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Equi-Trek’s patented side loading ramps on trailers and rear facing travel across the range is being continuously proven to be preferential to traditional forward facing methods.
The loading and orientation of a horse within a transportation vehicle has been identified as a potential source of stress to both animal and handler. The use of a side door eases the loading of an animal into a vehicle. Rather than having the horse face a small, dark opening, which they may perceive as scary, they walk into a light airy space.
In the rear facing position, the horse’s head is not constantly carried in an elevated position and the horse may use its head and neck to balance more effectively. It may also be advantageous that the forelegs are placed in the rear of the vehicle where they may adapt to the swaying motions of braking and acceleration more readily than the hind legs.
This “buttress” posture adaptation is commonly exhibited during grazing, whereby the shoulder provides better lateral support than the rear legs. Often, the rear legs engage in a side stepping action when responding to lateral pressure, such as experienced in a trailer navigating a sharp corner.
A study examining the response to travelling forwards or backwards during a one hour journey showed a significant decrease in heart rate in the horses travelling backwards.
These horses also tended to rest more often on their rumps in maintaining their balance. The forward facing horses held their heads in a higher than average position and also moved more frequently due to difficulty in balancing.
Interestingly, the forward facing horses vocalized more frequently. Heart rates increased at loading and unloading, and decreased during the journey as the horses became accustomed to the motion of transport.
The authors concluded that the forward orientation may be more physically demanding due to efforts implemented to maintain balance.
Above taken from: Physiology, Balance, and Management of Horses During Transportation by Dr. Carolyn Stull, Extension Animal Welfare Specialist, University of California. Effects of transporting horses facing either forwards or backwards on their behavior and heart rate by Dr. Natalie K Waran, Institute of Ecology & Resource Management, University of Edinburgh.