As horse owners, we find the need to move horses from one place to the other, whether it is a few miles or a few hundred miles. When I first started hauling long distance with my horses, I searched for helpful tips on doing this safely. With research and experience, I found that the more we plan and are prepared for a long haul with our horses the more successful the outcome.
A month before traveling, I carefully plan my route. I don’t like driving in a lot of traffic, so if going through high traffic areas I try to plan during non-peak hours, such as weekends or mid-morning. If going for more than 1 day, I search for stables or fairgrounds where the horses can have a nice break from the road and get some needed rest. Call the stables in advance to make sure they have room and inquire about types of areas they have. I prefer a nice turnout area for the horses, but some prefer indoor stables. To find places to overnight board, I do a google search for stables or fairgrounds in the areas I plan to stop. I look along the routes and try not to make it longer than 8 hours between the overnight stops. I do not have a trailer with LQ, so I try to find hotels near to the stables. Most stable and fairgrounds have ample room for parking trailers. There is a lot to say for stop overs that are not too far off of your path and are easy to locate, especially if you arrive after dark. Most places are very good at giving good directions and information about your horses’ accommodations.
If you are traveling across state lines, you must have a Coggins test (which are good for 1 year), and a Health Certificate. You should plan at least 2 weeks in advance so to be sure to have the results by travel time. My vet will also send along Prevail, Bute and Antibiotic eye ointment in case of veterinary emergencies. Also have your trailer stocked with vet wrap, scissors, knife, duct tape, fly spray, linament and anything else you may routinely use for your horses.
The week before traveling, I make sure my vehicle and trailer are all in top running condition. Check the tires, check all fluids, make sure bearings are packed, and that the floor under the trailer mats are in good shape. Also make sure there are no fuses blown when you hook the trailer to your truck and that all lights are working.
Hauling long distance can be stressful for horses, but it doesn’t need to be if you plan ahead and pay attention to detail. First of all, make sure that the horse is comfortable loading into the trailer that you will be taking them in. Loading into an enclosed trailer is much different than loading into a stock trailer. I find the slant trailers with butt bars are much easier on the horse for long trips. Also make sure if you are using the butt bars for the horses’ first time you let them get used to that before-hand. If your horse has never ridden in the trailer, make sure to get them out on the road a few times before the trip so they get the feel of the movement.
To prevent colic and encourage water intake on the road I give psyllium to my horses the 7 days leading up to departure. The day before, and during travel, I add a powdered electrolyte to the grain to encourage water intake.
When preparing the day of, I make sure I have enough hay and feed for the journey. The Cashel Hay Bale Bags are nice for storing the hay and keeping it dry in the back of the truck. Or, you can also store hay in the front stall of the trailer if there is room. I use hay bags for feeding the horses on the road, and make sure I have physical access to more hay to fill their feeders while on the road. I also clip a water bucket in front of them and use the Horse Spa Hole N Hole to keep the water from spilling while allowing the horses to drink. I always put down wood chips on the trailer floor to absorb any urine and prevent slipping while offering a soft cushion for their legs. Most trailers have a 25 or so gallon water tank so make sure this is full to use out on the road.
I also tie my horses in the trailer when hauling. You can use either their lead rope or a strap with a safety release. I do use one of the latter for my young horse who likes to untie himself. When tying, make sure the tie is secure, that there is enough rope length for them to eat their hay and drink water but not to drop down too far below the level of the feeder. No-one wants a horse getting their legs tangled and panicking, causing real harm to the horse.
After loading the horses, and before hitting the road, I do a thorough walk around to make sure all doors and windows are secure, the trailer running lights and brake lights are working, and all safety straps are in place.
While on the road, I make sure the horses have plenty of air circulating, but do not allow them to stick their heads out the windows. Most trailers have bars and/or screens over the windows that allow the horse to look out and to get plenty of air circulating. These also drop down if you need access to the horses head and for placing more hay and water for the horses during the trip. Be aware of the temperatures outside in case you need to adjust the circulation pattern.
While on the road, I make sure to stop at least every 3 hours, to gas up and give the horses about ½ hour to rest. Make sure to figure in this time when you are mapping out your trip, especially if you are on a tight schedule (and the looser your itinerary the better because the unexpected always happens!). I do not unload my horses along the way. Horses are fine for up to 9 hours in a trailer as long as they have food and water, and unloading during the trip just adds to your end time considerably. Rather, get to where you are going and let them –and you- have a long rest.
And if you decide to hire a hauler to transport your horses, do your research and ask plenty of questions! Assure that they have overnight stops with unloading, that they provide water and feed on the trip, and that they clean the trailers well between hauls.
When travel becomes necessary, please consider some of these tips to help you and your horse have a stress-free trip!