Responses of horses to trailer design, duration, and floor area during commercial transportation to slaughter

J Anim Sci. 1999 Nov;77(11):2925-33. doi: 10.2527/1999.77112925x.


Nine trailer loads of horses (n = 306) transported to slaughter facilities with distances ranging 596 to 2,496 km were studied to characterize the type of horses used in commercial markets and the physiological responses and number of injuries due to transportation under summer environmental conditions. Slaughter horse candidates were middle-aged (11.4+/-.4 yr), possessed moderately fleshy body condition, weighed 432+/-3.3 kg, and were of Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred breeding. The mean weight loss during commercial transport was 4%. The percentage of injured horses was greater (P < .05) for two-tiered "pot-belly" (29.2%) compared with straight-deck (8.0%) trailers; however, the stress indicators of cortisol and neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio and rectal temperature showed greater (P < .05) responses following transport in straight-deck trailers. As trip duration increased from 5 h 45 min to 30 h, muscle fatigue (lactate concentration) and dehydration (hematocrit and total protein concentration) were the major physiological considerations, especially in durations over 27 h. The percentage of horses injured was less (P < .05) in trailers with 1.14 to 1.31 m2 of floor area per horse than in trailers with 1.40 to 1.54 m2 of floor area per horse. However, most physiological responses (white blood cell count, total protein concentration, and neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio) to transportation were less (P < .05) in horses provided with the greater floor area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs
  • Animal Husbandry / instrumentation*
  • Animal Husbandry / methods
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hematocrit
  • Horses / injuries
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Motor Vehicles*
  • Seasons
  • Time Factors


  • Hydrocortisone