The following expert tips will help you minimize trailering stresses.
Long-distance trailering can be hard on a horse. Besides subjecting him to long periods of confinement within a mini-climate he can't escape, a trailer trip also challenges his sense of balance as he's hurtled down the highway. And that's in a best-case scenario; the risks and challenges multiply with poor planning and unforeseen circumstances.
1. To minimize breakdowns and the frustrations of getting lost, perform a thorough pre-trip trailer and tow-vehicle check, and plan your route carefully. Unloading by the side of the road is dangerous, so plan to either drive straight through, leaving the horses in the trailer during rest stops, or use a directory, such as that found at www.horsetrip.com, to find a "horse motel" where you can board overnight.
2. Put a six-inch layer of bedding on the trailer floor, using the same bedding in your horses' stalls. The bedding serves three purposes: It's something the horses are accustomed to, it provides a cushion for their feet and it absorbs urine.
3. If you use hauling boots or wraps, check them regularly to ensure they remain in place.
4. Tie each horse with a suitable trailer strap or rope that's just long enough for him to touch the bottom of the feedbag or manger and to drop his head below his withers, so he can clear his respiratory system. If your tie strap or rope doesn't have a quick-release panic snap, make sure that you can cut it with a knife in case of an emergency - and keep the knife where it's easily accessible.
5. If possible, transport your horses with others they know. Transporting horses unfamiliar with one another can lead to trouble and more stress for the animals.
6. Practice your driving skills, starting and stopping smoothly to reduce stress on the horses. Maintain extra space between you and the vehicle ahead, to decrease the odds of an accident during an emergency stop. Drive a little slower than usual and avoid sudden shifts in momentum. Some experts suggest you should drive as if you had a cup of hot coffee on the dashboard.
7. Keep the trailer ventilated. Horses are comfortable in temperatures between 30 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you blanket horses, regularly check underneath for sweating. In summer months, avoid traveling during the hottest parts of the day, park under shade, and keep the trailer moving to provide airflow.
8. Offer horses water at every rest stop. Bring familiar-tasting water from home and use a bucket familiar to the horses. If you can't bring sufficient water, consider slightly flavoring the horses' water with a sports drink a week or so before the trip. Then continue using the flavoring throughout the trip to disguise the foreign-tasting water.
9. Provide adequate hay. Hay helps retain water in a horse's gut and keeps him calm. If the hay dust blows directly in a horse's face, wet the hay down. Most experts recommend against feeding a horse grain during a trip because it might lead to colic or laminitis.
Courtesy Exiss Aluminum Trailers, 405-262-6471; www.exiss.com.