Pamela Nunn is a freelance FEI groom who has groomed at the Olympics and World Equestrian Games for Canadian event rider Selena O’Hanlon and last summer, went to England with London 2012 reserve Shandiss Wewiora.
How to Travel Safely with Your Horse
Some thoughts from an Olympic groom on how to have a safe and worry free travel experience with your horse. Whether it is just down the road, to a horse show or the 24 hour Florida run.
Here are my tips:
Have a mechanic friend thoroughly check the towing vehicle and trailer.
Do this well in advance so small but important details like turn signals that don’t work can be fixed before you go. Verify spare tires are in good condition and inflated. Ensure you have the necessary tools and knowledge to change a tire, or that your CAA / AAA will cover the towed vehicle as well.
Ascertain the vaccinations, health requirements and paperwork required for travel. Work closely with your vet. If border crossings are involved, allow plenty of time for processing of forms etc. Check the validity of the Coggins required and redo if necessary.
Make a packing list and check things off as you assemble them, then again when you load them if you are doing a two step process. This avoids having put things ready to load and then forgetting them.
Practise by taking your horse on some short journeys so that you know that they travel well. Spend some time yourself with the rig in a big parking lot practising backing up so you are comfortable with this. Then, if you take a wrong turn and get somewhere that you need to reverse out of, you will be competent.
Check the best route to your destination. Make sure your GPS is not giving you a route avoiding tolls and taking in every scenic back road in the state. Verify where you can refuel en route. I remember a fraught journey to Virginia where we seemed to be on the scenic route and it was hard to find a gas station that had diesel.
Try to time your journey so that you avoid rush hours if you have to travel close to large cities.
Plan your journey and book ahead any layovers you might want to take. Opinion is divided on whether it is better for the horses to stop and overnight somewhere on a long trip or just keep going to the destination. For journeys of over 12 hours, discuss this with your vet.
Make sure you have a co-driver or at least a companion for trips of 6 hours or more.
When packing the trailer, make sure everything is secured so that things can’t shift in transit avoiding the potential risk of scaring or injuring the horse. I remember arriving at a competition to groom for a client, going to help unload the horses and finding a wheelbarrow gone rogue resting against one of the horse’s legs.
Make sure the humans going on the trip have the appropriate documents for border crossings and health insurance where applicable.
Pack sufficient hay, hard feed and water for the journey and the time at destination. I have heard enough horror stories of people being held up in traffic , by accident or breakdown and not having enough water for their horses.
Depending on the length of the trip it is usually a good idea to feed half the normal grain feed dampened as a mash. Hang and half fill water buckets so the horses can drink as they travel.
Depending on the temperature and weather conditions decide if any rugs or sheets are needed. Make sure the trailer is well ventilated, with windows and vents open . Try to make sure the wind is not blowing bits of hay and dust into the horse’s eyes. Hay bags rather than hay nets can be helpful in this respect.