Take a look at the graphic below. It’s hard to argue with the fact that hauling horses in double deck trailers is potentially dangerous and certainly inhumane. These trailers do not provide sufficient headroom for horses to stand upright. The animals often endure long journeys in cramped positions and suffer serious injuries as a result.

horse trailer, horse safety, horse transportation

The Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2013 (S. 1459), a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), would prohibit the transportation of horses in interstate commerce in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another — more commonly known as double-deck trailers.

Tragic accidents resulting in the death and injury of countless horses have raised questions about the highway safety and animal welfare aspects of transporting horses in double-deck trailers. It was an accident in October of 2007, involving a double-deck tractor trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses through Wadsworth, Illinois, that first got Senator Kirk involved in ending this form of transportation. The crash was so severe that it took more than five hours before authorities could free the suffering horses from the mangled truck. Sadly, nine horses died on the scene, with another six dying later because of injuries sustained during the tragedy.

horse truck accident 

It is not merely the potential for catastrophic accidents that make these trailers inhumane, however. Even absent such wrecks, the use of these trailers can lead to serious injuries of horses during transport — a point on which humane organizations, veterinary associations, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agree. According to the USDA:

Double-deck trailers do not provide adequate headroom for equines, with the possible exception of foals and yearlings. We do not believe that trailers that have two or more permanent levels that are not collapsible can be adequately altered to accommodate adult equines, especially tall equines. A tall equine can be 8 feet tall to the top of its head when standing on all four legs and close to 12 feet tall when rearing.

Double-deck trailers are designed for livestock such as cattle and hogs, not horses. The USDA opposes the transport of horses on double-deck trailers and recently issued regulations prohibiting their use entirely under the agency’s policy governing the transport of equines to slaughter. The Horse Transportation Safety Act would provide protections covering the movement of all horses, not just those bound for slaughter.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Agriculture Safety Database have recommended ceiling heights no lower than 7'–8' to transport horses safely, while average double deck trailer ceiling heights range from 4'7"–5'11". It is also important to note that the U.S. Department of Transportation only requires bridges to have a vertical clearance of 14'–16' in rural and urban areas, making it impossible to build or modify a trailer large enough to humanely transport equines on two levels.

Several states have passed legislation banning the transport of horses in double-deck trailers, but there is currently no federal prohibition so this inhumane practice continues. The Horse Transportation Safety Act (S. 1459) would fix this. Please consider contacting your U.S. Senators and asking them to support this bill.

*Portions reprinted with permission of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock