My thoroughbred Sam has followed me to and from school while I was in college (a good five hour trip on a trailer) and made the long trip from NJ to MA (about six and half hours) when I started working at SmartPak. When it comes to long trailer trips he’s a pro. To be fair I think he handles the stress of trailering better than I do!
Traveling is stressful on horses – they are asked to walk into a dark box and stand in that box for minutes to hours as it turns and stops without any warning. They leave their barn mates behind and have no idea of when they will come home or if they will come home.
It is stressful on us as well! Is all of my horse’s paperwork in order? Did I bring enough hay? Do we have water? Should I put shipping boots him? Will I be there to load him when he leaves and unload him when he arrives at his new destination? I need to pack all of his belongings, grab his supplements, and I can’t forget a bag of grain to help transition him to what the next barn feeds. Who is shipping him?
Finding a Shipper
I don’t own a trailer and when taking Sam on long trips across state lines I don’t have anyone I know to trailer him for me. This means I’ve had to find a shipper and that is a challenge! I need someone safe, reliable, who knows how to handle horses, and I can trust to take care of my horse. I’ve found that word of mouth and the internet are your best resources for finding a shipper. I always look for testimonials and if I can see the trailer beforehand that is a huge bonus. I look for a clean, well-maintained trailer, preferably with more than one driver so they can trade off when tired. If you don’t have space to take your tack and equipment in your own car you will want to find a shipper who does. If you board your horse, live in a horse community, or compete, you probably know someone who has used a shipper before and can give you some opinions.
Price is a huge factor to consider as well. If my shipper makes a special trip on the exact date I want to leave (assuming it fits his schedule) it will cost quite a bit, but if we can coordinate Sam’s trip with another horse going the same way, I can save some money. To make coordination easier, it’s a good idea to try and schedule your trip in advance. I’ve found that most horse transport companies like a two week notice, but I always try to book a month in advance when I can.
Getting Your Papers in Order
Now that I’ve picked a shipper and have a date, I need to get Sam’s paperwork in order. You’ll need a negative Coggins to travel anywhere, when you are going across state lines you may need other documents as well. Some states will take a Coggins from within a year, some want six months, some states also require a health certificate. Your health certificate may only be good for a month or less. You’ll have to do a little research before you go, sometimes your shipper will have an idea of what you need. I also like to keep all of my horse’s paperwork in a binder or folder with my contact information. This makes it easier for the shipper and myself. If you’re looking for more advice in this area, check out this blog, written by SmartPak’s own Dr. Lydia Gray.
Now my paperwork is all set and I know when I’m leaving and who is taking my horse. I can breathe a bit and cross my fingers nothing goes wrong. Now it’s time to prep my horse! My first question is always-shipping boots, standing bandages, or naked? This is a personal decision that depends on your horse and the length of your trip, so you should discuss your options with your trainer, vet, and even your shipper!
In addition to boots there is other horse clothing designed for travel. Sam has sensitive skin so whenever he wears a halter for extended periods of time I always have ‘fuzzies’ on his halter to prevent rubs. Being the accident prone horse he is I also make him wear a head bumper for extra protection.
Depending on the season you may want to consider a light sheet or blanket for your horse as well. As Sam has always done most of his traveling in the warmer months I tend to leave him naked.
While I keep Sam on SmartDigest Ultra to support his digestive health, but this is especially important to me when traveling as he is under a lot of stress and at a higher risk for colic.
Practice Makes Perfect
Well in advance of our departure date, I do a few on-farm tests to make sure Sam will load. Getting your horse accustomed to loading and unloading can take time and patience, but it is well worth the time and effort. Some shippers will charge extra for a horse who takes too long to load or will even leave you behind. Besides, having a horse who loads and unloads reliably will take a lot of stress off YOU, and will set him up for a more relaxed ride.
Now that you’re all set its time to grab a cup of coffee and get ready for your day on the road!