By Raye Lochert
Everyday big rigs motor down the road carrying materials from here to there. Before being entrusted with a rig weighing in the neighborhood of 80,000 pounds, truck drivers spend time in school learning the working parts of their truck and trailer and how to maintain them. This includes doing a pre-trip inspection and how to strap and secure loads so they will arrive safely and not be a danger to other motorists. Several tons of load whizzing down the road at 60 miles per hour poses a significant danger if not responsibly handled and transported.
Horse owners are also embarking on something potentially dangerous—for themselves, their horse, and other motorists—when ferrying several thousand pounds of truck, trailer, and precious equine cargo. Though some people rarely leave their farm or boarding facility, or venture much further than the local park, others travel many miles for their next horse adventure.
If you have never traveled a significant distance with your horse it can be intimidating. You may have many questions before you feel comfortable loading up your horse and hitting the road. It’s a good idea to follow the example of America’s truckers and learn some basics before doing so.
Let’s start with the truck. Check or change the fluids and make sure you have plenty of fuel. Check hoses, belts and air cleaners as well. These are simple inspections that any friendly mechanic can help you with if need be. Also inspect the condition of your tires (including the spare!), making sure they are not cracked or bald and are sufficiently filled with air. Lastly, take a second to check lights, turn signals and brake lights and then clean all the mirrors and windows so you will have an unobstructed views while driving.
On to the trailer. I start with the axles and make sure they have been lubed. Most trailers have simple grease fittings that allow you to easily grease them. Also check the condition and the pressure of all the tires and the spare. Make sure the interior is clean, bee free, and there are no broken latches, torn padding or sharp edges. If your trailer has a wood floor it is very important that you pull out the mats and check for rotted wood. Having a floor board give way while hauling down the road can be disastrous. Hook the trailer to the truck and make sure the hitch is well lubricated and the ball size is correct. Connect the lights and check all signals, running lights and brake lights. It’s no fun trying to change lanes with a loaded horse trailer when your turn signals don’t work.
Long before your trip you should be practicing loading and unloading your horse. If you wait until travel day you will likely frustrate yourself and your horse and show up late to your destination. Make sure your horse is totally comfortable getting in and out and has taken short trips successfully. The more comfortable your horse is the less likely it will arrive with a stress related illness. If you use shavings, slightly dampen them to reduce airborne dust and flakes. Putting shavings in the trailer will encourage horses to urinate on long trips and soak up any urine or sweat improving traction inside.
Feeding your horse in the trailer on long trips can be beneficial as the chewing action will have a calming effect. Again it’s a good idea to slightly dampen the hay to minimize dust. It also has the benefit of adding water to your horse’s system. Sometimes horses don’t drink while traveling. You can encourage them to consume more water prior to the trip by adding salt or electrolytes to their feed in the days leading up to the trip. When adding these items to your horse’s diet make sure they have plenty of fresh, clean water available. Don’t add these to your horse’s feed on the day of travel since water won’t be available in the trailer during travel.
Roads can be bumpy, winding and you might have an occasional sudden stop. Therefore placing shipping boots and some sort of head bumper on your horse is cheap insurance. These items can decrease or prevent your trip becoming a nightmare. I also put a fly mask on to prevent flying objects from getting into horse’s eyes. My personal preference is to tie my horse in the trailer and use the dividers. I feel the dividers give the horse support, allowing it to use less energy while traveling. Horses can build up a lot of heat going down the road so I have a garden thermometer in my trailer. This helps me know when to blanket my horses and when to open more windows. Air flow in the trailer is important, but not so much as to chill the horse or create flying dust.
Once traveling, it’s a good idea to stop every 4 hours and allow your horse to rest and drink, if they will, for about 20 minutes. How far you go each day is up to you. Horses can travel for many hours, but the shorter the better. Sometimes it just isn’t convenient to drive for 2 or more days and you need to push through. In this case you need to stop and allow your horse to lower his head and blow, something he does naturally, and repeatedly, during the course of each day. In a trailer it is difficult to do so causing poor drainage of the nasal cavity. This can cause upper respiratory illnesses, including nasal discharge and coughing.
I have trained my horses thoroughly so I feel comfortable taking them out of the trailer at rest stops. If you chose to do this your horse must be well mannered under halter and not easily spooked by trucks, cars, people and dogs. If you have any doubts leave the horse in the trailer. A loose horse near the freeway is a recipe for a serious disaster.
When you arrive at your destination you should hand walk your horse for at least 15 minutes. This will get the blood flowing in the lower legs and stimulate the horse’s digestive system. Turnout in an enclosed space is great, if possible, so the horse can move freely and roll. After this settling time I move my horse to his home away from home and give him fresh water and feed, adding salt or electrolytes to his meal to stimulate him to drink. Once my horse has rested overnight he is ready to be my partner for the next adventure, whatever it may be. Safe travels.