Shifting Gears: Best Practices for Traveling with Your Quarter Horse

Shifting Gears: Best Practices for Traveling with Your Quarter Horse

Traveling with your horse requires careful planning and training. Let's look at some steps to ensure smooth and safe travels with your horse.

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From AQHA Corporate Partner Farnam

It's time to hit the road and do things with our horses! But putting your horse into a metal box on wheels and traveling down the highway at high speeds isn't every horse's cup of tea. Fortunately, Quarter Horses are among the most adaptable and docile breeds, which helps make the entire trailering process easier. Whether traveling for ranch work, a fun trail ride, a top-level show or just a local competition, our Quarter Horses are up for the task.

Still, traveling with a Quarter Horse requires careful planning, a well-stocked toolbox of standard and emergency supplies and a healthy dose of training and reassurance from you. Let's look at a few ways to ensure smooth and safe travels with your horse.

Before You Hit the Road

Practice Loading

Experienced horses often load easily — they jump in the trailer, stand quietly and aren't bothered by the confined space. But young horses or those that haven't been trailered may be cautious with the new situation. Some basic training will save time on travel day:

  • Train early. Careful, early training can really pay off! Begin by introducing your horse to the concept of loading into the trailer long before you actually try to take him anywhere. You want your horse confident and capable at least several weeks prior to the trip.
  • Practice with short rides. Put everything you can in your favor and make the day of the trip less stressful for you and your horse by taking a few short practice rides in advance.

Pro tip: If your horse needs to load and unload from a trailer frequently — perhaps a ranch horse that needs to take short journeys to various areas of the property — consider teaching a more experienced horse how to self-load.

Check Your Rig

You probably use your truck frequently and already keep the maintenance up to date. However, you likely use your horse trailer less often; maybe it spends much of its time parked. But don't forget that your trailer isn't just a pasture ornament — it needs regular maintenance, too. Before loading the horses and hitting the road, take a few moments to check some basic items:

  • Tires. A simple tire gauge will help you test the PSI pressure of each tire, which you can then compare with the PSI intended by the trailer's manufacturer. You can find this in the trailer's manual, on a plate mounted on the trailer or on the tires themselves.
  • Wiring. Your trailer's safety depends on several key electrical connections from the towing vehicle. Before hitting the road, be sure to test this electrical connection by checking the lights on your trailer: brake lights, blinkers, running lights and the trailer's electric brakes.
  • Hitch. Give everything a safety check before leaving — hitch system, breakaway chains and anti-sway bars.
  • Floorboards. Regularly inspect your trailer by removing the floor mats and examining the floorboards. Sometimes moisture can collect under the rubber mats, so you'll want to check for any soft or rotting floorboards. On aluminum trailers, check the metal for similar types of corrosion. Grab a pair of locking pliers to help move the heavy mats.

Pack Your Paperwork

While you're focused on getting your trailer packed and your horse loaded up and safe, it's easy to forget about more mundane tasks like paperwork. Don't overlook this important detail! Depending on where you're going, you may need to have the following documents on board (a three-ring binder in the pickup works nicely):

  • Health certificate. Supplied by your horse's veterinarian following an examination, a Certificate of Veterinarian Inspection (CVI) basically states the animal was healthy at the time of the exam, and the certificate is often good for 30 days. You may need a health certificate to cross state lines (sometimes this is required even traveling within a single state), and while you may or may not be required to present the paperwork, you should always have it on hand.
  • Coggins test. If you're attending an organized equine event like a show or a formal trail ride, there's a good chance you'll need to present a current negative Coggins test to the event's administrators. A Coggins test is a simple blood test used by veterinarians to check if the horse is a carrier of the Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) virus.
  • Registration info. In a show situation, you might consider bringing along your horses' registration papers, although you may have done this digitally in advance.

On the Road

The Basics: Food and Water

Feeding your horse is frequently on your mind, and travel time is no exception. Keep in mind the following as you travel with your horse:

  • Offer water frequently. On long trips, offer your horse a drink of water every few hours. Bring water from home in drinking-safe containers. To be on the safe side, figure having on hand a full six-gallon container per horse for every eight hours of travel.
  • Plan for delays. Hauling water with you also ensures your horse will have plenty of drinking water in case of a breakdown or other delay. Mix water sources. For short trips, you may be able to haul all the water your horses need for the trip. For longer trips, or if you're housing your horses in a different barn overnight, try mixing water from home with the unfamiliar water of the venue. This may make it more palatable to your horse.
  • Offer an electrolyte supplement. Some horses are more reluctant to drink while traveling and may not accept your offers of water. An electrolyte supplement like the Apple Elite supplement from Farnam can encourage water intake during stressful situations like travel. The Apple Elite supplement is available in pelleted form, paste or powder for easy feeding. Anticipating your horse might not drink well during the trip? Try offering the Apple Elite supplement proactively 12 hours before leaving.
  • Pack more hay than you think you need. Trying to obtain hay on a trip is an unneeded worry and would mean a change to your animal's diet, and that can cause health problems. So bring plenty of hay for the trip.
  • And grain, too. If your horse's diet includes concentrated feed, bring plenty of that, as well as any supplements he needs.

Keep Calm and Travel On

Keeping your horse calm during travel is also important, partly for his health, but partly so he arrives as fresh as possible and ready to go. Quarter Horses are generally a docile breed, so you're already off to a great start in this respect. Still, every horse is an individual, and inexperienced equine travelers, in particular, may need some extra help.

  • Travel with a buddy. Horses are herd creatures and are almost always calmer when there's another equine friend around. Even if you only need to bring one horse to the event, you might consider taking two horses for comfort.
  • Offer hay. Hay is a great distraction for your horse and can be comforting too. Try using a hay bag or haynet to keep the hay up off of the floor where it won't get trampled and ruined.
  • Consider a calming supplement. Some horses benefit from a calming supplement during times of stress, like traveling. You can give the Farnam Quietex II supplement to a horse two hours before traveling to help reduce his stress. In addition to the supplement, aim to project a calm, reassuring demeanor during the trip, as the sound of your calm voice will help your horse understand that all is well.
  • Take breaks. It's a good idea to stop every four hours or so to give your animals a break from the constant fatiguing motion of the moving trailer. (Plus, it's a great time to give them a drink of water.) Some horse owners opt to unload the horses during stops, while others try to reach the destination as quickly as possible without unloading in a strange place.
  • Plan the trip well. Hitting rush-hour traffic or excessively hot or cold temperatures can be very hard on your trailered horse. And if you can, keep the total drive time under eight hours a day.
  • Bring an equine first-aid kit. Because you never know.

Upon Arrival

Once you arrive at your destination, there are still a few things to do:

  • Give 'em a break. Consider giving your horse a chill-out day to relax and recover from the trip before riding or doing other work.
  • Offer a grooming session. Your horse was likely groomed before the trip, but performing a brief grooming session at your destination is also a nice plan. Not only can you remove some of the trip's dust with something like Farnam Slick 'N Easy horse grooming block, you can also utilize the time to examine your horse after the trip for any minor injuries.
  • Protect the venue. Be a polite guest! If your horse tends to chew wood, protect the event barn with a product like No Chew deterrent from Farnam to help discourage wood chewing.

Traveling with horses can feel like a massive undertaking, but with proper planning and a little work, it can be a journey you and your horse enjoy together.

Farnam, Elite, No Chew, Quietex, and Slick 'N Easy are trademarks of Farnam Companies, Inc.