Friday, April 22, 2016

22nd April, 2016 Why Are We Waiting?

In December last year BARTA and IH published the Interim Report into Transport Safety. It's tempting to think that nothing has happened since. However, the NFU ran its Transport Safety Week at the beginning of April and more is happening behind the scenes. BARTA Research Lead, Emma Punt is conducting scientific research into the physiological effects of transport in various types of horse transport vehicles and orientation. The rationale behind this is that only when we have up to date scientific evidence will it be possible to go to manufacturers and converters to push for changes in design, taking into account the welfare of the horse.

There is no doubt that there are some good vehicles already on the road, but these tend to be at the more expensive end of the market and take time to reach the second hand market. In the meantime people with more limited funds and sometimes a lack of awareness of obvious problems are taking whatever they can find. Sadly this includes people travelling horses with commercial transporters and hiring vehicles from them. Even with the most expensive vehicles the money is often in the paint and the horse's comfort comes at the bottom of the list of priorities.

I am certainly impatient for change. As someone who loads horses I can only make that loading easier and try to reduce the horse's fear of loading and travelling; I cannot make a vehicle comfortable or safe to travel in if it isn't although I can make recommendations about what I would do to help the horse.

There is so much that people can do - everything from considering the safety and welfare aspects of their chosen transport(er), to improving their own driving skills, to training their horses as well as they can.

Starting at the commercial end. When choosing a transporter I would want to know that they are properly qualified and insured and have the right certification for their vehicles. Did you know for example that DEFRA Approved does not mean that the vehicle has been inspected by DEFRA - for approval to travel horses for up to eight hours transporters only have to fill in a form.

Ask the transporter what type of vehicle they are using, the overall weight limit, and whether or not the horse is in an individual stall or held behind a breast partition. Too many accidents happen with horses going over breast partitions and personally I wouldn't travel my horse in one. Beware of things like anti-weave bars which can still be straddled by a horse and cause terrific injuries to the horse, not only that but they make it very difficult for the Fire and Rescue Service to get the horse out - as do single doors at the back of the vehicle.

For the same reasons, if I was buying a horse lorry I would be very wary of anything with a breast partition. Converters, on whatever scale, tempt us in with things like collapsible breast bars, but I wouldn't want my horse to be able to go over in the first place, and the mechanism for getting them down often means that the handler has to go into the horse. That's a good way of getting killed. 

With trailers I would be concerned about the quality of the build because there are problems with even the 'poshest' make of trailers - e.g., manufacturers using cheap ply to fill in gaps in the floor. Insist on looking at the floor from on top (under any rubber) and from below when you buy ANY trailer - new or second hand.

With front facing trailers pad your breast bar properly and immediately and never travel without it. It's harder to train a remedial horse to load after he has been regularly and inevitably bruised by the breast bar than it is to train a horse to load in the first place.

Take trailer training whether you need to by law or not. There is so much valuable information about vehicle checks, maintenance and weights, and how to drive in different conditions including downhill! Maintain your vehicle well and remember that for lorries plating certificates do not cover anything to do with the welfare of the horse, not even the condition of the floor. Incidentally, no horse trailers are ever crash tested.

Train your horse quietly and don't let people get involved in forcing him into any vehicle. That only tells the horse that people cannot (ever) be trusted and that being in a horsebox or trailer is frightening from the outset.

For a full list of the interim recommendations for people travelling horses please go to pages 94-101 of the BARTA/IH Report

Please be aware that these are my personal opinions based on the survey that I conducted for BARTA and IH, my own considerable experience with loading horses, and what they tell me through their body language and behaviour.