The Long Haul

If you want to show in Texas, you learn pretty quickly how to deal with long trailer rides. It’s 2 hours each way just to get to a lesson, 2-6 hours each way for a recognized event, and then of course if you want to show out of state, you have to drive between 6 and 10 hours in any direction just to cross the state line. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the shows in our area, which are great, but we’ve only got 4 venues in the entire giant state of Texas that put on events. Sometimes you just find yourself needing a change of scenery.

This’ll do.

Our summer pilgrimages have become a bit of a thing by now. I don’t think anyone will ever succeed in talking me into going to Chatt in July ever again, but Coconino hasn’t let me down yet. It’s fun, it’s pretty, and the weather is amazing.

Of course, to get anywhere worth going, especially in the summer, we’ve got to drive at least 14 hours.

Hauling
Reality, y’all.

The hardest part of these long trips is getting the horses there in the best possible condition, feeling good and ready to show. This year’s trip is the first time that I felt like I’ve finally really and truly dialed in the best way for Henry to travel long distances like this. Before I dive into what we did this time, what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t worked for me, I have to put up a big disclaimer: every horse is different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Some like riding a certain way, some need special care, some get more stressed than others.

Here are the main points I’ve learned when it comes to me and my horse:

Start gut support several days in advance. Because nobody needs ulcers, and travel is just about the biggest stressor there is for a horse. I’ve done omeprazole paste in the past, but this time I tried the ranitidine powder that my vet has compounded. We started it before we left and he stayed on it for the entire trip, it was easy to administer, and it seemed to work great.

Break up the trip. We did this our first time going to Coconino too, because 16 hours (which really ends up being 17+ with a trailer and gas stops) driving straight through is awful. I know because that’s what we did coming back from Chatt last year, and I will never ever ever do it again. My horse was miserable and so was I, both mentally and physically. Somewhere around 8-9 hours per day is the point at which we both seem ready to be done driving.

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Happy at the layover facility

Take the weather into account. Most of the drive to Coco was HOT. The trailer has good ventilation and fans (Henry finds those to be vital in the summer), but still… roasting them all day isn’t ideal. Both mornings we left at the crack of dawn so that we could get most of the driving out of the way before the hottest part of the day.

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the world is pretty at 5:30am anyway

Keep them moving. Some people like to stop every 4 or so hours and walk the horses around for a while, but that’s not always possible or safe, especially with young horses and remote highways. Since that wasn’t an option, we took advantage of arriving at our layover location early, let the boys settle in for a few hours, then got on to take them for a long walk. They got to stretch, clear their lungs and noses, and get everything circulating again. It really seemed to help, Henry arrived feeling REALLY good in his body.

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Out for a hack in New Mexico

Control the dust. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive about this after spending years traveling with Halo, who was very prone to pneumonia, but I always soak the hay and wet the bedding to keep the dust down in the trailer. Shipping fever is one of the bigger risks with a long haul, so the more you can do to keep their airways clear, the better. If you can, pick the poop out of the trailer at your stops, and check to make sure the horses are getting good ventilation. Another big part of it is making sure that they’re able to lower their heads enough to clear their airways as needed.

Know your horse’s preferences for comfort. I learned last year that my horse does not haul very well over long distances in a slant load. He was incredibly sore on his bracing leg for days after we got home. Some horses are the opposite and prefer to lean their bodies against a slant wall. You might not have an option, but knowing how your horse rides in that particular trailer will help you tailor the trip accordingly.

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Henry’s favorite way to travel

Be prepared. This includes everything from making sure your truck and trailer maintenance is up to date, to having spare tires, to carrying a first aid kit, to ensuring that you have the correct paperwork for travel. If you’re worried about truck or trailer problems, a USRider membership might not be a bad idea either. On this trip, for the first time ever for me, we got stopped in New Mexico and asked to show our horses’ health paperwork. Make sure you keep your coggins and health certificate on hand. I had forgotten to print hard copies and had to pull mine up on my phone, which was fine, but hard copies are easier.

Make a plan. In addition to finding a good layover facility, it’s not a bad idea to figure out if there’s a feed store near your destination(s) that carries the same feed and type of hay that you typically use, as well as basic supplies. You don’t want to change anything with your horse’s diet while you’re traveling, but if you can get the same feed there, sometimes it’s a lot easier to just buy it upon arrival rather than haul weeks worth of stuff along with you.

Provide plenty of water. I always pack water from home, since the horses are more likely to drink water that smells and tastes familiar to them. In the past we’ve offered water at stops (and Henry almost never drank), but this time we tried something a little different and hung buckets from the center dividers and kept them about 1/2 to 3/4 full. They didn’t slosh, and the horses actually DRANK! The last day especially, when we were getting into the hotter areas, both horses drank a full bucket during the drive. If you have a horse that is a particularly bad drinker you can add water to their regular grain ration to help get a little bit more hydration.

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Use each stop to assess, and make changes as need. Every time we stopped for gas I opened the escape doors, checked each horse for injuries, made sure they weren’t too hot, gave them both a cookie, checked water, etc. The stops are a good time to see how the horses are traveling, see how the ventilation is, and open more doors/windows if needed. If you have trailer cameras (my favorite invention ever and worth every penny) it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on all of those things constantly, but if you don’t, the stops are really important and your best opportunity to get ahead of any potential trouble.

Really though, I think the most important thing is knowing your horse. Know how they prefer to ride, know what they might need help with, and be ready to provide them with extra support if needed. With the right kind of management and good plan, it’s entirely possible to make long trips without putting a lot of stress or wear and tear on your horse. This trip Henry traveled the best he ever has, and arrived each day feeling super fresh, happy, and loose.

