Going Backwards to Come Forwards
How does the orientation of vehicle travel impact horses?
We’ve all heard that horses travel better rear facing i.e. against the direction of travel.
But more importantly why?
Motion during forward facing travel including braking, bumps, deceleration & cornering require a horse to brace themselves to compensate for being propelled forwards. They are constantly working to maintain balance at all times. Research by the University of Edinburgh suggests that movement during travel has significant effects on equine behavior and physical well being. During forward facing travel horses tended to move their legs, vocalize
more, have increased heart rates & oxygen consumption on longer journeys of 100-200 km, increased levels of plasma creatine kinase which leaks into circulation if muscles have exhibited signs of trauma and stress. Horses were also seen to hold their head and neck in an unnaturally high position instinctively to protect themselves.
As their legs move from side to side the energy expenditure was similar to that of walking when compared with a horse standing in a stationary vehicle, in a stable or on solid ground outside the vehicle. They tend to lean against side walls during this swaying motion. Over longer distances this could impact as to how rested horses are upon arrival at their destination.
Back to the future
Traditionally trailers have been designed & built for forward facing travel. The dark cave like effect associated with smaller horse trailers is contrary to the high roof, bright, ventilated open space of a rear facing two horse van. In a rear facing van once horses get used to the lateral motion they sway passively, balancing their hind against the bulkhead separating driver and horse area compartments. They splay their fore-legs and drop their head and neck into a more comfortable position. The addition of calming LED lights also seem to have a positive effect on the temperament of the travelling horse. Horses can be cross tied however it is not always necessary.
Horses should be tied in such a way that they raise and lower their heads so as to reduce potential stress. As the horse rests their hind on the bulkhead it is important to ensure it is fully reinforced and suitable for travel and to bear weight. Similarly, ensuring the floor is solid, made of non rotting material and suitably sealed. Side walls should be reinforced and capable of taking weight so that you and your horses are best protected during travel.