Many horse owners have heard that placing a colicking horse on a trailer and driving him around may offer enough motion to encourage the gas to pass, alleviating the colic episode.
However, is it possible that the opposite may be true? Can a trailer ride cause a horse to colic? EQUUS magazine expert Dr. Anthony Blikslager of North Carolina State University weighed in.
No scientific links have been found between trailering and colic, either in mitigating colic or in causing it, but factors around the traveling could affect the functioning of a horse’s gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Blikslager noted that while there is no scientific proof, in his experience the stress placed on a horse for both trailering and what happens when the horse gets off the trailer (like arriving at a horse show) can trigger an episode of colic.
As a response to stress, the horse’s pituitary gland releases cortisol-releasing factor (CRF) into the blood, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol. It’s important to note that this reaction depends on what the horse finds “stressful” and can change over time.
Recent studies in pigs have shown that CRF and cortisol hormones can directly affect the gut when they interact with mast cells found in the gut wall. This is most likely the same in horses, Dr. Blikslager said. When activated, mast cells release substances that alter gut function and change the gut microbiome, which could cause a horse to colic.
Adjusting how a horse is hauled may make him more comfortable, which could help him cope with the trailering experience. Some helpful changes include offering hay, bringing along a buddy, or switching to a style of trailer that offers the horse more space.
Read more at EQUUS magazine.
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