07 May Horse Travel Made Easy: 20 Essential Travel Tips
Traveling with your horse is a lot of fun, but it can seem like a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. If you’re ready to travel with your horse but you’re not quite sure where to start, here are 20 tips for how to travel with your horse.
- Choose the Right Travel Trailer
- Inspect Your Travel Trailer and Vehicle
- Ensure Your Horse Can Safely Enter and Exit a Trailer
- Do a Test Drive Before Extended Travel
- Make a Travel Checklist
- Prepare Your Travel Documents
- Prepare a Travel Timetable
- Check the Weather
- Plan for Recovery Time When Making Plans
- Find Places to Stay
- Take Regular Breaks
- Avoid Grain Before Travel
- Use Trailer Bedding
- Check Your Horse’s Weight and Vital Signs
- Carry First-Aid Supplies
- Consider Using Shipping Boots
- Pack Your Horse Last
- Use Caution When Unloading Your Horse
- Bring Plenty of Hay
- Bring Plenty of Water
- Take Steps to Avoid Shipping Fever
Now that you know all the tips, let’s dive into each one a bit deeper.
Essential Horse Travel Tips
Tip 1: Choose the Right Horse Travel Trailer
Horse trailers come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to ensure your horse will be comfortable for their journey, you’ll need to do some research before purchasing or renting one.
Types of Horse Trailers
The majority of horse owners prefer slant-load trailers because they are able to hold more horses in a shorter length trailer. Additionally, the rear entrances of these trailers are very spacious, making the trailer appear more inviting for an anxious horse that might be tentative to board otherwise.
Customizable dividers within the trailer make it easy to use the trailer for your specific needs. There is plenty of storage space at the rear corners as well as the front part of the trailer, and there is enough space for horses to be turned around within the trailer so that they can be led out head first.
Straight-Load trailers are the next most popular option. People like straight-load trailers because they usually offer plenty of headspace to carry taller horses, have enough space for horses to lower their heads and brace themselves with their legs, and a walkout door that allows you to remove one horse at a time if needed.
It can be difficult to load a nervous horse onto these trailers due to their narrow appearance. Another aspect to be aware of in these trailers is that the horse will have to back off; there is no way to turn the horse around in these trailers. That being said, you want to make sure you have a horse that will willingly back off a trailer if you plan to purchase a straight-load.
Straight Load trailers appeal to the horse owner who doesn’t want to lug a big massive trailer around. Straight-load trailers are usually only made for two horses, so they’re lighter and smaller.
Next, we have stock trailers or livestock trailers. Stock trailers are a popular choice because they are typically cheaper than horse trailers, but still, come the option of customizing their interior for your specific needs when purchasing them new.
Stock trailers are the most inviting for a nervous horse or a horse that isn’t good with loading. These trailers a wide and spacious with no dividers, allowing you to fit more horses in them than any other type of trailer.
When selecting your trailer, make sure that it is strong enough to carry the weight of your horse as well as all of the gear that you plan to take with you. You should also make sure that there is plenty of headspace for your horse, that they have room to lower their heads, and that the trailer is well ventilated.
Tip 2: Inspect Your Horse Travel Trailer and Vehicle
Before you take to the roads, it’s important that you make sure that both your trailer and your vehicle are in good condition.
Travel Trailer Inspection
Inspect the interior of your horse trailer to make sure that there aren’t any sharp or jagged edges that the horse can harm themselves on. A trailer with a lot of rusty edges is just asking for trouble.
You should also sweep and wipe out the interior of the trailer to remove any dust. Once you start traveling, that dust could cause respiratory issues for your horse if not removed beforehand.
You will also want to check your boarding ramps if your trailer has them, to ensure that they are sturdy and not easy to slip on. Check your tires to make sure they’re in good working order and have enough air. Lastly, check the trailer hitch to make sure everything looks safe.
For your vehicle, we recommend taking it to a shop for a thorough inspection before any kind of extended travel. The last thing you want when you’re towing your horse it to have car trouble, so the extra expense of going to a shop can be well worth it.
Additionally, make sure that the vehicle you’ll be using to tow your horse trailer is properly rated to pull the amount of weight that you’ll have.
Tip 3: Ensure Your Horse Can Enter and Exit a Trailer Before Traveling
For a horse that is used to the wide open spaces of a pasture, entering a small and dark horse trailer can be very intimidating. In the weeks and months leading up to your trip, you should begin doing exercises with your horse to help prepare them to enter a trailer.
