Whether your horse competes in the occasional local show or they live their life on the road, the stress of travel and being in a new place can take away from your horse’s overall health and happiness. We chatted with ten top professionals in the industry and asked, “How do you maintain your horses’ happiness on the road?”Here’s what they had to say:
We keep our routine the same. Other than being in a different place, we try not to change anything else. We try to go to horse shows with paddocks, especially if we are going to be somewhere for a couple weeks.
When we are traveling with our horses, we take a lot of steps to keep them as happy as possible. We put a lot of thought into the trailer ride to the show. We always use our own trailer, or if we are shipping commercial, we rent the entire truck so that only our horses are in the trailer and so that they have a direct route from our farm to their destination. We also know at this point which horses get along with which other horses and we try to pair them up accordingly so that their neighbor on the trailer is somebody that they tend to get along with. We also try to look at the weather forecast and make our travel arrangements accordingly.
For instance, if it’s going to be very hot, we try to travel early in the morning. We want the travel to the show to be as stress-free as possible so that they arrive happy and healthy.
Once we arrive at the show, we put a lot of thought and care into choosing which stall each horse will live in. We have some horses that don’t do well with neighbors so we try to pick a stall for those horses where they have the least amount of horses around them. We have other horses that do well with particular neighbors and not with others so we spend a lot of time picking out who is going to live where. Oftentimes they live next to the same horse that they shipped next to. Also, if we are at a show for more than one week, we usually get enough extra stalls to make each one a stall and a half or double stalls so that the horses have plenty of space to lay down and move around. We bring fans to hang in the stalls to keep the horses cool and comfortable, and to help keep the flies off of them.
While they are at the show we try to keep their schedule as consistent as possible. We bring all of our own feed and supplements, and we make sure to purchase hay that is the same type that they eat at home. My horses are used to a lot of grass turnout at home, so when we are at the shows, we try to get them out multiple times a day for hand grazing. We monitor them closely for any signs of stress, check often to make sure that they are drinking plenty of water, monitor their manure, and make sure they are eating well.
Most of what we do involves keeping the horses as entertained as possible. We take them for hand walks and grass whenever there is an extra minute. Normally in the stalls we always try to keep a haynet and a toy (each horse has their own stuffed animal) in front of them. Here in Europe it’s nice that most of the stalls have an outside window so they can always keep their heads out and check out all the goings on. If we have to ship for a long distance, we will feed a mash the night before and another on arrival. They always have hay in front of them in the truck and water stops as much as possible. We will also give them the gastro paste from Enviro Equine.
Hunterbrook horses thrive at competitions because we really believe in happy horses. Each horse has their own favorite regimen to get prepared to perform at their best. Understanding each and every single horse’s preferences is key to providing happy, healthy, thriving, winning horses. That’s how we do it!
I think it’s very important to keep the horses’ diet as similar as possible. We try to bring our own hay. I find when at all possible, shipping horses during the night seems considerably easier on them. Less traffic, temperatures, rest time, etc. Also, getting them out of their stalls as much as possible with grazing and hand walks whenever available.
I think the key to happy horses anywhere—at home or on the road—is who they are interacting with. Whether it’s the grooms, riders, trainers, vets, or farriers, the horses react off of your energy. I feel it’s so important to have caring people around them and really make sure they trust you. Of course, we always give treats and pats, but I think it goes beyond that. We have a bond with these horses similar as we have with our dogs or our cats. And what do we do with them? We constantly tell them they are good or how much we love them. So as corny as it may seem, I always try to verbally tell them how great they are. I really think they respond and feel good about themselves, which keeps them happy!
When we are on the road, we try to stick to our ponies’ regular routine as much as possible. At home, they get a lot of turn-out in paddocks so we do a lot of hand grazing and walking around the showgrounds. The kids are very good about taking their ponies for a walk and hand graze. It becomes a social event for both ponies and people. We also try to stable each pony next to his or her paddock mate from home and we do this in the trailer as well. It seems to keep them calm and secure!
It is important to keep your horse happy on the road and in the shows, but I think that’s our job to do no matter what. We try to keep our horses happy so that they like their job and want to perform for us. There are many different factors in trying to keep the horses happy. We make sure that the horses feel well by getting the right nutrition, keeping them on their regular grain and hay so they have the same diet on the road. The stress of traveling can cause stomach issues and stress, so we provide our horses with Perfect Prep, GastroEase EQ, and electrolytes, to name a few, if we feel they need additional support. As far as the training is concerned, when I’m at a show I’m not drilling and jumping a lot. I try to keep my horses fresh so that they are expressive, calm, and relaxed. If the facility has grass fields, I’ll hack my horses out on the fields while we show. Every horse is different, so it’s important to find what works for yours.
As a barn run by two international event riders, Tik and Sinead Maynard, Copperline Equestrian horses are often traveling to competitions for multiple days at a time. One of our favorite ways to help our horses feel confident and ease any stress that may arise is to keep things as familiar as possible. What I mean by this is that horses thrive on consistency—grooming them and tacking them up with the same process every time and keeping their feeding times as close to normal as ride times allow are easy ways to stay consistent. Another great tool is having a skill set or a game they can recognize in an unfamiliar setting…this can immediately help their brain focus on something familiar. Some examples we use often are things like target training/clicker training, teaching them to back up to the end of the lead rope, having them lower their head just by gentle pressure from the lead rope, etc. We do a lot of work at home training these games and skills so it’s very clear what the “answer” is, and the horses can feel really confident that they have the response we are asking for. It’s amazing to watch them go from anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed, to feeling calmer and more relaxed just by having a simple question that they can answer with certainty.
The first thing is your attitude in the barn. The horses can feel it. Second, do not expect too much from your horses. Third, make them comfortable. And fourth, simplify everything.