In a land as vast as Australia, there is hardly a breeder, owner or trainer that doesn’t rely on a horse transport company to move there valued and loved equine creatures.
But there remain uncertainties about the impact of long haul transport on thoroughbreds.
Recent difficulties in transporting horses from Victoria to Brisbane have highlighted the need to better understand these effects on performance and welfare.
The good news is that industry and research experts have teamed up to answer some of these questions.
One of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria’s major supporters, Goldners Horse Transport, has formed a partnership with Charles Sturt University (CSU) undertaking a study into the effects on horse health and welfare during transportation.
Recently, Caroline Searcy profiled this important research on her program Sky Racing program Bred to Win.
Handling more than 27,000 horse movements on the road each year around Australia, Goldners is determined to have as much information at hand when it comes to the welfare of its equine passengers.
A critical part of this research was undertaken last month when a long haul transport trial occurred on the roads of New South Wales’ Riverina region and Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.
Goldners Chairman Charles Jennings who attended the trial said Goldners was proud of the vital research that was being undertaken by CSU and its experts.
“We want to understand more of what happens to the horses during transport, and it is only by doing detailed research with an excellent organisation like Charles Sturt University that we can really get out heads around the important issues involved here, and how we can train our drivers to improve the performance on road,” Jennings said.
“Not only do we care about equine health and welfare, but it is essential that we give our clients every advantage we can in this competitive game.
“They are valuable racing and breeding horses, and they need every advantage when they get to the track to make they are healthy and ready to compete.”
The first transport trial involved transporting a group of horses over two eleven and a half hour journeys, with a full rest day in between. The route started at Wagga Wagga and travelled through Albury, Shepparton, Narrandera and Temora.
Goldners provided one of its state-of-the-art twelve horse trucks for the experiment as well as one of its most experienced truck drivers, familiar with horse behaviour and highly skilled in horse handling.
The study group of horses was split into three groups based on feed: horses that were fasted before the journey; horses that were fed early and then able to graze; and horses that were fed immediately prior to departure.
The CSU researchers measured ventilation levels, gas build up inside the transport bays and signs of stress by examining any development of gastric ulcers in the horses among other indicators.
“Inside the truck, it is vitally important that there was good ventilation for the horses so wind speed was monitored and gas levels were checked, ensuring that CO2 did not build up and ammonia levels were recorded from the horse’s urine,” said CSU researcher, Barbara Padalino.
Padalino was also very positive that knowledge and education can go a long way to improving horse health conditions during passage.
“It is very important that drivers can recognise particular types of behaviour and certain traits in horses when they start to get fatigued or distressed. They can then address the situation quickly and proficiently, arranging suitable treatment, such as a gastric scope or fluids, that would be the goal.”
Craig Horgan, Goldners General Manager, also emphasised how critical the drivers are to ensure safe horse movement.
“It’s vitally important that all our drivers are excellent horse handlers, while being able to competently operate a heavy vehicle with livestock in the back,” Horgan said.
“There are special considerations to take into account when travelling with valuable livestock, so we ensure all of our drivers are well-balanced people, selected on a very strict criteria.”
CSU researcher, Sharanne Raidal, an Associate Professor in Equine Medicine was very interested in the preliminary findings.
“Looking at the stomach scopes of the horses that had completed the experimental journey, there was a range of findings.
“Some horses already had low to mild gastric ulceration before getting onto the truck, that did not deteriorate during the trip, while others that had no gastric ulceration, have finished the journey off the truck with ulcers present,” Raidal said.
“Horses that had been fasted before travel have shown increased signs of ulceration, with more severe and more extensive lesions, as compared to horses that were going onto the truck with feed already in their stomach,”
“Overall horses with feed in their stomach were able to reduce acid build up, protecting the lining of their stomach by creating a gastric buffer to ulcers. Therefore from our results, the group that ate in the morning and were allowed to graze fared better during the journey, indicating moderation is best,” Raidal said.
Goldners’ Charles Jennings said he and the team at Goldners were looking forward to further participation and support of the trial over coming months.
“We are here to find out the science behind the theory. We look forward to getting the research data back, and seeing what it means for the future of Goldners Horse Transport in Australia,” Jennings said.
“It is vital for Goldners that (we) do everything possible to reduce the stress horses feel during travel.
“When horses are comfortable and relaxed, we prevent the chance of disease, reduce the impact on reproduction, lactation and fertility and have no negative impact on the horse’s performance on arrival at their destination.”
You can watch the full Bred to Win article on the link below:
TBV would like to thank Sky Racing and Bred to Win’s Caroline Searcy for providing content for this article.
Study funding credits: Goldners Horse Transport along with their research partners, Virbac Veterinary Products, Austvet Endoscopy and World Horse Welfare.