Goldners Horse Transport handles over 27,000 horse movements around Australia each year, be it for breeding, competition, sales, racing or pleasure. Given the volume and value of these horses, their focus on equine safety and wellbeing is paramount.
Goldners is currently partnering with Charles Sturt University to study the effects transportation has on horse health and welfare. In such a competitive industry, the importance of transportation as a key part of every horse’s life may not always be front of mind for busy breeders and trainers.
Operating since 1945, Goldners has developed a trusted reputation as the premier horse carrier in Australia by making sure their clients and their horses are given top priority.
By listening to their needs, and working together, Goldners can alleviate any concerns horse owners have about equine transport. This commitment to their customers is why Goldners has generously donated time and resources to study the behaviour and physical changes of horses during transit.
Charles Jennings, Goldners Chairman, is proud of the vital research being undertaken by the University.
“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 sure they are healthy and ready to compete,” Jennings said.
“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 our heads around the important issues involved here, and how we can train our drivers to improve the performance on road,” Jennings said.
The first stage of this research involved transporting two cohorts of horses over two 11.5-hour journeys. Goldners donated their state of the art 15 horse truck for the experiment as well as one of their most experienced truck drivers, familiar with horse behaviour and highly skilled in horse handling.
Using advanced experimental design approved by the animal ethics committee of the University, the research focused on four key areas, including environmental conditions, ventilation, and any gas build up inside the transport bays, spacing and orientation impacts, signs of stress as measured through videos of the horses behaviours and the development of gastric ulcers, and the overall impacts on physical wellbeing through extensive bloodwork. The horses were scientifically monitored the entire journey.
The study group all travelled very well over the 11.5-hour trip, starting at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, travelling through Albury, Shepparton, Narrandera, Temora and back to the University.
“Inside the truck, it is vitally important that there is good ventilation for the horses. 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 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.”
Craig Horgan, Goldners General Manager, 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. 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,” Horgan said.
The study group was split into three groups based on feed management before transport. The first group of horses were fasted, the second group were fed early and then able to graze and the third group were fed immediately prior to departure. “As the horses did not have access to regular feeding or water while travelling, they are considered to be in a fasting condition. Horses are grazing animals, so after not being able to eat or drink for 12 hours, we looked at the levels of stomach PH and scoped for stomach ulceration,” Padalino said.
Head researcher, Sharanne Raidal, an Associate Professor in Equine Medicine at Charles Sturt 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 have recently implemented some important features in their fleet, including DVR cameras on all trucks, recording and providing real-time monitoring of horse behaviour throughout travel both inside the truck and from Goldners’ headquarters. Additionally, recognising the importance of ventilation, they have larger vents on all of their new carriers.
When the completed results of this research are made available, Goldners will continue to look at ways to assist horse health and wellbeing during transport.
“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,” Jennings said.
“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,. We are committed to finding out how we can improve at all times.”
Goldners Horse Transport would like to thank Sky Racing and Caroline Searcy for this report.
Study funding credits: Goldners Horse Transport along with their research partners, Virbac Veterinary Products, Austvet Endoscopy and World Horse Welfare.