From where I sit, as a professional horse transporter – in the driver’s seat – I realize the horse I’m hauling is someone’s “child,” a part of the family. I consider that a vast, perhaps daunting, responsibility.
This is where I – as a horse owner – step into your boots. Following are a few brief thoughts and considerations on transporting:
- Transporting is much more that merely pulling a trailer down the road. From the moment that horse steps on my trailer, my thoughts are on its comfort. Stress of a long haul can cause issues. Only years of experience around horses will give one the ability to read and recognize problems as they may arise, such as dehydration (long periods without water), discomfort (colicky), distress (sweaty and nervous) or disease (elevated temp, mucous). Additionally, smooth, common sense driving is paramount to providing a comfortable ride for the trailer occupants. The driver should be looking far ahead, watching for brake lights, signals, erratic drivers or other hazards.
- What can ensure a horses’ comfort? There are good travelers and not such good ones. A variety of scenarios can make a horse uncomfortable: too hot, little or no ventilation, rattles and noise and rough roads are but a few. A well-ventilated trailer is imperative. Smooth acceleration and braking provides a secure and tolerable ride for the horse. One should avoid quick acceleration or slamming on brakes. Throwing horses around in the trailer is a sure fire way to make them resent being hauled. I’ve determined that driving in stop and go traffic is the most fatiguing for horses – it is for me. Constant acceleration and braking takes its toll. Driving curvy mountain roads, as well, can be a significant workout for trailered horses. This should be a positive experience for all involved, especially the horse.
- Box stall vs. slot? Commercial transporters that offer a box stall are providing a seemingly attractive upgrade. While offering more room for the horse to move around or lie down, a box stall eliminates any sort of security and support for the horse against turns, braking and acceleration. Take a ride in your trailer (no, don’t) and see if you can ride without holding on or leaning against the wall. Likewise, a horse should have something to lean against. Therefore, in my estimation, a slot stall provides a more secure ride, as long as it’s large enough for him/her to stretch out to pee.
- Feed and water. It’s a good idea to provide horses something to occupy their time while in transit. If a deck of cards isn’t available, eating seems to fill the bill pretty well. A bag of a horse’s normal hay (don’t suddenly change its diet) can be provided and will probably be happily munched on. Grain or pellets shouldn’t be fed on the road as it may cause choke. Water should be offered at each stop, several times. Many horses aren’t interested in odd tasting water, so I add electrolytes or bring water from home. (Adding Mountain Dew, electrolytes or KoolAid to the horse’s normal water, beginning several weeks prior to hauling, can help mask strange water taste.) However, persistently offering water will usually pay off, but there are those that will continue to refuse.
- To tie or not to tie. A horse should be able to put its head down to clear nasal and esophageal passages. This is one reason I don’t use a trailer with mangers. If tied too loose it’s an opportunity for a foot over the rope. So, a free head usually is a better choice, unless they can get turned around in the slot stall. However, if tied, the ideal length would be about two times the length of its head. If you choose to utilize a box stall, tying would defeat the purpose.
- Notes on equipment. A clean, well-maintained trailer cannot be overemphasized! Commercial transport trailers see a variety of horses leaving behind sneezed-on screens, feeders and walls (yuk). After the trailer is used, it should be thoroughly cleaned, power washed and disinfected. At regular intervals, the entire rig should be inspected; brakes, lights, wheel bearings, tires should be looked at regularly; checking for damage and sharp edges in the trailer should be done after each trip. You, as a horse owner, should likewise, inspect the condition of the trailer, noting any hazards you may observe, to the hauler.
- On long trips, how often should horses be rested? Frequent rest stops are encouraged. Stopping the trailer stops the vibration that can lead to stress, both mental and physical. When the trailer is moving, the horse’s muscles are in constant use for balance, leaning into turns, stops or acceleration. Rest for the horse comes in the form of stopping the motion of the trailer; taking a break from moving every 1.5 to 2 hours gives the horse time to relax. The route should be planned within a time/distance frame of 10-12 hours, or 500-600 miles. With plenty of rest stops, a horse can be aboard the trailer for quite some time. There are many variables such as age, physical condition and overall health that enter into the equation of time/distance. Very young and very old horses should be monitored closely for signs of fatigue, distress or dehydration. If your passenger’s hind foot is resting and its demeanor relaxed when you check in at each rest stop, you know you’ve got a happy passenger. The point is to keep it that way.
- When should the horse be off-loaded? Preferably, it should be at the end of the daily leg of the trip or at the destination. Off-loading should be planned well in advance, as it presents a complete set of new problems. The horse may not load up again, or it may get spooked and get loose. Off-loading should be done only in a contained, safe facility – NEVER off-load at an interstate rest area! (I’ve seen it done!)
- Where shall I stop at night? This is where planning and calling ahead are important. Estimate where and when you’ll be reaching your day’s destination. There’s a plethora of different facilities where one can stop with a horse for the night. Horse motels are scattered throughout the US. The website I use is HorseTrip, which lists overnight horse motels by state. Other alternatives are county fairgrounds or show facilities.
- What should it cost? Cost should not be your only consideration. There are variables that enter into the final fee, in addition to a per-mile rate. Do you want to send your horse via mass transit or by taxi? A cheap trip may mean your horse in on board the trailer longer than necessary since the transporter is picking and delivering other horses before it reaches your destination – kinda like a bus. Direct routes and door-to-door routes will be more expensive, but your horse will be fresher, less stressed, after a more direct trip – kinda like a taxi. An efficient route, knowledgeable, compassionate personnel and indulgent treatment are worth the extra little expense, if for nothing more than your peace of mind. Especially if your horse happily loads in a trailer again.
- Negotiation footnote. If you’re buying or selling a horse, your negotiations could include one or the other party picking up or splitting the transport fee as part of the sale price. Could mean the difference in the sale.
Now, go hug your horse!