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Horse Care & Grooming Tips (15 of 15) - Horse Trailer & Travel (2)



Down the Right Road
by Ronda Quaid

If long distance traveling is a new challenge you are considering, you may find the thought of heading down the road a frightening one. Whether you've decided to hit the rodeo or show circuit, or haul your family and horses to a neighboring state for a much-needed vacation the long haul takes some extensive planning. Attention to details -- ranging from horse health and packing, to your trailer's condition and navigating the road -- can make the difference between a rewarding challenge and a disaster. Here are some tips to help minimize the risks from experienced horse people who have logged thousands of miles.

Jimmy Powers - The Rodeo Road

Jimmy Powers is a PRCA steer wrestler who has traveled as many as 100,000 miles a year during his 20 year career. He is the owner of Badmotorscooter, a three time AQHA and PRCA horse of the year, and Yellow Dog who has been not only PRCA Horse of the Year, but has gone to the NFR for nine consecutive years. These accomplishments could only have been achieved by healthy horses.

My horses are my livelihood. I am a fanatic about their care, especially when traveling, explained Powers. I might have eight or nine guys riding my horses. I get 25% of what they earn, so I better make sure those horses are comfortable, and able to do their job.

When hauling long distances he makes a stop every six to eight hours. He unloads the horses and lets them rest for 45 minutes.

Truck or rest stops usually have an area in the back that is large enough to unload, he explained.

I always use eight inches of sawdust for an extra layer of cushioning. When I stop I clean out the floor and replace the sawdust -- every single time.

He travels with a Bruton four-horse bumper pull trailer towed by a one ton Ford dually set up with a camper. He always travels as a team.

I travel with at least one other person, explained Powers. "That way someone can rest while the other drives.The person at the wheel must always be alert. I believe you can take a lot of the stress off of your horse just by the way you drive. I always drive with that horse in mind. I drive a consistent speed, and pay careful attention to stops and turns. I never rush a trip. If I'm in a hurry, I leave earlier, he added.

Powers is an advocate of wrapping the traveler's legs.

I use a brace rub that was recommended by a friend who is a race horse trainer, and I wrap all four legs with no bow' wraps. It helps to support the tendons, sort of like support panty hose, he added.

I go to as many a 100 rodeos a year and my horses always arrive fit and ready to work.

The stress of close confinement, constant movement, disruption of eating, drinking and bowel habits, and fluctuations in climate can put a horse at risk for colic. A good worming program is one of the best ways to help the equine passenger avoids this condition.

Powers tube worms all his horses every two months.

I'm in so many arenas and so many stalls that I have to worm more than the average traveler. However, any time you are changing your horse's climate and environment you need to give him every advantage against parasites.

He also gives his horses supplements to help maintain their health during a trip. He uses a body builder vitamin, ESE powder and baking soda (which helps prevent colic).

I also like to get my horses used to traveling long before I ask them to go significant distances, said Powers. I start my colts out going from ranch to ranch where I live in Sonora, Texas. I make sure they are comfortable during those short trips. I want to be sure that I have a horse that is willing to load after I make a stop on the road. The place to train is at home, not on the road.

The bottom line, he adds, is that the horse comes first. He eats before I eat, his travel accommodations are as good or better than mine. If you have a well broke, healthy horse riding in comfortable conditions you are probably not going to have any problems.

Cleve Wells -- Western Pleasure Champion

Between clinics and seminars and hauling for titles, trainer Cleve Wells can put in 10,000 miles in just one month traveling from home base in Texas to Washington, Canada, Indiana and on to Ohio for the AQHA Congress. He has trained and produced 17 AQHA world champions and reserve champions. He trained the only two horses (Zippos Amblin Easy and Zippos Silent Night) in AQHA history to win all three World titles (Open, Amateur and Youth) with three different riders. He is pursuing 2000 AQHA honors with Hotroddin Zippo.

Wells echoes the sentiments of Powers when it come to putting the equine traveler's needs first.

When I travel I rarely stop for more than 15 minutes. We bring snacks to eat long the way rather than stop in restaurants. I want to get those horses to where they need to be as quickly as possible. Their comfort comes before mine.

Because I travel with six and seven horse Sundowner gooseneck trailers that are roomy and travel so smoothly I don't unload my horses, he explained. These trailers are triple axle and are so stable they literally float down the highway. The front of the trailer is the softest spot so I usually load the oldest horse first.

His trailer is a factor in his decision not to wrap his horses.

Because my trailers protect the horses from a lot of the stress of travel I worry more about the disadvantages of wrapping. Shavings can get down inside the wraps causing irritation that can make the horse paw. They also add to the horse's heat load in hot weather. I also worry about tendons becoming weak from so much artificial support during long trips. Making sure that my horses are good, compatible haulers eliminates the concern for kicking.