Begin by getting them used to being around the trailer and rewarding them for any sign of curiosity that they demonstrate. Once they’re comfortable, allow them to stand with just their two front legs in the trailer. After they do this for a minute or so, have them back out. Eventually, they should enter the trailer and back out of the trailer willingly. If you’d like to learn more about training your horse to board a trailer, here’s a great video we found that will help.
Tip 4: Do a Test Drive With Your Horse Before Extended Travel
Before driving somewhere with your horse for hours on end, it’s a good idea to take at least one test drive with them beforehand. Even if it’s just a 15 or 30-minute drive, doing a test drive will help you practice loading them up and you’ll be able to see how they react to the experience and make other preparations if necessary.
The test drive will also get you comfortable being behind the wheel of a vehicle pulling a horse trailer. It’s important that the driver avoids any sudden stops are lurching starts. These movements can easily through your horse off balance and the could possibly hurt themselves.
Be sure to reward your horse after unloading so that they learn that riding in the trailer is a good thing, and not something that should be avoided.
Tip 5: Make a Horse Travel Checklist
Whether you’re traveling to a competition or to a scenic trail ride location, make sure that you have a good travel checklist with everything that you will need for your journey. Look over this list in the days leading up to your trip to make sure that you have everything that you’ll need.
A good rule of thumb is to bring extras of all essential items like food, water, and riding tack. Even if you think you’ll be fine, having extras of the essentials prepares you for unexpected situations.
A sample checklist might include:
- Horse First Aid Kit
- Health/Registration Papers
- Grooming Equipment
- Spare Halter and Lead Rope
- Multiple Buckets
- Multiple Bridles
- Spare Reins
- Spare Stirrup Leathers
- Extra Water and Hay
- Sawdust Shavings
Tip 6: Prepare Your Horse Travel Documents
A few months before your trip, you should begin gathering all of the documents that you will need. What travel documents do you need to travel with a horse with the US? You’ll need the following.
- Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI)
- Coggins Testing Paperwork
Keep in mind that the exact requirements for paperwork can vary from state to state, so we recommend looking into the rules for the state that you’ll be traveling through. You can find more information on the official USDA website.
When getting the CVI, a veterinarian will thoroughly inspect your horse and will be able to tell you if they are in healthy condition to travel or not. You should also ask the vet if there are any vaccines they recommend getting for the particular area that you will be traveling to.
Tip 7: Prepare a Horse Travel Timetable
Before you head out on the road with your horse, it’s a good idea to have a travel timetable in the hands of your close friends or loved ones. This can be as simple as picking out a few checkpoints on your journey, letting your friends or family know when you should be there, and telling them you’ll call once you reach your destination. This way, if anything goes awry, you’ll have people that can help.
If you’re traveling all day and you’re concerned that your phone might run out of battery before you’re supposed to check in, we recommend getting a small portable charger that can give you some additional battery life. If you don’t have a cell phone, you can also give the address and phone number of the place you will be staying and plan to call once you reach there.
One last good safety precaution would be to create an emergency contact card to keep in the glove box of your vehicle.
Tip 8: Check the Weather Before Traveling With Your Horse
As you’re putting together your travel plans, something important that you should consider is the weather. If you’re traveling in the summer, keep in mind that the interior of a trailer becomes very hot when left in the sun for any length of time. Whenever possible, park your trailer in the shade, and make certain that your trailer has good ventilation. Bring lots of water and offer it to your horse any time you can.
You should purchase a small thermometer to keep in the trailer to check each time you stop. If outside temperatures will be 90 degrees or above, leave as early as possible in the morning so you can beat the heat. Find alternate route options that you can take should you run into traffic. Without the wind from moving, your horse trailer will heat up much faster in stop and go traffic.
If you’re traveling in the winter, make certain that your horse stays well fed and hydrated so they can easily maintain their body temperature. If your horse has been clipped and you’ll be driving through extremely cold temperatures, you should consider bringing a horse blanket along to use. To learn more about taking care of your horse in the cold, you can check out an article we wrote here.
One of the tricky aspects of traveling with a horse is that you can encounter a wide range of weather throughout your travels, so it’s best to stay prepared for any weather conditions you might come across.
Tip 9: Plan for Travel Recovery Time for Your Horse
If you’re traveling to a competition, keep in mind that many horses can become ill for several days after traveling. To ensure your horse will be in healthy condition for competing, it’s recommended that you arrive several days early for your horse to recover. If your horse demonstrates any unusual behavior after travel, you should contact a veterinarian right away to come and inspect their condition.
