Where the Horseshoe Meets the Road-
Long Distance Hauling
by TJ Wierenga
(originally published in Southwest Horse Trader magazine, November 2006)
In September, my husband Mark, six-month old son Colton, 4 horses, one cat, entire household goods and one very understanding mother-in-law Kathy moved from Liberty Hill, TX to Billings, MT. While the move itself had been in the plans since I was about ten years old, the physical effort involved in moving our horses and household the entire width of the United States was somewhat stunning. We learned quite a bit on the trip, everything from rewiring a trailer to tow behind a 24’ rental truck (for the uninitiated, that’s one of the BIG ones) to keeping an infant-turning-toddler happy for 12 hours at a time locked in a car seat (thanks Mom Kathy!) to what exactly happens when you haul horses across one time zone and 1,550 miles.
Having sold one truck and trailer rig to friend Rheetah Pritchard, we were left with our Chevy 2500 pulling a Century 3-Horse slant load trailer, which I drove with Colton in the backseat and Mom Kathy as Entertainer Deluxe. Mark drove the rental truck pulling a 16’ car trailer which he had converted into a homemade box trailer (the reality of which looked a lot better than it probably sounds) loaded with our possessions, including several bales of very expensive feed store coastal strapped to the top. Don’t even get me started on hay again.
We hauled Mark’s 11 year old Thoroughbred gelding “Doc”, our 3-year old APHA tobiano “Bonitas Freckle” and my 18-year old AQHA/NFQHA gelding “Bubas Pepper” in the horse trailer. Bubba is, as those of whom know him can attest, what you might call an easy keeper. One of those horses who can lick rocks and stay fat. His ground manners are impeccable and he managed to keep the other two on the ground, most of the time. Our fourth horse is Mr Peponita Zan (we call him Monte) and we ended up asking Cheyenne Horse Transportation based out of Leander TX to haul him for us, due to space considerations (or the lack thereof). Over the next four days, we learned several things.
PRIOR TO HAULING:
It should go without saying, but it’s best to say it anyway. Transportation companies are not horse trainers. “The first thing of major importance is getting your horse used to a trailer, loading and unloading seems to be the most traumatic for horses who are not used to trailering.” says Holly Whitecloud with Cheyenne Horse Transportation (see advertisement this issue). “Having them trained for the trailer will help cut down on chances of the horses injuring itself when the time comes that it needs to be transported.” While our horse Monte, hauled with Cheyenne Transportation, reportedly was an ace at loading and unloading, we found that our Thoroughbred was a little less than amused at the theory of folding his over-16 hand body into what he sneeringly referred to as “a short, fat Quarterhorse trailer”. However, we did notice that this improved day after day, as the changing scenery and increasingly cooler weather most likely made the 3 horses feel that their own trailer was the safest place to be.
Current, negative coggins test results and health certificates are generally required for overnight stops as well as entry into certain states. Check with your destination state as well as the states you must pass through, as health certificates may be required to be 30, 15 or even 10 days from date certified. Most states do not require an inspection, particularly if you are hauling your own horse. But if you are having a horse transported, it is very likely that you will need a health inspection both for the state inspection stations as well as any overnight boarding facilities that the transport company may utilize.
When checking into state specific laws and regulations, ask if certified weed free hay is required. You may also inquire, if given enough time between initial consideration and the horse’s trip, whether any area-specific inoculations are advised by local veterinarians.
One thing to keep in mind while traveling and staying with overnight boarding facilities is that all hay is not the same. If your horse is accustomed to coastal Bermuda grass, the wisest thing you can do is to keep him eating the exact same hay all the way to your destination. All grass hay is not the same, but swapping out legume hay alfalfa (as they often feed in more northern climates) for coastal grass hay can be a very bad idea when done abruptly. The last thing you need when you are on the road is a colicking horse, without medical facilities and assistance nearby.
Whitecloud recommends that horse owners to be sure and carry a water and/or muck bucket on their trip. Trailers should be cleaned out daily, and occasionally overnight facilities will fail to offer a water bucket. She recommends a hose, as well.
Climate and altitude are further considerations. A slick horse born and raised in a humid, low elevation climate such as central or southeast Texas is going to have a harder time adjusting to colder temperatures and higher elevations. Higher elevation atmospheres contain less oxygen, something you will notice if you ever visit the mountains and try to hike or exert yourself – you will find yourself breathing harder and probably needing to stop to take deeper breaths. Your horse has even more muscle mass to try and oxygenate, and his respiration will likely increase along with his heartbeat until he acclimates. Conversely, a horse accustomed to cold weather extremes will also have a hard time when he reaches a warm destination. Blankets and clippers will work either direction to help keep your horse more comfortable.
