Having transport or being able to hire it gives you and your horse access to a wide range of activities you might not otherwise be able to enjoy, from new hacking routes and competitions to beach rides. However, it’s easy to take this for granted, and forget how unnatural travelling is for your horse and the potential risks for all involved. Luckily, with a few simple checks and a bit of forward-planning travelling can be a breeze.
It’s tricky for horses to balance while travelling, and this increases the risk of bumps and scrapes. Therefore, it’s important that your horse wears well-fitting clothing to protect him.
Travel boots or bandages will protect and support his legs. If you choose bandages, it’s important that they’re put on by an experienced person – too loose and they can be a hazard, but too tight and they can damage your horse’s legs. By comparison, boots are much quicker and easier to put on, but can slip if they don’t fit properly. For youngsters or horses who don’t like wearing travel boots, consider overreach and brushing boots to protect his legs. Hock and knee boots can also provide extra protection.
A field-safe or leather headcollar is much safer than a regular synthetic one because they’re easier to break or cut through in an emergency. You can also buy travel headcollars with padded sections at the nose and poll for extra comfort.
To protect your horse’s tail and stop him rubbing it, fit him with a tail bandage and guard. On longer journeys bandages may interfere with circulation, so just fit him with a tail guard. If you’re off to a show and need to keep his tail clean, consider a tail bag – many tail guards come with either a fixed or detachable one to help keep pesky poo stains at bay.
Some horses may need to wear a cooler rug or sheet to stop them getting chilly. Don’t rug unnecessarily, though, as this will make your horse hot and uncomfortable. Horses generate a lot of heat when they’re travelling and it can get very warm inside your trailer or lorry.
Consider using a poll guard to protect his head, particularly if he’s a nervous traveller or can panic in enclosed spaces.
In order to ensure your horse is as comfortable as possible in all this kit, try it out at home before your trip. Travel boots in particular often take some time to get used to, so have several trial runs and let him walk around the yard in them so he can adjust.
TOP TIP Travelling can make even the most placid horse unpredictable, so always wear sturdy boots, gloves and a correctly fitting hat when loading or unloading your horse.
Loading can be tricky, particularly if your horse isn’t too keen on the concept. It’s best to be patient and allocate plenty of time, even if he’s normally a good loader – everybody can have an off day. To help him get used to the trailer or lorry, practise loading him, then feeding him in the lorry before unloading him. This helps to reassure him that it’s a safe place to be.
- If you can, park downhill so the ramp isn’t as steep. Check it’s stable and not slippery, so he feels confident stepping onto it.
- Open up all the windows, partitions and doors to make it feel as light and airy as possible. Fix them back securely so they don’t become a hazard.
- Lead your horse calmly and confidently straight towards the ramp. If he’s resistant, don’t pull him, but keep a firm pressure on his headcollar until he steps forwards, then reward him.
- Once he’s in, tie him up then carefully close the partitions and check they’re securely fastened.
- Close the ramp slowly and gently, as your horse might become startled if it suddenly gets darker or if there’s a loud bang.
- When it comes to unloading, open all the doors and partitions, and secure them out of the way before untying his leadrope and walking him out.
It’s important to make sure that your transport is the right size. Your horse should be able to stand straight with plenty of headroom and not be pressed against any of the partitions. Some horses prefer more space than others, so experiment with moving the partitions around until he’s happy, and remember that arrangement so you can prepare in advance next time he travels. If possible, travel him in a variety of lorries or trailers that offer different travelling positions, too, as each horse has his own preference about whether he faces forwards, backwards or herringbone.
Tie him to a piece of baler twine or a quick-release tie with approximately 75cm of rope, so he can still move his head around, but without the risk of getting tangled up. A haynet will have the dual purpose of keeping him amused and providing a source of fibre to help his digestive system stay in good working order. It should be in easy reach – just below nose height is ideal. You can soak his hay to remove dust and aid hydration, but give it time to drain before putting it in the trailer, as water dripping on the floor could make it slippery.
