I'm planning a long road trip (or flight) with my horse - what do I need to plan for?
Pro Grooms learn to be experts at all things travel - from packing and loading to maybe even driving rigs. We know about planned short jaunts to shows, emergency trips to the clinic, and flying with our horses nationally or even internationally. And then there is the long distance haul, often over thousands of miles and taking several days.
How can we make this type of travel easy for us and our horses? Lots of options here.
- What type of rig to use? An air ride semi truck is not available to all of us, maybe you have a run of the mill tag along bumper pull trailer. Horse trailers vary in size from the single horse bumper pull style, to 18 wheelers. Most of the 18 wheelers are operated by commercial horse shippers, who often have predictable routes across the country. Horses travel in box stalls, or can have their own slot. The interiors of these rigs are typically adjustable.
- Do it yourself or hire it out? This one is a tough question. Certainly if you have your own trailer, it’s an option. I have seen amazing, top of the line rigs driven by the pro haulers, and I have also seen a “pro” hauler show up with a rig that had *clearly* never been cleaned. Except for the dirt and stuff that falls out of the basketball sized hole in one of the walls. (a true story.)
- This definitely boils down to personal preference. For me personally, I would not do this alone (for many reasons, including not tearing down the gas station when I try and maneuver around.) I would also not do any hauling myself without roadside assistance designed especially for rigs. I know of at least one company that can do this, US RIder, I’m not sure if your typical auto club covers trucks and trailers together.
- Air ride or not? Air ride refers to the type of suspension system in the trailer. Air ride systems add stability, ease of hauling and braking, and a much smoother ride for your horse. Kits are available for all size of trailers. You may want to consider using an air ride suspension on your trailer if there is a chance of traveling long distances.
- Box stall or standing stall? Before your horse is loaded up, you may have some options in the rig. Box stalls are the gold standard for some horses that are claustrophobic or may be traveling coast to coast. Box stalls allow your horse to be free and loose in a box, which lets him put his head down and stretch/move as needed. The down side is that he’s loose in a sudden stop or go situation. In a skinny stall, your horse can lean and rest on the sides/back during those possible stops/go situations. Neck freedom is also greatly reduced as cross ties keep your horse from nipping at his neighbor.
Flying is an option for long distances.
- Straight through or layovers? This will depend on how long your trip is. I could not imagine going CA to NY straight through without a layover. Getting some fresh air, some moving around, and stretching are imperative for your horse’s health. Not to mention being able to sleep. (Same goes for the drivers!) There are lots of farms that cater to long distance travel in the US - you can even buy guide books with listings! On the other hand, some commercial haulers use multiple drivers so stops are minimized and you can go straight through.
- How often should you stop? Typical wisdom found on most Veterinary websites advises stopping every four hours for a rest and water. (Which reminds me, bring water from home or have a system, like powdered Gatorade or apple juice, that flavors foreign water for easy drinking. Test this at home, not on the road.) Of course, you will need to know if your horse can scarf down his hay net in 30 minutes and then he starts banging for a refill. Temperature and conditions and the availability of a safe resting point also factor in here.
- Speaking of hay and water, you may want to consider wetting your hay down to minimize dust in the trailer, make it easier to chew, and adding some hydration. Now is not the time to buy hay on the go, pack plenty from home.
- Cameras in the trailer? Having cameras in the trailer is certainly a luxury, and most systems use monitor that replaces your rear view mirror. (When not in use, the mirror acts like a regular mirror.) If your rig is super smooth and/or a gooseneck, your ride may be more stable and you will not feel moving around as easily. Something to look into!
- Do you feed your horse’s regular grain meals? It’s possible that your Veterinarians will advise not feeding supplements or concentrated food sources while doing long distance traveling. (If you are laying up over night, you may be able to feed a bit of his regular grain and supplements.) Often owners will replace grains and supplements with a mash, and unless your horse is used to these, it may not be a good idea to mix up your horse’s diet on the road. There is also a debate on using a mineral oil treatment in the diet before your trip. For many, this is a great way to insure that the GI system is nice and lubed up. However, recent thinking by some Veterinarians suggest that the oil can block absorption of nutrients and water. So - be sure to talk to your Veterinarian during the planning process.
Horses on a plane - food and water in front of them!
- What about electrolytes? I suggest having some paste electrolytes in your first aid kit for sure, and you may be able to feed some electrolytes on the road if your Veterinarian things this would work for your horse.
- What other things do I need to think about? Just off the top of my head, know how to change a tire and have the right tools to do it. Know that the wrenches and tools that can change your truck tire may not work on your trailer tire. Have a well stocked Vet kit with you. Have an emergency plan.
- And even more things to think about? Work with your team of professionals on planning the details of the trip. Know that an unfit horse will find traveling long distances very hard on his body. And my personal pet peeve, if your trailer windows do not have screens, please have some installed. You know what a rock can do to a windshield, imagine your dear friend’s eye. Also consider using a fly mask if the trailer is super windy to keep dust at bay from those eyes. Don’t forget about current Coggins, travel health certificates, and vaccinations - planning for the area you are traveling to, and plan well in advance. Many vaccines new to your horse may need a booster. Think long and hard about how to wrap your horse's legs (do you trust a shipper to do this?)
This article has lots of think about when you are crossing state lines.
I just know that I have still forgotten something to talk about… I know you guys can help me out!!