If you’re lucky enough to be a horse owner, getting out and about with your horse is one of life’s great pleasures. But whether you’re a seasoned competitor, moving your horse to a different area or just like to discover new riding trails, it’s likely that you will have to travel your horse at some point. Travelling goes hand in hand with owning horses, and it’s important to make it as positive as possible for both you and your horse. Whether you travel your horse in a trailer or a truck, there are things you can do to make the whole experience a much safer and pleasurable one for your horse, so follow these top tips to ensure your journey goes as smoothly as possible. .
Leave plenty of time to load your horse
Take time to load your horse – loading can be a stressful part of a journey, especially for inexperienced horses, so you should allow plenty of time for this. If your horse is young or new to travelling, spending some time practising before you make your journey can be hugely beneficial. Loading your horse a few times in the weeks before you travel will help them to feel much more comfortable and this will make a big difference when it comes to doing it for real.
You must try to remain calm at all times when loading, so be gentle and don’t shout or raise your voice when talking to or handling your horse to avoid panicking them and raising their stress levels (and yours!). A loading bay will also help create a more inviting and focused approach, if you have access to one.
Prepare for emergencies
Planning is key when travelling horses, so make sure you have a solid plan in place in case there’s an emergency. Double check the documentation that you may need for travelling your horse, particularly if you are crossing state lines. And then, make sure it is on board! You should also allow plenty of time for any delays. Plan ahead and work out where veterinary practices are along your route, should you have an emergency, and then mark them on a map and ensure you have their contact details.
Additionally, ensure you have sufficient breakdown cover for your vehicle that can cater for horseboxes and livestock and keep a human and equine first-aid kit in the lorry or trailer at all times.
Plan plenty of stops
If you’re making a long-distance journey, it’s best to plan your stops beforehand. You should try to stop at least once every 3 hours to offer water and if you don’t have hay nets in your truck for your horse, they will also need to have hay offered frequently. Aim for your breaks to last a minimum of 20 minutes. Dehydration can cause respiratory problems and increase the risk of colic, so drinking regularly is vital.
On longer journeys of more than three hours, pull over and untie your horse so that he or she can lower their head. This helps to decrease the risk of pneumonia or shipping fever.
Check your vehicle
It’s important that your trailer or truck is roadworthy and safe. The area where your horse stands should be free of any sharp edges and have anti-slip floors and also be well-lit and well ventilated to help avoid respiratory problems. Open vents and windows where possible to boost ventilation and clean out the truck or trailer regularly en route during longer journeys.
Check your truck or trailer before each journey for roadworthiness and ensure it’s serviced regularly by a qualified mechanic.
Plan your journey
If you’re travelling to an unfamiliar destination, always plan your journey in advance using a map and stick to the main roads as much as possible. Try not to always rely on a satnav, as it might take you through narrow and winding roads, slowing you down and making the journey uncomfortable for the horse.
Make sure you give your horse time to rest and recover before your return journey as well, ideally this should be at least an hour after fast work. If your journey is a really long one, consider stabling your horse overnight en-route to break up the journey, or find safe stopping places where you can unload, allow them to stretch their legs and muck out the truck along the way
Keep management as normal as possible
Keeping your horse’s management as normal as possible is essential for safe travelling. Using your horse’s normal hay means there is no sudden change in diet which could lead to digestive problems. Offer water at regular intervals, making sure that you use the water that your horse is used to, to maximize intake.
Ensure that you always carry extra hay and water for your horse, plus warm clothes and refreshments for you, just in case! When travelling your horse with hay nets in the truck or trailer, make sure these are securely tied up, so they don’t end up on the floor and between their legs.
Protect your horse!
Put your horse in travel boots and protective leg wear before loading, ensuring they are comfortable and confident wearing them. Horses need protection from their own hooves if they start kicking the sides of the vehicle, and you don’t want to put yourself at risk by trying to put boots on once the horse is loaded.
Don’t overheat your horse with too many rugs – even if it’s cold outside they don’t feel the cold like we do, and overheating will cause stress, so try to avoid over-clothing. Coolers are the best choice for travelling as they will allow some protection, and as they are breathable they shouldn’t result in a hot, distressed horse.
Think about your driving – horses need to maintain balance securely, so jerky, fast or inconsiderate driving will give them a bad ride. A long, hot and bumpy ride will result in a tried horse. The quality of driving affects the effort your horse must make to maintain balance, so always try to drive smoothly and at sensible, safe speeds.
Sometimes a little helping hand in reducing stress can go a long way to help make the journey safer and more comfortable for your horse. EquioPathics Travel Anxiety promotes relief from fear of travel, loading, trail riding and other stressful situations for your horse. This safe, gentle, drug free and all-natural medicine contains no harsh chemicals, has no known side effects, is easy to dose and is safe for young, pregnant and nursing animals.
Got a question for our natural pet care team? You can ask in the comments below, or feel free to email us.
Lisa Elliott, MSc Equine Science, Bsc Biology