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 horses and humans will have a safe, enjoyable time. For more information on preparing for the trip, see "Traveling with your Horse – Packing & Getting Ready". Once you are packed, your route is planned, reservations are made, and the trailer is prepared, you will need to get your horse ready.
Dress your horse for the journey according to the time of year and how thick his hair coat is. Open the trailer windows for ventilation during the drive, but remember that it's still going to be warmer inside the trailer than outside. Protect your horse's legs with leg wraps that cover from the knee/hock down to the ground. The coronary band area is the place most susceptible to injury as the horse moves about to keep his balance. You can use quilts, leg wraps and bell boots or sturdy nylon or Velcro shipping boots. The most common injuries occur during loading and unloading so don't wait to place leg/foot protection on the horse. Tips for a safe and happy trip include:
During the trip, stop every few hours to check on the horses. They appreciate a few minutes of rest. Offer a drink of water, although they may not be interested. After a kind pat and a piece of carrot, you can be on your way again.
When you arrive at your destination, try to park the trailer in the shade if it is sunny. Open the "people" door and the tailgate top doors to allow some fresh air to circulate, and let your horse become acclimated.
Check in at the stable secretary's booth. Locate your assigned stall. Look over the stall walls, door (if any) and floor carefully for anything that could injure your horse. Locate the water faucet, manure pile area and trash dumpster.
Return to your trailer and unload what you need for setting up the stall-shavings, tools, buckets, hardware – and move it to your stall.
Spread out a nice comfy bed of shavings. Put screw eyes in for buckets (two water, one grain) and the stall guard. Even if there is a solid bottom door, a stall guard or pair of rubber-covered chains across the doorway make it much easier to go in and out of the stall while you work without risking an escaped horse. Hang the tack hook in a convenient place out of harm's way and tape the ID card to the door/wall (where it can't be eaten).
Unload your horse from the trailer and remove the leg wraps. Put him in his new house so that he can urinate, have a drink, and munch on some hay. Now you can unload the rest of your gear and set it up in a workable arrangement for the duration of your stay. Muck out the trailer and give it a good sweep before unhitching it in the designated parking area.
Take your horse out for a hand walk around the grounds so he can take in the sights. He will also appreciate a little grass if that's available. You can take him for a short, easy ride if the drive was only a couple of hours. Otherwise, save under saddle work until the next day.
Do the best you can to maintain your horse's normal daily routine of feeding and exercise. This can be difficult given the show schedule, and occasional change in time zone. Otherwise, make changes slowly. Lots of hand-grazing will be needed if your horse is used to spending time in pasture. If he dislikes "strange" water on road trips, a little fruit-flavored electrolyte powder added to the water, both at home and away, will make it all taste the same.
At the end of your trip, packing to go home can seem really easy if you and your horse had a great competition, and perhaps earned a nice big ribbon. Or it can be a real drag, if the show did not go too well or your horse lost a shoe on the trail ride. In either case, everything must get put back safely in the rig to go home. Check with the manager's office to see if you have to strip your stall down to the bare floor. Some facilities, especially one-night stops, will only ask that you clean the stall (remove manure and wet spots), while others require stripping.
Be sure to say thank-you to your hosts before you head home. If the trip was safe and enjoyable for both horse and rider, you can look forward to doing it again next year.