Angle vs Straight Load
Comparing Australian, European and American horse trailer designs
This is what various horse owners around the world think is best when transporting their horses ….
1. European horses prefer to travel in straight load floats – or sideways (perpendicular) to the road in a Lorry (truck).
2. American horses prefer to travel in a straight load floats - or in angle load floats with their heads facing the centre of the road.
3. Australian horses prefer to travel in straight load floats – or in angle load floats with their heads facing the off-side of the road.
We at Kalpakoff Coaches, wonder what a horse would say if it could speak?
Our guess is that the first thing our Australian horse might say to us is “I prefer to see where I am going (via eye-level windows) and travel in the same direction that I gallop and brace myself for a sudden stop when in a field”. The horse might then say “Don’t you realise that the one and only thing that me and my European and American cousins have in common is that when we can, we like to travel facing forward. The horse might then say “When angling us in a float, why do you just copy the American float manufacturers who drive on the opposite side of the road and make us travel angled to the left? Their horses face the centre of the road and now you have put us facing the off-side of the road? American angled horses travel standing uphill (due to the camber of the road and the centre of the road being higher for water run off). You Australians angle us horses so that we are standing uncomfortably downhill. Please explain the logic in your reasoning – so that it makes good horse-sense to us!”
We at Kalpakoff Coaches are now starting to angle our floats the right way – to the right – to suit Australian roads – not American roads. And so that the horse is standing more comfortably uphill. We have always been the innovators in WA and do not just follow the crowd when it comes to making good horse and float sense.
Other reasons why some horses wont straight load
If you have ever transported a problem-traveller in a straight load ‘open-top’ float you may soon realise that your horse will often enter easily and is more at ease travelling because it can see where it is going. The horse does not suffer the ‘entering into’ and ‘riding in an enclosed tin can’ feeling. At Kalpakoff Coaches, we have also often found that most horses will easily enter into a light, bright ’enclosed-roof’ float too, if it has eye level windows- just like all of our ‘enclosed’ floats offer. It does seem that if a horse cannot quickly fix its eyes on the horizon as it is entering an enclosed float - the poor horse no bearing as to where it is going and often will start to panic. If the float has a high roof (of at least 2.3m internal) like most of our newer floats, this also often encourages a horse to enter in easier too because of having more head clearance.
Some problem horses will obviously only load/unload easily in an angle load float. But angling horse should not be viewed as best for the horse but perhaps be viewed as best for the owner -due to ease of horse loading and unloading – and perhaps for floating horses shorter distances. While straight-loading a horse may be best for the horse if travelling longer distances. We believe that a horse in a straight-load float, that can see where it is going easily (if it has good side windows), may often travel much more relaxed and be more refreshed upon arrival to perform best for your event. Surprisingly, one research study conducted in 1999 (by C.L.Stull) even revealed that some horses even prefer travelling backwards more than at an angle to the road, to see where they have been – and we don’t see many of those kinds of floats around!
When a horse gets spooked from a claustrophobic, closed in feeling (as in some poorly designed straight load floats), it begins to try to immediately kick or climb its way out of the float. Glueing rubber to the side walls to stop this noise is just like putting a band aid on the problem – we should really be asking ourselves ‘Why is the horse kicking? It is obviously unhappy or scared about something. A float with poor sideways eye-level vision (or peripheral vision) for the horse, will often have kicking, scrambling marks on the walls or partition.
Academic research conducted on Straight load vs Angle load
In 1999, an academic researcher in America by the name C.L.Stull began many extensive research projects in more humane treatment of transported horses. But the methods of conducting that research mostly left out the use of horse holding bays for transported horses while on the back of a truck. The results were interesting in the fact that they found no real significance of horse standing preferences, that no horses chose to stand at an angle to direction of movement, just that each horse is different –please refer to “Backward, forward or slanted” at the bottom of this link for reference to the article found in (US Equus Magazine April 2000 edition).
Although it is often notably easier for horse and owner to load and unload in angled stalls, this may not be the most desirable travelling position for all horses. If a certain horse has had a ‘bad’ experience travelling in a straight load float, then of course it will prefer a wider, more open angle load float to enter into. Most horses, it seems, actually prefer to travel head on into traffic (or backwards) when they can so that they can brace themselves for vehicle acceleration and braking–even this somewhat flawed 1999 US study revealed this.
Furthermore, angle floats generally have no chest or rump bar for a horse to brace itself from forward to rearward vehicle movements either. The horse may twist its spine sideways by wedging it in the rear corner of the horse-bay or can injure its neck by having to look sideways due to being curious as to where it is going. Also, travelling at an angle does not allow enough room for the horse to drop its head and ‘relax’. This desirable relaxed position also allows a natural ‘mucus-draining’ position for the horse which is necessary to keep a horse healthy and not suffer from ‘respiratory stress’ from travelling. In very extreme cases a horse can die if it is floated for too long in such a restrictive position. Even a 15hh does not have the head room to lower its head in an angle float.
For all these reasons we recommend a straight-load float if travelling much longer distances i.e. if the horse will enter/exit easily too. This allows for better horse comfort as it is the natural direction that a horse gallops, trots, canters and is used to coming to a sudden stop.
