If you show Western performance horses, at some point you’ll likely need to transport a horse from one part of the country to another.
Whether you’re competing at a major event in the National Cutting Horse Association, National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) or National Reined Cow Horse Association; moving your horse to a trainer in another state; or moving due to personal life events; transporting horses great distances requires lots of planning and preparation.
Quarter Horse News spoke with NRHA Professional Gabe Hutchins to get some tips on moving horses cross-country., As the head trainer of Tamarack Ranch, Hutchins frequently travels between the ranch’s locations in Joseph, Oregon, and Burleson, Texas.
Pack the Right Tools
Before your horse steps foot in the trailer, make sure you have a medical kit on board that is stocked with the necessities, Hutchins said. On his trailer, this includes a thermometer as well as the drug Banamine — in both injectable and paste form — in case a horse starts getting ill.
“I think that’s one thing that people always forget when they’re shipping and hauling horses is to temp them because the temperature is what tells you what’s coming before it ever gets there, if you keep on top of it,” Hutchins said. “I check my horses in the morning before we leave and in the evening when we’re laying over.”
Hutchins made this task easier by microchipping all the ranch’s horses with chips that display the horse’s temperature when scanned.
“I can scan them while they’re standing in the horse trailer in five minutes when we’re stopped somewhere,” Hutchins said. “Those chips are really not that expensive, and they’ve been worth every dime.”
Once your medical kit is packed, it’s a good idea to throw on some extra equipment that could be useful in an emergency — things like extra halters and ropes, for instance. Hutchins also likes to bring “butt ropes,” or lariats, to help get horses on the trailer that don’t want to load.
“Even the best-loading horses sometimes, depending on what age they are, can have something go wrong,” Hutchins said. “There’s nothing worse than a horse that won’t load, or getting a horse into an accident trying to get it loaded. That [stress] can trigger a horse to overheat.”
Consider bringing a couple days’ worth of extra feed and hay, too, especially if your route is going to be dicey due to bad weather or other possible delays. It’s better to have to unload it when you get where you’re going than to need it and not have it, Hutchins said.
If you have a long distance to travel, it might be tempting to try to do it all in one day, only stopping to refuel. That can be very difficult on your horses, Hutchins noted.
“I learned my lesson the hard way,” Hutchins said. “When we first moved to Oregon, I would drive straight through. The first year I did that, I had nothing but a bunch of sick horses with shipping fever. I have gotten to the point now where pretty much a 10-hour day is my max day hauling my horses.”
Driving 10 hours or less during the day allows his horses to rest overnight, Hutchins added, so he’s not out of horse when he arrives where he’s going. Otherwise, it might take the horses several days to recover from the trip — and if he’s going to a show, those are days that could be better spent schooling and preparing.
No matter how long your trip takes, be sure to stop often and offer the horses water every few hours, like when you refuel. Not all horses will drink when on the road, but offering water can prevent dehydration.
Plan Ahead for Overnight Stops
If your drive is going to take more than 10 hours, you’ll need to find a spot to stop and unload your horses for the night. Unless you know someone in the area that can accommodate your horses and your rig, this will require lots of planning and research ahead of time.
Hutchins has had luck using websites that specifically cater to overnight horse layovers. Otherwise, word of mouth in the industry can be a valuable way to find a place that is safe for both you and your horses.
“You have to do your homework; otherwise, you might find a place where you’re thinking, ‘Man, I’d be better off leaving these horses in the trailer than unloading them in this barn, because it’s not safe,’” Hutchins said.
When in Doubt, Hire a Hauler
If you’re daunted by the idea of hauling your horse a long distance, you can hire a shipper to trailer them for you. A quick Google search of “horse shipping” brings up lots of results, so make sure to background check the companies you find. Above all, you’ll want to hire someone that is insured and knowledgeable about horses.
“Hire a horseman, not a horse hauler,” Hutchins said. “That’s my No. 1, because I’ve seen it all. You’ll hire a horse hauler, and they’ll send somebody that knows how to drive a truck and trailer, but has never been around a horse. I start by hiring a horseman or horsewoman.”
A person with a background handling horses will know what to do in the case of an emergency and what signs to look for if your horse starts colicking or getting sick. A non-horse person, on the other hand, may not know anything is wrong until they arrive at their destination. By then, you could have a full-blown emergency on your hands — something that could have been prevented or mitigated by an experienced equestrian.
Hauling horses is stressful enough, but if you plan ahead and stick to people that know horses and horse behavior, it will give you one less thing to worry about during your travels.