Byeeeee Felicia! PC: Dusty Brown

I’m sure there’s more I forgot to mention here, but these are the main takeaways I had, anyway. Making such a long trip can be really daunting, but with a little bit of thought, preparation, and good management, it can go just fine.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for hauling long distances? Or, if you haven’t made one before, what are your biggest concerns and hesitations?

 

17 thoughts on “The Long Haul

  1. I hauled Simon to Montana in May and he traveled like a champ (2 10ish hour days of driving). I have a favorite layover spot in Pueblo, CO that is exactly half way to MCMT. They have large stalls with runs so I didn’t ride, but he did run around like a dingbat bc he could see other horses but not get close to them. I’m going to try your water bucket tip when we go to Burwell in October bc he never drank at the stops.
    I’m curious how you could tell Henry was sore from riding in the slant load? I have a 2-horse straight load (bumper pull) and a 4 horse slant (gooseneck) and I would really only consider taking the big trailer on long trips bc it seems WAY nicer for the horses to ride in. So far all my horses show a preference for the big trailer (Coco is pretty adament that the 2 horse is going to kill her).
    I’ve hauled horses to/from Montana/Texas quite a few times and thankfully have not had many issues. I’d add that it is pretty important you know before a super long haul if your horse has trailer anxiety. It would be pretty awful for a horse that is terrified of trailering to have to go on an hours long trip so doing lots of shorter trips before a long one to help the horse overcome anxiety would be good.

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    1. He was DFL on his bracing leg (left hind) for days after we got home. You could see a muscle cramp in that hindquarter and his whole left side was hard to the touch. I think he does a lot better being able to brace evenly on both fronts or both hinds, and having the chest bar for support if needed. Of course, pretty much everyone else hauls in slant loads without a problem, and mine was the only horse that came off that particular shipment with any problem.

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  2. These are really great tips. I helped my old trainer take 3 horses to aiken a few years ago, and it really taught me a lot about long driving. It’s about 13 hours so we did it in one day. Or it SHOULD have been 13 hours, but 30 min from our destination she blew a tire because, yanno, of course. We didnt take the horses out during the drive but they had plenty of water, hay, and every time we stopped for gas I checked them over.

    Side note the guy who changed our flat was insane and jacked the trailer up with the horses inside it which was the only thing to do but man did the one horse’s eyes get huge listening to the compressor!!

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  3. Not totally related – but I have one (TB) that flips out when I close the bum bar on him. Like pushes against it and panics when it doesn’t give. Will now self load perfectly (after a lot of ground work) but I still can’t close him in. It seems to really freak him out, with or without food. I am a lone warrior often and can’t deal with his acrobatics, and also cannot afford a mini pony to keep him company (although that sounds like the most fun option). Any ideas (from literally anyone I am losing my mind) appreciated!

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    1. If you always go with only the one horse, one solution could be to remove the center divider and give the horse a “box stall”. They generally have no problem riding “loose” as they will look for the best balance spot, which is usually riding backwards, and stick to it. I’ve done this with two different horses and it works fine. However, depending on how your trailer is constructed there may be reasons why it wouldn’t work for you. Read some of the forums to get the issues before you do anything else. This one is pretty good–https://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/forum/discussion-forums/around-the-farm/325714-who-takes-their-divider-out-and-hauls-in-a-box/page2

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  4. My one and only tip re: drinking is to recommend Horse Quencher. I was dubious, but I got my horse used to it at home and he is so keen to get to the goodies at the bottom that he’ll routinely suck down a whole bucket. It must flavor the water enough that slight differences in smell/taste in “not home” water don’t seem to be as much of an issue (and he is a kind of picky dude).

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  5. This is a fantastic – and comprehensive! – list. I just bought the same camera you have for my trailer. It arrives Friday and I’m psyched. My mental health is also psyched because I worry CONSTANTLY. I’m really happy to kiss that worry goodbye.

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    1. Can’t comment on Amanda’s situation, but having grown up in NM and hauled around this area quite a bit, we usually had to show them at inspection stations – so where the semis have to pull off, we did too. They tend to be more strict about it when there are contagious outbreaks and NM has a Vesicular Stomatitis outbreak at the moment (happens practically every summer out in the southwest).

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      1. Horse trailers aren’t required to stop when crossing state lines except in Florida. The guy who pulled us over said he was stopping people at random to check for proper paperwork (and all he wanted was the accession number on our coggins – which doesn’t do shit for stuff like VS). I think it was probably because it was a holiday and they were hoping to catch people out in the higher volume of trailers crossing.

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  6. My last horse became more relaxed on even cross-town trailer rides when I added a water bucket to his little personal plaza of luxury in front of his head (treat/feed bucket, hay net, and a mare travel companion that he had a crush on).

    Adding a sprinkle of hay straws to the water bucket will help cut down on slosh. So will a small floating stick (larger than a popsicle stick, something the horse won’t try to eat).

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  7. My own hard won hauling tips;
    I offer soaked (and triple rinsed [to remove any additional sugars]) beet pulp 3 days prior to add lots of water to their guts. Every meal is soupy. I try and stop every 3 to 4 hours and offer some carrots (electrolytes and some hydration). I have mangers in my new trailer, so I make a SOUPY mash and add a tiny bit of rice bran to it so it encourages them to eat and drink. And, of course, hay all the way (I am shocked some people don’t keep hay in front of their horses while trailering. Why wouldn’t you?).

    Now, I did attend an endurance clinic, and one of the speakers mentioned for long hauls (think from Texas to California or the east coast) she only hauls at night and sleeps at her layover spots during the day. She says it’s less traffic and cooler conditions. Makes sense.

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