Make sure you have the contact information of a veterinarian near or in the area you’ll be traveling to. That way if your horse does turn up sick, you can avoid a lot of stress trying to find a vet at that moment.
Tip 10: Find Places to Stay Before Traveling With Your Horse
When searching for a place to stay while traveling with a horse, it can sometimes be difficult to find suitable accommodation. Because of this, you should never start traveling without knowing exactly where you’ll be staying that night.
There are several online resources like this one that can help you locate good places to board your horse overnight. If you’re not able to find something online, your next best option is asking your equestrian friends for referrals of places to stay. If this fails, you can always try calling stables in the area you’re traveling through and try to set up an arrangement with them to board your horse overnight.
If you find somewhere online to stay, do your best to find reviews from other people that have stayed there. When you arrive at where you plan to stay, always inspect the stall where your horse is to be held and make sure it’s in a safe condition BEFORE you unload your horse or sign any papers.
Be sure to bring along hay for your horses to have at the accommodations because many places do not provide this for overnight boarders. There are many facilities that have campgrounds for the horse owners and corrals for the horses, so if you’d rather be close to your horse, these are great places to stay.
Tip 11: Take Regular Breaks When Traveling With Your Horse
While you might be fine only taking a few pit stops, your horse, on the other hand, needs to stop every 3 to 4 hours. Traveling long distances can be hard on your horse’s legs because they are constantly having to balance. Stopping allows them a much-needed rest. In addition to this, it’s recommended that your horse eat and drink at least every 3 hours or so in order to decrease the likelihood of colic.
Each time you stop you should offer your horse food and water and check the temperature of their trailer. If your horse is consistently breathing quickly and heavily, they could be overheated. You should check their temperature at this point. If it is above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, you should contact a veterinarian.
In order to make sure that you’re able to stop as frequently as you need to, find rest areas or other locations you can use to stop on your route and mark them on your map. Consider setting an alarm on your phone between each stop to help you remember when your horse needs a break.
Tip 12: Avoid Grain Before Traveling With Your Horse
Some veterinarians and experienced haulers do not recommend feeding grain to a horse before leaving on a long trip or along the way. Grain and the stress of travel put together can sometimes cause colic, so sticking with good, clean hay can help minimize your chances of colic on the road.
Tip 13: Use Trailer Bedding When Traveling With Your Horse
While most horse trailers come with rubber mats already over the flooring, some trailers do not. You’ll see that some trailers have floors made out of wooden planks while others may just have a solid steel floor. On both of these surfaces, horses can slip and fall.
By putting down a rubber mat for your horse to stand on, you’ll minimize the risk of injury. Rubber provides grip to keep your horse on their feet. It also offers a softer surface for your horse to stand on. Rubber absorbs the bumps and vibrations of the road, offering much less stress on your horse’s joints.
Some horse owners like to put sawdust shavings over the rubber matt in order to provide even more cushion for the horse. Sawdust shavings also make it easier to clean out any horse-waste from the trailer.
Tip 14: Check Your Horse’s Weight and Vital Signs Before Travel
Check their weight before, during and after their trip. A horse can tend to lose up to 50 Lbz during extended travel, so it’s important to track your horse’s weight. If they’ve lost for than 75 Lbz, your horse may be experiencing shipping fever.
Check your horse’s vital signs as you travel. Look at gums to determine the hydration level. Pale pink gums are an indicator that they are well hydrated. check their temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. If any of these are elevated, increase your break time to see if you can get it back under control. Always have a vet’s phone number on hand to call and ask questions if need be.
Tip 15: Carry Horse First-Aid Supplies When Traveling
Traveling with a first aid kit for your horse is highly recommended. Even minor cuts and scrapes on your horse should be cleaned out properly in order to avoid the risk of infections, and a horse first aid kit will come with everything you need for the job. Here are some of the common items that you’ll find in a horse first aid kit.
- Wound Cleaning Supplies
- Non-adherent Bandages
- Sharp Knife
- Antibiotic Medications
- Sterile Gloves
- Hand Sanitizer
- Duct Tape
- Coarse Salt
If you’re short for time and you can’t get all of these items together, here’s a basic horse first aid kit you can use.
Tip 16: Use Horse Shipping Boots When Traveling
Shipping boots are padded coverings that stretch above your horse’s knee all the way down around the pasterns.
