Many horses spend at least some time on the road every year, whether going to a state park for a trail ride or across the country for a big year-end competition. It's important to plan ahead for these trips so that both you and your horse will have a safe, enjoyable time. Your route. First ask yourself, how long will it take to get to your destination in a loaded trailer? Make sure to get good road maps for every state that you will be driving through. Up-to-date maps and destination planners are often available for free on the Internet. A slightly longer route via a major highway will often be faster than a direct route on windy, bumpy back roads. Traveling at a constant speed on smooth, level interstates is also much less stressful to your horse, both physically and mentally.
Pre-travel desk work. This requires a bit of lead time. Stabling forms are usually part of competition entry forms, and both must be filled out and mailed to the secretary by a certain date. Even if your trip does not involve a show, stall reservations at your destination are required. If your trip will take several days, overnight stops along the way must also be arranged. Do you need to order hay and/or shavings for use at your final destination? Think about how much your horse will need for the time away and how much you can bring from home in your truck and trailer.
Your accommodations. Don't forget about your own accommodations. Do you need a hotel room? That gives you a comfortable bed and a shower but may be expensive or far from your horse's stable. Camping out in your truck or trailer (sleeping bag, cooler of food, big flashlights) saves time and money, and may be perfectly adequate if you are only gone a few days.
Your vehicle. Make sure that your truck is in good repair with a full tank of gas. Some trucks tow better with higher octane fuel, so consider this if your route will be hilly. Check the lights, brakes and tires on your trailer before you start to pack. (Once a year, the whole rig should be serviced at a reputable horse trailer dealership. See Guidelines for Safely Trailering Your Horse.)
Getting Your Horse Ready
Each horse will need a negative Coggins test, usually done within the past 6 months, for crossing state lines. Some states or competition sites may also require veterinary health certificates and/or proof of rabies vaccination within the past year.
Take some time to get your horse comfortable with loading, unloading and taking short trips in the trailer before you head out on a longer journey. Shipping is tiring for horses, who must constantly shift their weight and stance to stay balanced during the drive. It is the way you feel when you stand up on a subway train that is stopping, starting, turning and moving at various speeds. Most horses appreciate having hay in a securely tied net or feed bag to munch on during the trip. If a horse's head is tied, he cannot readily expel dust from his airways, resulting in a higher incidence of airway and lung infections. It is important to give your horse clean hay, and allow him to drop his head periodically at rest stops.
Make a list of everything you need for your horse's daily care, competition activities and emergencies. For example:
Hay, grain, supplements
Shavings or straw
Muck tub, wheelbarrow
Rake, shovel, broom, pitchfork
Water in plastic jugs for en route or emergency drinking
Buckets – drinking, feeding, bathing, tack cleaning
Tool kit and hardware (snaps, screw eyes) for setting up stall
Flashlight, duct tape, paper and pen, paper towels
First-aid kit for horses and people
Grooming kit, tack cleaning kit, braiding kit
Blankets, coolers, leg wraps
Tack – for riding, spare halter and lead shank, protective boots
Stall ID card – horse and owner information, emergency telephone number
How to pack supplies depends on the type of truck you have (pick-up, sport utility, van, or suburban) and the design of your trailer (gooseneck, tag-a-long, dressing room). It is great if you have one empty stall in the trailer that can hold all the bulky supplies, but few have that luxury. Make sure that everything is secure – even tied in with spare lead ropes – so that nothing will come dislodged during transit and injure or scare your horse.
For more information, see "Traveling with Your Horse – The Trip Begins"