I always stop after the first hour and check on the horses. Then I stop every three to four hours and check their nostrils and eyes, and their food and water, said Wells. I have special built-in food and water mangers so that my horses can drink and eat during the whole trip. You have to make sure they are drinking. Pinch their skin to make sure they aren't dehydrated (pinch about where you would give an injection on the flat of the neck, if the skin snaps back he's OK, if it stays tented he's dehydrated). I give them electrolytes to help prevent this. To help prevent aches and stiffness, I give them some Bute.

Wells recommends that if you are feeding in the trailer make sure the horse is tied so he can get to the bottom of what you are feeding.

You don't want your horse pawing and pulling toward feed he can't reach.

Ventilation is another factor that can effect a horse's comfort in a trailer as well as his health.

I recommend opening just the side windows on most trailers. This provides ventilation without creating so much air flow that sawdust and feed are blowing around the trailer.

I am also very leery of opening the roof vents if you are traveling through climate extremes. I have a friend who forgot to close the roof vents when he was traveling from a warm area to an extremely cold one. His horse ended up with pneumonia.

If you do use the roof vents he recommends that you face them the opposite way to let hot air out without creating a direct draft on the horses, he added.

Attention to trailer temperature is so important to Wells that he has installed thermometers in his trailers both in the front and the rear areas.

I always check those thermometers when I stop even before I head to the bathroom. That way you have an accurate reading. If the temperature is either too hot or too cold you can make any necessary adjustments. I recommend carrying blankets for every trip. Weather can change dramatically without much warning when you're on the road so you need to be prepared.

After a stop is a good time to recheck your hitch and connections, trailer doors and windows, and all tires. Do this every time.

Lindy Burch - Legendary Cutter

Going down the road is a routine part of the territory for this famed cutter. Lindy Burch has been involved with the sport for 30 years earning over 2.5 million dollars long the way. She is in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Her many accomplishments include winning the National Futurity, World Champion Mare two times and World Champion Finals twice.

I live in Texas where we have extremely hot weather so ventilation is a big concern for me, explained Burch. I have drop down doors on the windows which allow for good air flow. It makes me so mad to see people driving down the road hauling a horse trailer that's all shut up, and they're sitting in the truck with the air conditioning on. You have to be aware of the outside temperature while you're driving. You may comfortable, but the conditions might be very different for your horse.

She also has tight woven screens on each window to prevent any debris from entering the horse's space.

I really worry about someone throwing out a cigarette and having it blow into the trailer. The screens prevent this. The screens also help to keep bystanders away from your horses when you stop. Believe me, strangers will come up to your trailer and lift their kids right up to your horse's face without thinking about the danger of that. It's best to have your horse and the public protected.

She joins her professional colleagues in giving the utmost attention to her horses health and comfort.

My trailers have nice deep feeders so I can free feed while I travel. I use a good grade grass hay.

Hay is a great pacifier for a traveling horse, but research suggests not feeding grain during a long distance trip. Stress can effect gut function leaving grain to sit and ferment. This could lead to colic or laminitis.

Burch routinely gives her horses electolytes which not only helps hydrate them, but also helps them adapt to changes in weather.

I always make sure they are drinking. I usually check every 4 - 6 hours depending on the weather, she said. If I find one not drinking I'll try using a syringe to get some water in him. If he still won't drink, I'll unload him if it's safe, let him walk around, and offer again. Water is the most critical factor while traveling. Dehydration can easily lead to colic.

Her trailers have good mats and she also adds six inches of sawdust.

I always clean out my trailers when I get home. I remove all the feed so that they have completely fresh feed for the next trip. I make sure the trailer is clean and dry. Of course they will almost always immediately urinate on the clean shavings just to aggravate me, she laughed.

All my horses are good haulers. That's because I pay special attention to my driving style. Bad haulers come from a bad trailer experience. When I was about 16 I was a bit of a hotrodder. I liked speed. My dad saw me driving a horse trailer that way one day so he taught me an important lesson, she recalled.

He put me in a two-horse trailer, and drove me around for awhile back there using my driving style. I'll tell you I was bounced around so badly it bruised the heck out of me. From then on I drove a lot differently.

You also need to drive defensively, more so than without a trailer. I guarantee someone is going to pull out in front of you at some point so always expect it. Give yourself plenty of room to stop and drive slower. Basically it's Ôtrust no one, assume the worst, and adjust for it.

Burch also promotes having a flight plan for any long trip, not just the route, but an emergency plan, too.

Horse people are always going to help you out if you have a problem on the road. If you are involved with any kind of horse organization, make sure you check the membership directory before you leave so you have people you can call along the way for help if you break down or if you need a vet.

