Horse Traveling 101: How to Prepare & Keep Your Horse Safe
In the Summer months, owners and riders travel with their horses all over the U.S. If you’re looking for some extra tips or this is your first time on the road with your horse, it’s important to know how to prepare so you can avoid any mishaps on your trip. Take a look at our tips and make sure you have a plan that will make the trip a great adventure for you and your horse.
Where Do You Want To Go?
The first step is figuring out where you are going and why. There are many different reasons people choose to travel with their horse. You could be competing in a show, attending an event, participating in a clinic, going on a fun trail-riding vacation, or maybe you are moving across the country. Whether this is the first time your horse is traveling or he is a seasoned traveler, once you decide where you are headed you can start to answer some of the questions below that will help form your travel plans.
Is Your Horse’s Health Documented and Up To Standards?
Having a healthy horse is not only optimal but the law in most states. After having your veterinarian out for a checkup and receiving all of the proper vaccines, make sure you bring the paperwork to prove it. If for any reason you are stopped when traveling across state lines, you may need to present a health certificate proving that your horse is in good health. It’s also a good idea to put all this paperwork into an electronic format so you can email ahead of time as necessary.
You can get these forms from your veterinarian and are usually good for a month. There is also a six-month regional certificate that can be obtained from GlobalVetLink. Health certificate requirements may vary from state to state, so you should make sure you are providing the correct documentation for where you are traveling. This is also important because transporting, especially long distances, can create stress and worsen illnesses that are already present.
Another factor that can come into play is a horse’s age. If you have an older horse you will need to take extra precautions to ensure that your horse arrives safely. Overall, having a horse that is in good health before you start traveling is beneficial to owners so you can help to reduce any chance of your horse getting sick after you reach your destination.
What Type of Trailer Will You Be Using?
With so many different types of trailers, it can be difficult to decide what you are going to use to transport your horse or horses. When deciding you need to think about size, type of material the trailer is made of, the number of horses you are transporting, and what your horses need. Here is a list of common trailers used to haul horses for both short and long distances:
- Bumper Pulls; these trailers are great if you want something that will easily hook up to your truck hitch and need to carry up to four horses, but are probably better for up to two. They may not work for you if you are looking for something that is not sensitive to wind or any movement the horses may make. These trailers can also tend to be very reactive when backing-up, which leaves little room for human error.
- Goosenecks; this type of trailer is great because it is very steady in windy conditions and you typically don’t feel horse movement. They tend to be easier to handle because they are much heavier than a Bumper Pull. The downside is because it is heavier it will use more fuel and it will also need a larger truck with a truck bed hitch (and it can be annoying to have something bolted to your truck bed).
- Stock Trailers; a stock trailer is a completely open trailer that you can tie your horse to on an angle or frontwards or you can even leave them untied and let the find their preferred position. Larger stock trailers will often use a gate to create two box stall areas. This is great for any horses that do not like to travel in trailers because this gives them more light, air, and room, making them overall more comfortable. One disadvantage is that often stock trailers are made with low roofs which can be uncomfortable to some horses.
- Straight Loads; these trailers are great for hauling two or more horses. The most common straight load trailer hauls the horse with their head forward. Some variations of the trailer are made to haul with the horse in the opposite direction, which can be better for the horse because they can brace themselves when you are braking or accelerating.
- Slant Loads; this is one of the best trailers for taking turns because horses stand at a 45-degree angle to the road. A slant load also gives you much more space for horses depending on how the stalls are designed. There is also a reverse slant load where the horses are facing towards the back of the trailer instead of the front. Like the straight load horses can easily brace themselves often making this the more comfortable option, especially for long distance trips. A disadvantage would be that it is harder to get to a horse in the front stall of a slant load.
Do You Know When it is Too Hot to Travel?
Both hot and humid conditions can affect a horse in negative ways during travel. Failure to address hot weather concerns can create health issues including dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and shipping fever.
Shipping fever is a viral or bacterial respiratory infection. This normally shows up as a strong cough that can last several weeks after traveling. This often happens because traveling long distances can cause stress in a horse which can weaken their immune system. Luckily, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of your horse getting shipping fever:
- Bring more than one horse along to make them feel more comfortable and lower their stress levels
- Make sure your horse has enough room to move and drop his head so that they can clear anything that may get stuck in their respiratory tract
- Keep your trailer ventilated properly so your horse gets plenty of fresh air
Even if no immediate issues come up during hauling, performance and other issues can arise after reaching your destination. You also need to take into account what kind of trailer or transport you are using. If your hauler is dark colored then any heat-related danger can drastically increase. In some cases, the inside of the trailer can be 20-30 degrees hotter than a light-colored trailer.
