You aren't driving him from behind
in his blind zone. You aren't in the blind spot/kicking zone to fasten the butt
Teaching a horse to load this way:
Earlier, people were using a wall, or a wall of hay bales, as a training aid to teach
a horse how to load in this fashion. What Odessa Holmes advised us now is
that they have gotten good results without this step. They first walk a
horse across ramp while it is still dropped down to the ground--onto the left
side, and on over to the right side--to get him used to stepping onto the ramp.
Next, they get him to halt quietly on it.
Later, the ramp is raised by its supports into the level loading platform
position, both front and rear ends of the ramp supported to make it feel more
stable. You get him to step up onto it, and later, to stop on it. It
is a short step from there to get him to turn on the forehand and then back into
the trailer. Leaving the center divider over to the side in the earlier
teaching this makes backing into the trailer easier and less of a precision
Loading a "Kiwi" trailer--the
handler is never trapped
between a horse and a solid wall!
(To unload, the horse walks straight out, and is less
apprehensive because he can see where he is going.)
2. The "anticipatory
propping" stance (weight shifting back, and fore legs propped out in front)
that a horse assumes in forward-facing trailers to be ready for the next
gear shifting or brake application is exhausting and stressful. Horses traveling
facing backwards are able to settle in and assume a more relaxed stance with
their weight more naturally on the forehand.
Anticipatory bracing in forward-facing trailers also discourages male horses from urination,
which requires parking out on the forehand, the opposite of the propped stance
that is so much like the founder stance.
3. Sudden braking is less of a
problem with rear-facing trailers in terms of injury to the horse being less likely.
I will never forget suddenly braking a forward-facing Thoroughbred walk-through;
the horse fell and was trapped under the breast bar. If I had not stopped and freed
her, but just gone on a few more hours, she might have struggled and panicked so much that
I would have had a dead horse. She was already getting shocky in just a
few minutes of being trapped under the breast bar.
The cattle industry refers to the weight loss
of transported animals as "shrink," which can be a considerable percentage.
The stress of trailering, particularly in forward-facing trailers, has been shown
to cause a loss of weight, increased susceptibility to infectious disease, and result in
abnormal blood values--leucocystosis, decreased calcium, and elevated cortisol, glucose
and creatnine. These blood value changes all testify to the great physical effort
required of the horse during conventional transport. Until you have actually ridden
in trailers with horses, you have no idea what it is like for them!
Considerate driving is also key.
Driving that many feel "normal" is usually too fast, jerky and abrupt for an
animal trying to remain balanced on his feet in the trailer. Having one person
riding in the trailer with the horse, in touch with the driver via cell phone, can be very
instructive. I was told by one such person that it felt like my trailer was
"going 100 mph" when we exceeded 50 mph. I never could have known that,
sitting in the cab, without getting some feedback from the trailer. I have
been really frustrated with how much resistance I have run into on the subject
of riding in trailers with horses, though. Most people think they're doing
fine if they get the horses somewhere in one piece, and aren't the least bit
curious about WHY the horse hates being loaded and hauled. They prefer to
see unwillingness to load as strictly a discipline problem, rather than being
open to learning first hand how trailering effects the horse.
The bird dog trainer I bought Max from was
not being cheap by using an open stock trailer to haul him in, he was being smart!
Max would voluntarily stand facing rearwards, slightly diagonal, and directly over
the axles, where the ride was at its most stable. He was able to park out to urinate
en route in the bedding. He could see what was going on. He was a lot
calmer. He went in more readily. He walked out in a civilized fashion, not
like a shot out of a gun, as he did later in conventional 2-horse trailers.
By the way, Dr. Cregier thinks torsion bar
axles are highly desirable.
My personal experience, too, is that
gooseneck trailers have vastly improved handling, ride and maneuverability over
bumper hitch trailers. Sorry I didn't get one!
We need to do everything we can to reduce
transit stress in horses, especially in dealing with horses who are more prone to
laminitis.Transit stress can actually trigger
laminitis in more vulnerable animals.
To get a copy of Sharon Cregier's PhD.
thesis on reducing transit stress in horses, contact University Microfilms Information
Service in Ann Arbor, MI: 800-521-0600 or 734-761-4700. Costs, when I last
checked, for students ordering
soft cover thesis copies is $40; for non-students, $59. This thesis has an extensive
bibliography of other research. There are also many good articles on the
AATA web site:
For more information
on rescue techniques in trailering wrecks, here is an article that
appeared in The Mail Tribune, a newspaper published in S. Oregon:
November 5, 2006
John Fox, left, Deb Fox and Angela Gonzalez demonstrate how to roll a
horse over using a strap on a horse manikin. (Mail Tribune / Jim
The horse rescuers
Couple teaches emergency techniques for
large animals; local organizations hope to launch rescue team
By Meg Landers
If Cris Usher and some of the other responders had
had large-animal rescue training a year earlier, a horse that was stuck
might still be around.
"Last year, the Applegate Fire District had a
situation where a horse was in a pond," said Usher, of Applegate Fire
District 9, the Josephine County Sheriff's Posse and Josephine County
Equestrian Coalition. She said no one knew what to do and techniques she
learned Saturday would have come in handy. "The horse ... did not make
There's no system in place to prevent the scene
from happening again.
"Right now we can't expect to call 9-1-1 and have
people respond," to a large-animal emergency, she said.
Usher is among the participants in a two-day large
animal rescue clinic held Saturday and today. Local organizers hope to
put together a team of responders in Jackson and Josephine counties.
Firefighters from Ashland and Grants Pass as well
as California fire districts are attending the clinic held at Eden Farm
in Ashland, as are employees of Josephine County Animal Control and
local horse owners. The clinic is sponsored by the Josephine County
John and Deb Fox, firefighter volunteers with the
Felton, Calif., Fire Protection District, have developed a training
curriculum and manual on large-animal rescue techniques.
John Fox said he looked nationwide for information
on equipment firefighters needed to rescue large animals and found
nothing, so 12 years ago he and his wife took the initiative. Whether
animals are trapped in a trailer wreck, a ditch, the mud, a lake or
river, a ravine, a collapsed barn or a show ring, the clinic teaches
skills to assist in saving them.
From making a rescue strap and strapping it around
a horse's girth to flipping over a 450-pound recumbent manikin, the
Foxes demonstrated numerous techniques, often done with standard fire
engine equipment such as hoses, utility ropes and pike poles.
A large part of the clinic involves education on
anatomy and behavior of a horse, said Deb Fox.
"Firefighters have a tendency to rush in," she
said. "That doesn't work with these guys."
The Foxes also taught tips on how to stay out of
danger, such as how to organize the ropes so they don't become entangled
around the rescuer's legs, which would pose a risk if the horse suddenly
took off. They also suggest rescuers keep their mouths closed and teeth
together to avoid biting off their tongue should the horse suddenly
Jannalee Smithey, president of the Equamore
Foundation, a nonprofit rescue organization in Ashland, is among the
"We are forming a committee for equine rescue
solutions," she said. In addition to encouraging firefighter and law
enforcement training, she hopes to create a list of citizens available
to help because rescues can require a large team of people.
The techniques can apply to cows, llamas and pigs,
"It's almost always horses," said John Fox, adding
that for many people a horse is more like a family member, and owners
may put more effort into trying to save it.
For more information or to get involved in large
animal rescue in Jackson and Josephine counties, call Jannalee Smithey,