The summer season brings a multitude of horse related activities including horse shows, trail rides and clinics. Traveling to and from these events can impact many facets of your horse’s normal routine. It can be stressful, so good planning can minimize the negative effects for both of you.
Traveling with your horse within your state or from state to state may require your animal to have specific health documents. You may need a health certificate, coggins test and certain vaccinations depending on where you are traveling to. Your veterinarian is the best person to talk with about your pre-trip health needs.
Horses that have been trailered frequently may not seem stressed while attending an event. However, well seasoned show horses can develop health issues and trailering can exacerbate those issues. Horses new to trailering will be under a great deal of stress as they leave their familiar home setting. An example are young horses beginning their show career. They may be recently weaned, are in training for the event, could be eating different feed or drink different water at the event, they are missing their equine friends, are being exposed to organisms from strange horses and the trailer itself is an additional stressor. Except for weaning, these stress factors can be the same for any horse no matter their age. When you think about it - we are asking for a huge leap in faith for our untraveled horses to walk into a steel box on wheels and roll down the highway at 60 miles per hour.
How can you make the transition less traumatic? Planning is key. Take the time to make loading, unloading and trailering comfortable. Nothing can jack a horse up like nervous humans trying to force them into a trailer at the last minute, for that soon to start open horse show. Practice loading and unloading daily, feed them in the trailer or even put the trailer in a paddock with hay inside and the doors tied open for a few hours everyday. These simple steps can work wonders to create a pleasant experience inside the trailer.
Once they are good at loading and unloading you can start taking them out on the road. A well traveled horse friend can make the first few drives less eventful for your horse. As you lengthen your drive make plans to stop at a safe place - maybe another stable in the area (with their permission of course) to unload and let your horse or horses stand tied to the trailer with hay bags for an hour or two. This also gives you a great opportunity to see how your horse will act before you get to the actual event and you can work on any issues that may arise.
Stress can cause health issues including ulcers so you may want to negate potential problems by talking to your veterinarian and using a preventative treatment during travel. Another item that you may want to consider is the use of certain equipment while you are traveling. Although many people use rope halters for daily horse handling they are not a good idea to haul with. Just like the trailer ties that break under pressure, you should also use a breakaway halter to prevent your horse from becoming injured. A horse with a rope halter that is tangled around a fixed object in your trailer could potentially be disastrous. A breakaway halter has a poll strap that will snap with enough pressure and this is the best option to keep your horse safe in a panic situation. Rope halters should only be used when you are in direct contact with your horse such as training. Another piece of safety equipment for trailering is a head bumper. It is a good tool to provide protection from gashes on the head and poll area. Leg wraps protect the horses from stepping on each other when the dividers are not solid to the trailer floor or from scraps when stepping in or out of the trailer. Trailers should be well ventilated at all times. Horses need as much fresh air flowing through the trailer as possible. Even cold days require ventilation.
Another planning step is to make sure your vehicle and trailer are in good repair well ahead of any trip. Vehicles and trailers that sit over the winter can develop structural and mechanical problems such as rotting floorboards, rusted or pitted welds on the floor supports, lights that don’t work, brakes that are locked up, dry wheel bearings, weather checked tires and more. Take time well ahead of an event to go through your truck and trailer and get repairs done. If you develop vehicle issues try to pull off into a safe area before stopping rather then on the side of a busy road. Sitting on the side of the road with a breakdown is not where you want to be.
When hauling remember you have a living, breathing soul or souls in your trailer and you need to have your full attention on the road. Know where you are going in advance. Give yourself plenty of extra time. Include extra time for getting gas, horse checks, bathroom breaks, wrong turns, etc. You should be driving at safe speeds, watching your surroundings and not doing other things like calls, texts or gps. In advance of any stops or turns send a signal to your horses by pumping the brakes softly. This warns them of a change so they can rebalance themselves. Avoid fast stops and starts by slowing down when approaching controlled intersections and not tailgating. The extra horse and trailer weight lengthens the distance you need to stop your vehicle, so be aware. Driving carelessly puts everyone in danger and will leave your horse thinking twice about loading next time.
Another part of travel planning is your feed and water supply at the event. If you are at a large scale show or event, there may be hay available to buy. If you don’t have room to haul your own hay for the entire event, especially if it lasts over several days, you should bring as much as possible to mix with any new hay that you need to purchase. Fast dietary changes such as pasture grass/grass hay to alfalfa hay, along with the other changes we discussed above, can cause problems such as colic, ulcers or going off feed. It’s best to keep as many factors as possible the same. Even water in different areas will taste different to your horse, so bringing your own water is ideal. If you can’t bring enough water with you, talk to your vet about products that can help your horse drink better and keep them hydrated. Any new environment can cause stress. To reduce stress naturally there are essential oils that can potentially provide relief for both you and your horse. A holistic veterinarian can recommend the best oil blend to possibly reduce stress and it’s side effects.
Once your travel is finished give your horse and yourself a day or two to relax and get back into the home routine. The more you plan the better the experience will be for both of you. Safe and happy travels!