Why we design our angle floats with much caution now
There is a saying that goes “…please don’t confuse me with the ‘facts’- I have already got my mind made up!” This saying can be applied aptly to the mindset of why angle load floats in Australia today are mostly found angled to the left of the float – rather than to the right of the float. It is much harder to admit you have made a wrong decision – but much easier to keep on doing things the same way it has always been done. One overlooked fact by most horse float manufacturers in Australia today though is that up to 70% of a horses weight can be on its front legs. This puts the majority of weight on the left side of an ‘angle-load’ float making the float unbalanced (even more-so if a rear left- hand internal tack box is added). This 70% weight of the horse being on the left, off-road side of the float, causes the float to be even more unlevel during travel. It also increases your axle and tyre damage on the float when your wheels hit a curb, pothole or edge of the road due to too much weight being on that side of the float. Such a lop-sided float with most of the weight on the off-side of the road can encourage dreaded ‘Jack-knifing’ or even worse ‘float roll-over’ if float hits the gravel on the edge of the road through driver inattention too.
The wheels on the off-road side of any tow vehicle always takes more of a pounding than the wheels travelling in the centre of the road. Because the Americans drive on the other side of the road, when we first imported their floats and angling design over 50 years ago, we should have at least ‘reversed’ the angle that we load our horses to suit our roads to be more safe. But this never happened. Perhaps because no one likes to admit that their design is flawed, especially if they have sold many floats in Australia already. It would be similar to a car manufacturer having to admit their car design is dangerous. Meanwhile the horse and float both suffer. At least two float manufacturers in the eastern states now have enough sense (and courage) to angle most of their floats to the right –even though it may seem silly to some, and shock others. But then again, the mere suggestion that the world was round, and not of the popular opinion that it was flat, brought much ridicule to those daring to think and reason outside of mainstream thinking way back then too, didn’t it?. So, after much research and thought, we at Kalpakoff Coaches are now starting to angle our floats to the right- which we are convinced is safer for your horse and float.
Other floating side effects for horses
Road Tests: How transporting affects horses–by Christine Barakat (Equus Magazine, 2000 Edition)p 63 -77.
Even the calmest of transported horses experience fundamental stress reactions from the start of being loaded.
Occasionally, getting from point A to B exacts a physical toll on a horse that becomes painfully obvious immediately or within a day or two after arrival: The traveller is injured while loading, during the journey, or later comes down with respiratory distress known as ‘travelling fever’. Or the horse may suffer from the results of immobilising muscle cramps from being tied up during travel.
The most serious and often preventable travelling illnesses are associated with the longer journeys.
One of the most common and serious complications of transporting horses is ‘travel fever’, a characteristic from of pleuro-pneumonia in which excess fluid gathers around the lungs and becomes infected. This travel fever can disable a horse for weeks, or even for life, if it doesn’t kill the horse outright.
One of the most significant contributors to ‘travel fever’ may be an elevated head position during transportation. “There is evidence that tying a horse’s head so that his ears stay higher than his withers has an adverse effect on airway drainage”. Normally gravity ensures that the airways clear themselves of harmful organism by drawing out mucus laden with pathogens and irritants whenever the animal grazes or lowers his head.
Not-so-good vibrations – What is is about a long car trip that makes you so tired? Scientists have discovered that road vibrations of certain frequencies set our internal organs to start vibrating, leading to fatigue and a general icky feeling. When measured with instruments the frequency of the vibrations in the hooves of a travelling horse is much the same as that found in the horse trailer itself. But somehow, as the vibrations travelled up the horses legs, the vibrations felt in the horses upper body are much greater. That means if the trailer has even a slight vibration the horses body multiplies this vibration. The average vibrations that cause travel exhaustion, stress and colic in humans are often the same as those measured in travelling horses bodies.
Backward, forward or slanted (pg 72) – Opinions on which direction a horse should face during travel are varied and adamant. Some horse people claim forward is fine, others insist backward is best and a growing number swear by slant-load. Several scientific studies have tried to determine which orientation is physically best for horses, but the question remains unresolved. A University of California-Davis study found no difference in heart rates among transported horses who were tied facing forward or backward or allowed to choose their own orientations.
An elevated heart rate is generally accepted as a sign of stress. When the study horses were transported loose in a stock trailer, they spent a collective 65% of their time facing backwards, but individual preference was mixed and strong. For example, one horse spent 98% of the journey facing forward, while another ‘traveller’ spent 100% of the trip facing the rear. Interestingly, no horses chose to stand on a slant (angle to the road). Perhaps the practical conclusion of this inconclusive study is that horse transporters should respect each horse’s preference.
Visual stimuli may also have some effect on how horses choose to stand. Interestingly, it was noticed that when horses turned backward while travelling, they were looking at something outside the vehicle.
A few interesting blogs on this subject www.horseadvice.com
Loading and unloading stress
The process of loading is the most stressful part of the journey for horses, according to one study that used ‘blood parameters’ and heart rate as indicators of transporting stress. “Cortisol levels jump immediately when you begin to load a horse, “ explains Stull. One study showed that the changes were the same no matter what the age of the horse or how much travel experience the horse had.
Leave horses untied – or tied long – while they travel?
All researchers agree that a horse that can lower their head below the point of its withers is much less likely to suffer respiratory stress from travelling. Some trailer designs (e.g. short angle load floats) do not allow horses to lower their heads very far and some horses fight with their neighbours if given any leeway, but when possible, allow the horses to take advantage of whatever room there is to carry their heads in a natural, mucus draining posture.
Note: In a yet to be published study, Carolyn Stull, PhD, and Anne Rodiek, PhD, replicated their first 24-hour transport study ( see “Stress and the Road- Weary Horse” p 64) but in their second experiment left the horses untied in stalls where they could turn around. The horses who could choose their stance and head position fared much better immunologically and recovered from the trip more quickly than those who were tied.