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Transporting your new horse can be an exciting yet stressful time for you. We hope the following suggestions and tips will help reduce the stress and ensure safe travel for you and your equine partner.
Preparing Your Horse: There are many steps you can take to successfully prepare your horse for travel. To begin with, make sure you have all the papers your horse will need prior to traveling. Depending on your destination these may vary, but typically you will need: a health certificate from your veterinarian stating that your horse is healthy and is current on all necessary vaccinations, a negative coggins test taken within the last 6 months, and possibly a brand inspection if you live in a state which requires them. You will also want a copy of your horse's feeding regime, health records, and insurance contact information. It can take 3-5 days to get all the paperwork from your vet, so plan ahead!
Now it is time to gather the equipment your horse will need to wear. Horses should be shipped in leather halters, never nylon or rope. Should an accident occur, these will break or can be cut to free the horse in an emergency. Horses can be shipped with or without a blanket, but it is usually recommended that they not wear blankets in a trailer. There are several reasons why your horse is safer without a blanket on in the trailer. Blankets can get hung up on trailer partitions, which could frighten the horse. Horses can get nervous while traveling and will occasionally sweat; a blanket would trap the moisture against the horse. Additionally, trailers stay quite warm with horses inside. Blankets could make your horse uncomfortably hot and are difficult to remove while your horse is inside the trailer. Shipping boots are very beneficial, depending on the specific situation. Shipping boots or wraps are designed to give your horse's legs additional support and also to protect from minor cuts and scrapes that could occur while loading/unloading or traveling. There are a few cautions with shipping boots though. First, make sure you know how to correctly apply them before using. A slipped or twisted wrap will do more damage to your horse's legs than not wrapping at all. Also, commercial haulers will not usually remove or rewrap horses in their care. Therefore, it is recommended to not ship horses long distances with shipping boots or wraps unless they are under your care and control at all times.
You will want to provide your horse with plenty of fresh hay while traveling to relieve boredom and keep him relaxed. Do not, however, give your horse grain directly before or during travel. Grain is more difficult for your horse to digest and may lead to colic or other problems. Make sure your horse has access to water directly before and at several stops during his trip.
Commercial Haulers: There are times when it is best to ship with professional, commercial haulers. Check with your trainer, friends, veterinarian, and farrier for recommendations on haulers that travel to your area. Be sure to check with a number of different companies. Rates vary depending on how many horses they already have traveling, when you want your horse to travel, and the destination. Other questions you will want to ask include: how many drivers/handlers will there be, will your horse be held one or more nights at layover facilities (if so, how many, how long, what are the stabling conditions, etc.), what type of van/trailer and truck will they be using, size and type of the stalls (diagonal, straight, box), how frequently do they stop to check and water the horses, and how often will they update you on their progress. Ask for references and check them out.
You will be given a pick-up time range. Have your horse and everything that will travel with him, including his paperwork, ready to go. Usually commercial haulers will be able to take a tack trunk if necessary with your horse, but be sure to ask ahead of time for any limits and additional charges. Send plenty of your horse's regular hay with him. Make sure the driver will only feed your horse his specific hay (a change in diet during a trip could cause colic). The shipping company may also ask you to provide some shavings for your horse's stall.
Typically, you will not hear from the company again until they are about a day away from dropping off your horse. They will call with an estimated arrival time and to double-check directions to the farm.
Using professional transportation companies has many advantages. They have excellent vans, use professionally trained drivers, and can transport your horse just about anywhere. While the costs may initially seem high, if you only transport your horse a few times a year, it is much less expensive than the cost of a truck and trailer.
Another option for transporting your horse may be found through boarding stables and trainers. Some offer this service for a fee and it may save you money to compare costs. This can be an excellent alternative to having your own truck and trailer.
Hauling Your Own Horse: First ask yourself: do your hauling needs justify the expense of a truck and trailer? Besides the initial investment in a truck and trailer, gas, license and insurance, time spent traveling, and yearly service and repairs, all add up. If you only plan on traveling with your horse a few times a year, or if your trainer or boarding stable has a van that will be traveling to all the places you are planning on going, then you probably don't need this investment. On the other hand, if you travel frequently, have a number of horses, or are in a remote area where hiring others to transport is not an option, then you will want to look into purchasing a suitable truck and trailer.
SUV's, Jeeps, and other similar vehicles are not suitable to haul a horse trailer. You will need a ¾ or 1-ton truck or a large Suburban or Van. Speak with both the car dealers and the trailer manufactures to guarantee that your vehicle is suitable for the size of horse trailer you will be towing. Trailers come in a wide range of styles, brands, and sizes. Research trailer options prior to purchasing with the following questions in mind: what you will be using this trailer for; how many horses will you transport; what sizes are they; how far will you be traveling; and how much equipment will you be taking with you. Speak with a number of different trailer dealers and view all of different options and price ranges available.
The following are a few tips to keep in mind when actually hauling your horse. Always have at least one other person with you for help with loading/unloading and in case of an emergency. Drive at a slower speed than you would travel if you were not pulling a trailer. Take an extra long time to brake or accelerate as it is difficult for the horse to balance in the trailer and sudden changes or speed could cause your horse to become injured. Make your turns extra wide and slow to accommodate for the additional length of the trailer. It is an excellent idea to haul the trailer without your horse in it a few times after you first purchase it. This will allow you to adapt to the turning, braking, and accelerating changes without risking your horse.
Open windows in your trailer to provide good ventilation. Deciding whether to tie or not tie your horse depends upon your trailer, horse, and your preferences. Frequently (approx. every 1-2 hours) stop and check your horse, offer it water, replenish its hay, and allow it a few minutes of just standing still. Constant changes of balance are required while traveling and your horse can quickly become tired. A few minutes rest will be greatly appreciated by your horse and are good for you too!
Upon Arrival: Once you have arrived at your final destination, there are still a few steps you must follow to insure your horse settles in properly. Provide fresh water and hay. Do not grain immediately, but give your horse a few hours to relax first. Hand walking your horse will allow him to stretch his legs and settle quietly into his new surroundings in a calm and safe manner.
Once your horse safely arrives in his new destination you will want to give me time to relax and recover from his journey. A horse expends the same amount of energy traveling as it would walking for the same amount of time. Or in other words, being on an 8 hour trip would be the same as walking for 8 hours. Your horse needs plenty of time to recover. As a general rule allow one recovery/rest day for every 12 hours of travel.
While transporting your horse initially appears to be a daunting task, if you take time to consider and prepare for all situations and proceed slowly and with caution, you will have a safe journey.
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