The equine track at Animal Transportation Conference, held March 18-21, welcomed Odessa Holmes from Equi Balance in New Zealand. Holmes provided a provocative presentation that started out with this strong statement:

“Too many horses needlessly suffer injuries, stress, and worse in ground transport.”

That set heads in the room to nodding in agreement. Remember that horse trailers/floats were originally adapted from delivery wagons that carried dead weight of produce and goods, and not for live carriage that’s standing on legs that are about a meter off the ground!

Holmes went on to boldly state that she considers conventional trailers inhumane for transporting horses, and then reminded us that science has shown (and most seasoned horse people know) that in conventional transport of horses (especially forward-facing and slant-loading trailers) our horses are trying to show us how uncomfortable they are from not standing balanced in a natural manner. All we have to do is look inside our trailers at the scramble marks.

Holmes encouraged all of us to go home and look inside our trailers at the walls, where we will find scrapes from the desperate attempts of the horses to balance impossible situations. She also showed videos of horses in trailers of several types of transport conditions that demonstrated high head carriage (attempting to use their head and necks to balance) as they simultaneously attempted to transfer their weight onto their hindquarters and spread their hind legs to alter their center of gravity during acceleration.

She also noted that, since trailer manufacture is essentially an unregulated practice, improvements would essentially represent an overhaul of the entire industry.

Some of her deep concerns:

  • Surge or override brakes provide no independent control by the driver and force you to rely completely on the tow-vehicle brakes.
  • Drawbars are not required to be interlocked with the chassis; in many cases just four small welds attach the entire main frame of the trailer to the drawbar.
  • No trailers anywhere in the world for horses are subjected or required to endure crash testing or structural and chassis strength testing, either unloaded or loaded.
  • In the horse industry we seem to accept minimal standards for human safety while loading and unloading horses.

Odessa proffered that the facts relating to the trailer design issues have not been presented to the consumers in the horse industry, who would be able to make better choices for their horses If those choices were made available. She states that this currently is a $1 billion industry globally that is effectively supporting an ineffective and inhumane transportation culture. Cost is promoted over safety, and consumers would be willing to pay more to provide the safety component for their animals if they knew the options.

Worse: Holmes' mechanical engineering research has shown that the lack of stress testing in trailers (particularly for scenarios where a trailer is impacted from behind by another vehicle, and for two horses hitting the bulkhead wall when the towing vehicle hits another vehicle or stationary object) allows people to assume that their trailers are safe. But, in fact, research into actual trailer accidents has shown that horses can be ejected through the bulkhead wall under these conditions, their bodies cutting through the wall in a macabre equivalent of the cartoon characters breaking through a brick wall.

Research also shows that, when trailers disintegrate in this manner or animals are ejected, the results are sadly similar to human incidents and usually result in severe injuries and deaths.

Holmes finished her presentation with some solutions. She showed us the Equi Balance rear-facing trailer prototypes, which are based on more than 35 years of research and development, her father’s original 1967 Kiwi Safety Trailer, and the many professional driver suggestions over the years.

She also showed the participants how so many safety and balance concerns, as well as loading and handling issues, could be overcome by adopting rear-facing orientation for horses in transport.

Do you have horses that scramble? Have you attempted to use rear-facing transport? When you haul your horses loose, do they orient themselves differently than you expect?

I welcome your comments on this subject.