Trailering a horse a long distance can be a stressful event for both horse and driver, but with proper preparation and equipment, you can reduce both your own and your horse’s stress level during the trip. Below are a few of my best tips and hints garnered from several years of hauling horses 4-6 hours regularly.
1. Make Regular Stops
When trailering a horse longer than 4 hours, try to stop every 3-4 hours for 20-30 minutes. You do not need to unload- in fact, unless you have arrangements to stop at a farm along the way, do not unload. Unloading on roadsides, rest stops, or non-secure locations is more likely to create problems. Instead, simply park your trailer in a shady spot and take a walk- your body will have a chance to stretch and your horses can have a few moments to relax and to unbrace their legs.
Always check on your horses at breaks, being sure to glance at their legs, checking for cuts or swelling, and offer water if you can.
2. Feed Horses Hay in the trailer
It’s a good idea to let a horse have a hay bag when trailering for any distance, but especially long trips. Having hay to munch on reduces boredom and keeps the digestive track active, preventing colic. Some research suggests it’s a good idea to reduce or eliminate (slowly, over several days) grain and hard feed as feeding grain while hauling may increase the likelihood of colic.
3. Offer Water Periodically
Offer water every few hours, but don’t expect that your horse will drink. Many horses will not drink while traveling, and that’s not necessarily a dangerous thing on short to medium-length hauls. If you expect this to be a problem, there are several tricks for increasing water intake on the road:
Tips for Increasing Horse Water Intake While Hauling:
- Bring your own water, so the taste is familiar,
- Administer electrolytes the day before hauling, so the horse will be thirsty,
- Use powdered Gatorade to add a sweet flavor to the water,
- Soak your hay bags before feeding.
4. Carefully Consider Shipping Boots & Specialized Equipment
Some research has suggested that for trips more than several hours, it is not advisable to use shipping boots or wraps. Over time, and particularly in heat, these wraps can become a hazard rather than a benefit. If your horse has sensitive skin do use fleece halter tubes to prevent halter rubs. Personally, I highly recommend head-bumpers: soft leather or foam helmets that slip onto a halter and protect the poll. Like a seatbelt, you won’t need a head bumper most of the time, but the one trip that you do, you’ll be thankful for the protection. Bumpers are an inexpensive way to offer some protection to your horse’s sensitive poll. If you haul your horse in a trailer often, you may want to consider keeping a dedicated “shipping halter,” with fleece and bumper already attached to the halter and ready to go.
5. Plan your Route
It is safe to leave horses loaded in a trailer up to 24 hours. Professional haulers unload horses, typically, every 24-36 hours.
During a winter haul to North Dakota, where we found ourselves caught in a snowstorm, we once had to keep our horses loaded for 48 hours while we hunkered down in a hotel- and the horses emerged without ill effects. If your trip is longer than 24 hours, including stops, it’s best to pre-arrange a layover stop with a boarding stable halfway through your haul.
6. Check your Packing List
Always carry the following when hauling a horse long distances. It’s a good idea to have a dedicated binder to carry when hauling, with pockets for each horse’s paper and any documents (like show entry forms, etc) needed for your destination.
- negative coggins paper
- health certificate
- spare halter and lead
- equine first aid kit
- water bucket
- extra hay
ALWAYS always keep a pocket knife in your pocket when hauling your horse, in the event of a crisis or accident your pocket knife may be essential for panicking horses who are tied and potentially injuring themselves.
7. Double Check your Horse Trailer
Before leaving on your long distance horse haul, it’s a good idea to take your trailer to a dealership to have lights, brakes, and the floor checked to make sure it’s up to the trip. Some mechanics or tire shops can perform this horse trailer checkup as well.
When your trailer gets a clean bill of health, finish preparing your trailer for the trip: make sure the feeding areas of the trailer are clean and free from any food particles that might be aged, moldy, or musty and then cover the trailer floor with a light cover of horse-safe wood shavings to absorb waste.