As many start to thing about winter circuits and show vacations, hauling your horse long distances comes into play. Not only must they be happy and healthy for shipping, but they also need to arrive ready to show and perform at their best in top competition.
While many horse owners hire professional shippers to transport their horses long distances, some prefer to haul themselves. While there are many benefits to hauling yourself, it can be a challenging endeavor and there are a number of things to be aware of and prepare for before hitting the open road.
Your trailer will have the greatest direct impact on your horse’s comfort during shipping. Recent studies have shown that hauling horses loose in box stalls is best for their immune health and overall comfort. Many horse vans and trailers can be quite easily retrofitted into box stalls with some basic carpentry skills. Remember, even the most experienced and well-mannered horse will be stressed from shipping, regardless of whether or not they show it. With a little care and forethought though, this stress can be lessened.
The first thing to do is to plan your route and decide if you will haul straight through to your destination or if you will need to schedule a layover. Many boarding barns and even some private farms offer layover services. Ask for photographs and references before deciding on a facility; you don’t want to arrive late at night in an unfamiliar area to discover that the facility is not safe or suitable for your horse.
Have a plan in place in case of emergencies on the road. If your truck or trailer has a flat tire, do you know how to fix it? What if your horse becomes ill on the trip? Thinking ahead can mean the difference between a smooth trip and a disaster.
Time to leave the cold?
Curtis Crawford, a private farm manager who regularly hauls upper-level event horses across the East Coast, is emphatic about the need for proper safety protocols. He recommends having a fire extinguisher in truck and trailer, a fully loaded emergency kit, and a utility knife or sturdy pair of scissors within easy reach in every truck. Crawford also performs a complete maintenance check on every towing vehicle and trailer prior to shipping, including checking tire pressure and all fluid levels.
Most professional haulers recommend that horse’s legs be wrapped for long trips. Know how to correctly wrap or place shipping boots, and make sure that your horse is well-behaved for wrapping in case you need to adjust a slipped wrap or boot on the trailer.
While most owners offer a hay net or bag while trailering, some vets advise against that for respiratory health due to flying dust particles. Talk to your vet and find out what they recommend. On a long trip, ensuring normal hay intake and thus gut health, may outweigh the risks of respiratory ailments.
For Sarah Warmack of Alva Glen Sporthorses in Gordonsville VA, ensuring adequate water intake is key, both during and after a long haul. She routinely supplements horses going on long trips with electrolytes and stresses the importance of routinely checking manure consistency.
While many owners may not routinely use trailer cameras, for a long-distance trip they can be invaluable. If a horse goes down in a trailer or is visibly distressed, time is of the absolute essence. In an emergency, every second will be precious and having another set of eyes in the back of the trailer might save your horse.
While ventilation is very important to horses, it is never recommended to allow your horse to travel with his head out the trailer window. Doing so can lead to severe eye injuries or worse, especially if there were to be an accident. For Crawford, one of the most important factors in keeping his horses comfortable is preventing overheating. He recommends always planning trips in the warm months so as to avoid hauling during the hottest part of the day.
While it can be complicated, hauling your own horse ensures that you have complete control over how your horse is handled and cared for on a long trip. With a little forethought, it can be a safe experience for everyone.
Juliette Beauchamp (Madison, Virginia) is a photographer of both humans and horses. She is also a licensed Veterinary Technician and owns and manages Turtle Mountain Farm, a small breeding and boarding operation.