During shipping itself, it is important to use an appropriate halter. Use flat nylon web halters; it’s a good idea to wrap the buckles, or use a product like “Soft Cheeks” to protect your horse’s face from rub. (Soft Cheeks are high-quality fleece covers that attach with several precisely-located Velcro strips and completely cover the square hardware on a flat nylon halter). Tied nylon “cowboy halters” work on pressure points on the horse’s face, and you risk damaging nerve endings (or at least causing unnecessary pain and aggravation) using these while hauling, during which time your horse may inadvertently pull back against the halter.
If possible, avoid having your horse’s hooves trimmed within the last week prior to being hauled. Whitecloud remarks, “a horse should not have their feet trimmed right before leaving on a long haul as their feet can sometimes be sensitive and the nerves may not have adequate padding” against the vibration of the trailer floor. Shod horses are more protected, but the sensitivity issue should still be noted.
Pros and cons of leg wraps – some consider leg wraps a helpful item to keep the horse’s legs from getting dinged up or bruised during the shifting movements of hauling. However, Whitecloud advises against leg wraps, stating “Many people like to use leg wraps, tail wraps and boots. We do not advise any of these to be used do to the fact that while in transit if a wrap becomes undone, it may be stepped on, tightening the wrap, which can cut off circulation. If the horse has had an injury and wraps are needed, use the adhesive type that the vet carries, making sure the wrap is secure but not tight enough to cut off circulation. But check with your vet to see if it is really necessary. Boots also can come off or partially off. If this happens it can bruise the foot as well as making it harder on their balance.” If you do decide on wraps or boots, don’t wait until the morning you are loading your horse to accustom him to wearing these items! Consider this a training issue just like loading and unloading quietly, and have him calmly accepting of wraps before the big trip.
The Trip Itself
Each night while traveling a long distance with your horse (or even by day if you plan to travel by night to avoid hot southern summers), you will look for temporary stabling. Some people will set up electric paddocks on their horse trailer and make sure to park in a safe area, should their horse somehow become free. For actual overnight or temporary boarding, you can look online with searches for “horse hotels, overnight horse boarding, temporary equine boarding”, etc. There are several directories and websites that will list and advertise available facilities.
Whitecloud notes that they will look online on an area’s Yellow Pages for boarding stables, as oftentimes stables will be listed locally but not list on sites specific for overnight boarding.
Failing to have found an overnight stable, you may also try what we did in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Having started on our trip over five hours late and with our infant son vocally indicating limited traveling ability, we used our cellular telephone while driving up the highway to contact the Ardmore Sheriff’s department and explain our predicament and the fact that there was no way we would be able to drive all the way to our reservation north of Oklahoma City. They were extremely helpful, going so far as to send a deputy out to the local fairground to locate the on-site manager for us. The fairground manager called us back promptly and we were able to arrange overnight stabling at the very nice Murphy Fairground facility, with indoor stalls, shavings, and friendly personnel. The follow-up call by the Ardmore Sheriff’s dispatch was very considerate, and appreciated!
The “Kansas law dawgs” (to quote a favorite movie) weren’t quite as friendly, with the sheriff’s department dispatch suggesting that we find a hotel for ourselves first and then ask at the hotel desk about horse boarding. While we were skeptical, we hit paydirt on the second hotel when we discovered that the large-animal veterinarian across the highway had actually recently begun offering overnight stabling. The bonus was that the (outdoor) pens were only $6 per horse, a big savings over the fairgrounds indoor stalls. If you find yourself in an area and absolutely cannot find overnight stabling, check the local directories for equine or large animal veterinarians, as they may either offer stabling or know of a facility that does.
Once you have arrived at your final destination, don’t be too surprised if you find that your horse has “drawn up”. Even with frequent stops, lots of water, overnight exercise, and good stall mats in the trailer, horses will tend to respond to the stress of a long haul by losing a bit of weight. Even good ol’ chunky Bubba was a little hollow-hipped when he swung off the trailer at his new stable, let alone the others. However, just a few days of rest, plenty of water and hay, and our horses were as good as new.
We also found that feeding your cat a veterinarian-prescribed “kitty ace” pill once a day goes a long way toward toning down the “MeROWRS” and occasional upset tummy that tends to plague cats, especially when they’re being hauled in the front seat of a 24’ rental truck.
Tom & Holly Whitecloud of Cheyenne Horse Transportation out of Leander, Texas
are available at (800) 575-4817, (512) 260-2929 or http://www.cheyennehorsetrans.com.
Soft Cheeks ™ Halter Hardware Covers are available through Comfy Horse, at 817-307-3859 or via email to email@example.com.