Carol and Ray Belmore -- Happy Trails

Show folks aren't the only ones hitting the road. Carol and Ray Belmore of Skull Valley, Arizona have participated in the AQHA Ride Program since 1997, and have already enjoyed the trail on 25 rides. Although Carol has had horses all her life, and is a racing Quarter Horse breeder, hauling to distant trails was new to her (they also haul their mules for rides, and their entourage includes a goat named Tuesday).

The AQHA Ride Program has been great for bolstering membership. Before this program started the AQHA was centered on racing and showing. There really weren't any programs for the majority of owners who are trail and recreational riders.

Carol is on the AQHA Affiliates Council which is a resource organization concerned with helping programs, recruiting new members and assisting in grant writing. The AQHA approached the Belmores asking if they would help promote the new trail riding program.

We felt if we believed in the importance of this type of program we better get out and support it. We traveled extensively that first year, explained Carol.

The Belmores preparation of their horses for travel is similar to their professional counterparts. Carol stresses the importance of worming, but cautions that it should not be done while you are traveling.

You want to do your worming at least three days before you travel because the worming itself can cause stress on their systems. I worm religiously every eight weeks.

Electrolytes are an important part of her program as well as a handy supply of water from home.

Some horses won't drink unfamiliar water. If you aren't bringing water from home electrolytes can help flavor the water to make it more palpable.

We carry a large plastic water tank so that we can carry a good supply of water wherever we go, she said. We carry water even on short trips because you never know when you might break down, and not be anywhere near a water source. We do the same with feed because it's always better to have a little extra than not enough, she added.

If you are going to be at a show for lengthy period and it's not practical to carry enough water from home, you can flavor the horseÕs home water a few days before you leave with a bit of soda, and then add this to water on the road. Soda can also be rubbed on the gums of a horse to encourage him to drink. If a traveling horse refuses to drink after 12 hours, consult a veterinarian immediately.

I also like to put a small salt block in the manger,explained Carol. Since we are from the Southwest where temperatures can soar into triple digits, we need to be especially careful about keeping our animals hydrated.'

During warm weather fly season she also makes sure she sprays her horses before she loads to help protect from any hitch hiking pests that could make the trip miserable.

Carol recommends consulting your vet before you attempt any long distance trip.

I would ask your vet about carrying a tranquilizer in case of emergency as long as you are comfortable giving an injection, and know exactly when it's appropriate to use it.

She and Ray travel in an Exiss four-horse with living quarters. Carol has found that the living area easily pays for itself in savings on room rentals.

Self-contained trailer units have become very sophisticated. Anything you can get in an RV is available in horse trailers. Fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms with holding tanks (Carol suggested upgrading this), and air conditioning are among features that can be designed any way desired. Trailer dealers recommend with increased options that you carry either a generator, or a charging system (this operates from a specially installed plug on the tow vehicle to charge the trailer). Because of the increase in weight an electric or hydraulic jack is also recommended.

We like the concept of staying all together, all the time, added Carol. ÒIt also gives us the flexibility to stay in a variety of locations. We use a picket line for our horses so we don't need to find stables or stalls. I like the good old picket line best. The horses can lie down and move around. I don't recommend using portable or electric corrals unless you are in a remote area away from roads. A panicked horse can knock those down and end up on the road.

She also stresses that you need to introduce the picket line to the horse at home in a controlled situation. Although most horses will quickly adapt to a picket line, the road is no place try out a new experience.

We chose an aluminum trailer because it is cooler. Our trailer is set up with four roof vents one over each horse. This allows for a small amount of air circulation without a direct draft, and without stirring up sawdust, road dust and dried manure which can lead to respiratory problems.

I strongly recommend mats no matter what flooring the trailer has. Mats help to cushion the ride, and prevent a slippery surface caused by urine and manure. They should be at least 3/4 inch thick, she said.

I really want to emphasize the importance of routine trailer maintenance. It is so sad to hear a story about a horse going through a rotten floor when this is something that can so easily be prevented. You should check your floor before every trip, and also the general condition of the inside of the trailer. Make sure there are no jagged edges or broken parts.

A yearly check up with a reliable trailer service to check brakes, wheel bearings, axles, and overall condition of the trailer is important even for short trips.

Although much of what is needed for traveling is just common sense, there are many things about interacting with horses that require specific knowledge.

Carol gives credit to the clinicians who do so much to inform new riders about general safety, horse handling and trailering.

I was raised on a ranch so I had a lot of practical knowledge that I could apply to my traveling. Trainers like John Lyons and Pat Parelli have done so much to educate new horse owners about many of the things that some of us take for granted. I encourage anyone new to traveling to make use of their expertise whether it's by attending a clinic, or through their videos and books.