Another way to keep your horse cool is by traveling in the morning or in the evening. You can also find a stopover for the hottest parts of the day as well as try soaking the hay for horse which gives them extra water and helps keep dust down in the trailer. You also want to make sure your trailer tires are fully inflated. This will keep the tires from flexing, which means less friction and a slightly cooler ride. This will also reduce the chances of having a tire blow out on hot roads. For an additional heat barrier from the hot asphalt roads, you could use two layers of rubber mats on the floor instead of just one. This is an easy way to keep the heat off your horse’s legs.
How Often Will You Be Making Pit-Stops?
To keep your horse hydrated and happy it’s optimal to stop every two to three hours. What does a stop entail? Minimally, it is recommended that you just stop driving and pull the trailer off somewhere shaded that gives the horses a break from the heat of the asphalt and well as road vibrations. This time should also be used to let the horses rest their legs since traveling is very physically straining.
When the trailer is in motion horses often have to use their muscles to keep themselves balanced. During this break, you can refill their hay and check on them to make sure they are alert and eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping fairly normal. You can also check their vital signs at each stop to make sure there are no signs of oncoming sickness. Giving them a chance to recover during the trip will also prevent them from becoming too sore or tired.
Finding stops and overnight stabling for long journeys can be difficult; websites like GoHorse.com have a directory of places you can overnight and they are working on listing farms that will let you come to off-load for an hour and give your horse a breather midday.
Have You Planned Your Route and Prepared for Emergencies?
Knowing where you are going seems like a no-brainer unless you forget to account for construction, pit stops, or any events that may be happening in cities you are passing through. There are many different apps and websites that are created exactly for horses and horse owners that make planning easier. Making sure you have a backup plan and alternate routes will help you save time and keep you from becoming stressed and frustrated during your trip. This is why having additional plans for other emergencies is extremely important. Since you are transporting animals you should be aware of the weather and any areas that are prone to natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or flooding. Having places you know of ahead of time could mean everything when a disaster strikes. The last thing you should do to prepare is having a horse first-aid kit. Here are some things you can include:
- Bandages; protect wounds, support muscles, and hold ice packs with horse leg wraps or self-adhesive bandages
- Blunt-Tipped Scissors; safely cut away and remove bandages and wraps
- Buckets; soak hooves and more with a few buckets kept specifically for first aid use
- Flashlight/Headlamp; view wounds and injuries in darkness or poor light conditions
- Hemostat; remove splinters, burrs, thistles, and more from your horse's skin with a hemostat
- Hoof Pick; remove foreign objects from hooves and shoes
- Ice Packs; prevent and reduce swelling
- Lubricant; help insert thermometers with mineral oil or petroleum jelly
- Splints; this can come in handy if your horse has an injury that they shouldn’t be moving
- Rubbing Alcohol; quickly disinfect scissors, thermometers, and other items
- Sheet or Roll Cotton; help apply pressure bandages or offer support to injured muscles or bones
- Sterile Gauze; clean and cover minor cuts and wounds with sterile gauze pads of various sizes
- Surgical Gloves; keep your hands clean and help prevent wound contamination
- Digital Thermometer; measure your horse's temperature
- Wound Antiseptic; prevent infections with an antiseptic powder or ointment
- Wound Cleaner; clean fresh wounds with a iodine solution
- Electrolytes; help hydrate your hard-working horse with an electrolyte paste
- Eye Cleanser; flush away dirt and debris from sensitive eyes
- Fly Mask; protect face wounds and eyes from insects
- Hoof Boot; treat abscesses and sore feet with a bootkit
- Medicated Shampoo; kill bacteria and fungi on your horse's skin and coat with a iodine-based
- Poultice; draw out infections, soothe sore muscles
- Prescription medications; consult your veterinarian about what medications you should have onboard (I.e. bute, banamine, dexamethasone, etc.)
- Tail Wrap; protect your horse's tail and keep it out of your way with a tail bag
- Twitch; keep your horse's attention while wounds are being tended
When making your kit keep in mind all of the situations that could go wrong and make sure you have the proper medications or tools to help.
Overall, traveling is a fun adventure that takes proper time and preparing to make sure it is also safe for your horse. Figuring out where you are going, how long it will take, and how you are getting there are all easy ways to start your planning. As you travel over the next few months be sure to let us know how your trip goes and leave a review on GoHorse.com on any of the great stopping places you visit!