Avoid travelling horses who don’t get on next to each other, as this will only lead to squabbles and could increase the risk of injury. Some horses don’t like to be in close proximity to others, so it’s best to travel these individuals on their own or with an empty space in-between to avoid stressing them out. When using a trailer, remember that if your horse is on his own, he should be loaded on the right to balance out the camber of the road. The same rule applies to two horses, with the heavier one travelling on the right.
TOP TIP If your horse is new to travelling, take him out on several short practice drives before you make a trip that’s a big deal, such as a show. This will give you an idea of how he travels and what he’s like to load. It will also teach him that travelling doesn’t necessarily mean a stressful experience at the other end.
In good working order
Before every trip, it’s important to check that…
- your tyre pressure and tread depth is correct Check tyres when they’re cold – the recommended pressure should be listed in your vehicle manual. The central three-quarters of the width of the tyres should have a tread of no less than 1.6mm
- your lights and indicators are working Ask a friend to stand in front and behind your lorry or trailer as you turn the lights on – check the rear lights, indicators and reversing lights, and the lights above the number plate if you have a trailer. Make sure the trailer’s electric cable is properly connected
- there are no loose or damaged fittings These could injure your horse or cause an accident, either while you’re loading or in transit
- the floor is solid and not showing any signs of wear and tear Even metal floors can deteriorate over time, particularly if you don’t put down bedding to soak up any urine
TOP TIP Have your lorry or trailer serviced annually by a specialist to make sure everything’s in good working order.
Take a break
If you’re going on a journey of more than two hours, stop regularly to give your horse a break and allow him to lower his head. Because horses should spend most of their time grazing, lowering their head naturally drains their nasal passages. When travelling, your horse’s head is fixed up, so what would otherwise drain out may enter his lungs instead, increasing the chance of him developing a respiratory disease.
A break will also give you the chance to offer him some water – dehydration is a real risk when travelling longer distances, particularly if it’s hot or he’s become very sweaty. It can also lead to impaction colic. If he’s reluctant to drink, try adding a splash of apple juice to his water or offering a wet, slushy feed such as soaked sugar beet instead. Top up his haynet if it’s running low – horses are trickle feeders and need fibre going through their digestive system almost constantly to maintain digestive health.
When you stop, don’t take your horse off the trailer or lorry. Not only is there a chance he might not load again, but all horses can become unpredictable in new environments and this could put both of you in a dangerous situation.
TOP TIP Bedding on the floor of the trailer or lorry will provide extra grip and soak up any urine.
In the event of an accident or breakdown, there are a few items you won’t want to be without. Some, such as first-aid kits, can live in your lorry or towing vehicle so you don’t run the risk of forgetting to pack them if you’re in a hurry.
For your horse…
- extra hay and water
- spare rug
- spare headcollar and leadrope
- equine first-aid kit
- emergency number for your vet
- his passport – legally, this should accompany him at all times
- warm coat
- gloves, sturdy boots and a riding hat
- emergency food and water
- charged mobile phone and battery booster pack
- high-vis tabards
- human first-aid kit
For your lorry or trailer…
- warning triangle
- jump leads
- your insurance policy and breakdown cover details
- details of the hire company and a copy of the contract if you’ve hired your transport
TOP TIP You can buy cameras that allow you to monitor your horse while he travels, which can be particularly reassuring if he’s a nervous or inexperienced traveller. Always mount the screen in a place that won’t obscure your vision, such as on the dashboard.
Breakdowns can happen at any time and you could be stranded for several hours, so be ready for all eventualities and make sure you have breakdown cover for your lorry or trailer. If your towing vehicle is already covered by a breakdown policy, carefully read the small print because most standard policies don’t cover removing livestock, including horses, from the scene of a breakdown. Store the details in your car or lorry so you have them to hand if needed, and make sure your phone is fully charged and that you have a battery booster pack handy, too, so you can call for help without having to leave your vehicle.