When used correctly, shipping boots can add an extra layer of protection for your horse’s legs. This can be especially important if you’re traveling in a narrow trailer, or your horse has balance issues. However, if you plan on using these, it’s recommended that you start getting your horse used to them in the weeks leading up to your trip.
As you travel, check the boots whenever you can to make certain that they are still on correctly and that no obstructions have fallen into the boots. Discomfort and injury can be caused to the horse if the boots aren’t on correctly or hay or other materials have fallen into them.
Tip 17: Use Caution When Unloading Your Horse While Traveling
When you have finally reached your destination and you’re starting to unload your horse, exercise caution. Your horse has just stood in a trailer for hours on end with little to no physical activity; they’re probably restless and ready to get off the trailer.
Just like humans, some horses tend to get cranky during long travels. Be careful, especially if you’re by yourself, with unloading your horse. Always avoid putting yourself between your horse and a wall or behind your horse as they come out of the trailer. They could fly back and easily run into you.
Tip 18: Bring Plenty of Hay for Your Horse When Traveling
Horses can eat up to 3% of their body weight a day. Since your horse won’t be able to graze in a trailer, you need to offer another solution. By giving your horse plenty of hay during your travels, you’ll keep their stomachs happy as well as give them a nice distraction from the stress of traveling.
Make sure you are filling your horse’s hay net at every break. Be sure to bring extra hay if you plan on boarding your horse somewhere overnight, as these places do not usually provide hay for boarders.
It never hurts to carry a few extra bales of hay with you. If you run out of hay, it will be very difficult to replenish your supply while on the road. Always better to be safe than sorry.
Tip 19: Bring Plenty of Water for Your Horse When Traveling
Having plenty of water for your horse as you travel is very important
Investing in some buckets with lids can make carrying water easy during travel. Horses can drink on average seven gallons of water a day. If you are traveling for an extended time, it’s vital that you can meet this quota for your horse.
Horses that are deprived of water can not only suffer from dehydration but also colic. Like mentioned above, be sure to stop every 3-4 hours to offer your horse a drink.
Before your trip, you can start giving your horse electrolytes. Electrolytes will cause your horse to drink more. Another trick you can try if your horse refuses to drink water is to cut up pieces of apple and put them in the water bucket. When the horse tries to get the apple, they’ll also suck up some water.
Tip 20: Take Steps to Protect Your Horse from Shipping Fever
Shipping fever is an illness that a horse can contract during long-distance travel. It’s basically the equivalent to pneumonia in the fact that particles and bacteria can get into the lungs and airways of your horse.
Not only are trailers known to be dusty and stuffy, but your horse also has to stand with their neck bent upward for a long period of time. Horses were built to have their heads to the ground, which allows their nasal passages and airways to drain. However, when your horse is in the trailer and their head is held up, the only way for the nasal passages to drain is to drain into the lungs.
Shipping fever can be actively avoided in a number of ways. First, make sure that your trailer has good ventilation. Second, make sure you make the trip as comfortable and as easy for your horse as possible. Stress tends to weaken the horse’s immune system, which would make it much easier for a horse to contract shipping fever.
Thirdly, if your horse is not in top health before extended travel, postpone your trip. It’s important to make sure that your horse is always healthy enough to make the trip. If you have any questions regarding your horse’s health, ask a veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Horse Travel Questions
How Much Does It Cost to Transport a Horse?
If you’re transporting your horse in your own truck and trailer, you can save a lot of money. However, if this isn’t an option for you, then you can hire a transport company to ship your horse for you.
Transport companies can ship all over the country, and rates tend to differ greatly. Rates usually depend on the distance, the needs of your horse, and how soon you need the horse shipped. If you needed to transport a horse from California on the West Coast to Virginia on the East Coast, the trip may cost you anywhere from $1,500-$3,000.
If this is how you plan on transporting your horse, be sure to do your due diligence on the company you decide to go with. You want to make sure your horse will be well-cared for and that you will be communicated with efficiently.
Can a Horse Go On a Plane?
Yes, horses can travel via plane. This is the main mode of transportation for horses competing in the Olympics or horses being transported to other countries. If you thought plane ticket prices were expensive for you, imagine what they must be for a horse! A horse plane ticket can easily reach $10,000.
If a horse has to take a flight, they usually take a special plane designed just for horse travelers Each horse has a box stall it will stand in during the flight. These horses are sedated to help them deal with the stress of flying!
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I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.