Over the years, I have heard many stories about how horse owners “cured” their colicy horse by loading it onto a trailer and driving it around for a while – the so-called “Trailer Ride Cure” for colic.
The story goes something like this: A horse is showing colic signs – stretching, pawing, rolling, lying down, etc… The owner loads the horse onto a trailer. The horse passes one pile of manure while loading. (Some people are confused enough about colic to think that the horse is cured at this point.) Then, the owner drives around for a while, sometimes trying to hit potholes and speed bumps on the road to “shake things up.” After some time they return home, unload the horse and it is no longer showing colic signs. So they assume that the horse was “cured” by the trailer ride.
It is a little more complicated than that… Remember that the word “colic” simply refers to the signs a horse shows when it is in abdominal pain due to ANY cause. See this Observation Fast Fact Abdominal Pain, Colic Signs.
When considering the prognosis for any colicy horse, what really matters is the Condition Causing the Colic – the CCC. More than 50% of horses showing colic signs improve on their own, with little or no help. About 70% of horses showing colic signs will improve after being given pain relief like flunixin meglumine (Banamine®). If the colic resolves with no treatment, or after simple treatments like hand walking, trailering, or even a shot of Banamine®, you can be pretty sure that the CCC was something simple, such as a little gas accumulation or spasm in the GI tract.
So why all the fuss about the trailer ride “cure”? There are a few reasons why trailering has gained a reputation among horse owners as a cure for colic:
• First, within 30-45 minutes, many colicy horses stop showing colic signs and seem normal whether or not you trailer them.
• Second, many horses often pass a pile of watery manure when they are loaded onto a trailer. It happens because of nervousness and it is a normal reflex. This happens because of water movement and increased motility in the last few feet of the small colon and rectum. However, the equine intestine is complicated and long (appx. 100ft/30m). So the appearance of manure does NOT necessarily mean that the colic has resolved, because the CCC may still exist upstream.
• Third, yes, it makes sense that a trailer ride distracts a horse from the pain. And it makes sense that the jiggle of trailering on a rough road may shake loose a gas bubble and help the situation. In some cases, this may actually happen. But again, it is only going to happen in horses that were likely to self-resolve anyway.
Dead small intestine at colic surgery. Just one of many conditions that is NOT cured by a mere trailer ride, no matter how many pot holes and speed bumps you drive over.
I have seen horses that have either died or required far more extensive (and expensive) treatments because their owner decided to waste time driving around pulling a trailer, rather than trying to work with their vet to identify the underlying problem.
This is why you should ALWAYS contact your veterinarian at the FIRST signs of colic, before you embark on trailer rides or other self-help. Your vet should know what is going so they can begin advising you from the outset.
If the colic signs aren’t quickly improving, a veterinarian uses an examination and diagnostics to sort out the minor problems from the major ones and recommends needed veterinary treatments. Veterinarians also try to identify the underlying management factors that contributed to the CCC that resulted in colic pain. Then veterinarians recommend appropriate management changes to reduce the likelihood of the CCC in the future.
There are situations in which taking your horse on a trailer ride might be better than doing nothing. But understand the limitations of what you are doing and do not delude yourself – you are NOT doing something magical to resolve the colic. Trailering is not a substitute for a proper veterinary exam and treatment.
If you have no veterinarian, given technology today you should be able to find a local veterinarian to assist you. The American Association of Equine Practitioners & Bayer HealthCare Animal Health offer Get-A-DVM, a free web-based service that helps you locate an AAEP member veterinarian in your area.
One last piece of advice: If you are trailering a very painful horse, leave it loose in an open stock type trailer if possible. Tied horses can get into serious trouble when they lie down.
– Doug Thal DVM DABVP, Creator of Horse Side Vet Guide
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