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Hiring the Best Horse Hauler

By: Karen Briggs

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Imagine this: Your employer has just informed you you're being transferred from Baltimore to San Francisco. The new job opportunity sounds exciting and living in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge seems like a dream come true, but what about your horse? How are you going to get him from one coast to the other?

When faced with a great distance, your pickup truck and two-horse bumper-pull trailer may not cut it. It may be great for going to local horse shows, but this sort of shipping is different. It may be time to call in a commercial hauler, a company that specializes in hauling horses.

Peter Salome, general manager of Perry Horse Transport, a company that ships horses all over the United States and Canada, puts it like this: "A lot of people think the cost of shipping a horse with a transport company sounds expensive at first. But they don't factor in the time lost if they try to do the shipping themselves, the fuel costs, the wear and tear on their vehicles, or what they'd do if they had a breakdown. If you're fully capable of handling every contingency by yourself, then great. But if you aren't, commercial transport is a much more sensible choice."

Taming Travel Stress

In addition to your own stress levels, Salome suggests you consider the trauma to your horse. "Bouncing across the country in a two-horse trailer is very stressful," he says.

Most large commercial transport companies, by contrast, have smooth 'air-ride' vans with higher ceilings and a choice of stalls. Depending on your horse's needs and your budget, you may choose a regular-sized standing stall, a stall-and-a-half that offers a little more room, or a deluxe box stall in which he can move around and lie down. Some companies even offer jumbo-sized box stalls suitable for mares and foals being shipped together.

Another consideration: The sheer size of a commercial transport makes the interior space more inviting. For a horse that refuses to load in a two-horse trailer, or one who has little trailering experience, this may make all the difference.

Check Out the Company

It can be nerve-racking to send your horse off across the country with strangers, so you should investigate the commercial transport company carefully before you commit. Word of mouth may be the best way to find a reputable outfit that will take good care of your horse. Ask your equestrian pals, riding coach, stable manager or veterinarian for recommendations. It's worth checking out a few companies. The best will be investigating you, too. If you're asked a number of questions about the specific needs of your horse before they take the booking, be impressed – this is a company that cares about shipping your horse comfortably and safely. Here are a few key questions to ask:

  • Does the company employ experienced, conscientious horse people who can recognize the symptoms of colic, or have the ability to calm your horse if he's nervous?

  • Are the rigs equipped with video cameras so that the horses can be observed while on the road?

  • Are the vehicles of recent vintage and in good, safe condition?

  • Are the drivers versed in basic mechanics so they can handle a break down? What sort of back-up procedures does the company follow if a vehicle breaks down and is unable to deliver your horse as planned?

  • Is the company equipped with cell phones, satellite tracking systems and a nationwide network for roadside assistance so the main office always knows where your horse is?

  • On long hauls, how often do the drivers stop? Recent studies on long-distance transport have revealed that stress levels rise when horses are shipped for 12 hours or more at a stretch without rest. It's recommended that drivers stop every three to four hours to give the horses some relief from the movement of the rig and to allow the drivers to check on their charges and offer water and feed. If your horse is being shipped more than a day's distance, ask whether the company will arrange an overnight layover at a pre-determined stable.

  • Should you use shipping bandages or boots on your horse? Companies may differ in terms of what they recommend. In general, if your horse is accustomed to wearing shipping wraps or boots he'll benefit from their protection, but a long-distance haul is not the time to introduce your horse to such equipment for the first time. Be aware that most commercial haulers will not adjust or re-wrap unraveling bandages, and that bandages left in place for more than 24 hours have the potential to cause bowed tendons. So if the journey is a long one, your horse may be better off without them.

  • A company that knows horses will make every effort to ship them sensibly. For example, they will not ship a stallion in a van full of mares, or transport a sick horse with a group of healthy ones. After you describe your horse to the company, ask what sort of arrangement would be best.
  • Inquire about insurance before you sign on. Some commercial haulers will insure your horse for about $5,000, but if his value is greater than that, you may want to purchase your own insurance for his replacement worth, or put a binder on his present insurance to make sure he's covered during transport.

  • What's it going to cost? The price will vary according to the distance traveled, the type of stall arrangement required, whether there are border crossings or overnight stays involved, and whether the company is already taking other horses in that direction. For economic reasons, commercial haulers prefer to travel with a full load. So if your destination isn't one of their regular routes you may have to wait until they send a vehicle to the area or pay extra to arrange a special trip. Likewise, you should expect to pay more if, for some reason, your horse can't travel with others on the van. Get a few estimates before you commit.

    Not An Exact Science

    Salome emphasizes that shipping horses is not an exact science. "We're dealing with weather, border crossings, paperwork, detours ... and all the other aberrations of travel; in addition to the animals themselves. A horse that won't load can disrupt your schedule, so arrival time may be later.

    Having your horse arrive at his new home safe and sound is the best reward, of course. So start looking into those companies that can literally take a load off your mind.

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