The Belmores, like most long distance travelers, use a slant load style trailer. Research supports the theory that horses prefer this stall configuration. Advances in trailer design have helped to develop wider, taller rigs that provide for more comfort without a significant increase in weight.

Weight is, however, a concern when matching your tow vehicle to your rig. If your long distance travel plans include packing more supplies, and maybe another horse and rider to buddy up for the road, you need to make sure you don't exceed the gross combination weight rating of your vehicle. Vehicles are rated for a limit on what they can haul. To avoid overtaxing the mechanical abilities of the vehicle, which would put the driver at greater risk of an accident, a fully loaded rig must not exceed the vehicle's specified limits. Hauling within the specified limits prevents compromising the ability to accelerate, steer and stop, and lateral stability. It also prolongs the life of the vehicle. Weight considerations include passengers, equipment, trailer, hitch, horses, tack and any other cargo on board. Consult the owner's manual or vehicle dealer for help in determining the vehicle's towing ability. Trailer features such as weight distributing hitches and anti-sway bars can help to further ensure a safe and steady ride.

What to pack

Ideally all your planning and preparation will prevent problems during a long trip, but, since life is far from ideal, what you bring along should reflect a concern for what if?

First aid kit (horse and human)

Emergency information folder (your name, address and telephone, who to contact to care for your animals in case you are incapacitated, name and number of your vet, any pertinent health information)

Fire extinguisher

extra halters and lead ropes

picket line with large cotton rope


grooming supplies



water buckets/feed bags



spare tack parts (reins, keepers, buckles, cinches, etc.)


reflective triangles (rather than flares, no fire danger)

spare tires/lug wrench

aerosol tire sealer

jack/tire iron or roll up block

basic tool kit ( you may want to add a few extra items like wire cutters, duct tape and WD 40)

wheel chocks

jumper cables

cell phone and emergency numbers

It's a good idea to have a packing check list to consult before you leave. When you've finally arrived at your destination it's no time to remember that your saddle is on the rack in the den where you lovingly cleaned it last night.

Trailer and vehicle just before you leave checklist

Check windshield wiper, brake, radiator and transmission fluid levels.

Adjust your side and rear view mirrors.

Check windows and vents for proper ventilation.

Double check hitch, breakaway cable, brake connection and chains.

Test your brakes, trailer lights and turn signals.

Check all your tires for proper inflation and overall condition.

Check your routes and weather conditions.

Make sure your horse is safely loaded with the butt bar in place and it's head properly tied.

Check that all doors and windows are securely latched (even that escape door you've never used).

The Road

Once you have your healthy, well trained, easy loading horse ready to travel in an immaculate, smooth riding, well ventilated and maintained trailer filled with water, feed, electrolytes, spare parts, and emergency gear, youÕre ready to deal with traffic, overnight accommodations, routes, and varying state regulations.

The Belmores have accumulated a wealth of travel information during the past few years that has helped them enjoy their involvement with the Ride Program.

You need to inform yourself about road regulations that can vary from state to state, explained Carol. In California, for example, you can only go 55 miles an hour when pulling a trailer.

The Automobile Club of America (AAA) has a road regulation pamphlet that outlines each state's requirements and state trailering laws are included in Cherry Hill's book Trailering Your Horse available at Arena Supply 1-800-317-3682.

Carol also recommends a checkup on your insurance coverage. Make sure your trailer is covered while being towed. Sometimes the fine print reveals that coverage does not include towing the trailer under certain conditions. Road service with companies like AAA also does not include your trailer. This service is available, but for an additional charge.

There are also health certificate requirements that vary from state to state. Most states require at least a negative Equine Infectious Anemia 'Coggins' test. Your local vet should have a catalog listing the regulations for every state. Become familiar with any travel restrictions imposed by state health agencies due to current disease outbreaks. There is a national veterinarian locator service (1-800-438-2386) to make advance inquiries about your destination. This is an informational, not an emergency, number.

Make sure all your vaccinations are up-to-date, especially tetanus, and those that help prevent respiratory ailments. They should be given at least two weeks prior to travel to assure effectiveness.

I like to keep all my horse records in a folder with clear sheets just like a show folder. That way you have easy access to all your horse's information should you be asked to show it, Carol added.

Another precaution is attaching emergency information to a horse's travel halter (leather is considered safer for travel) just in case he gets loose.

Navigating in unfamiliar territory while towing can be a frightening aspect of travel. Taking advantage of new technology, the Belmores have armed themselves with some handy travel tools. Carol carries a lap top computer with the Global Positioning System (GPS) installed that can be plugged into her vehicle's cigarette lighter. The GPS can plot exactly where you are, and what the next exit is. The GPS compact disk is available at most map stores and costs about $150. They also employ a Microsoft program called Trip Planner 2000.

It's great, said Carol. You can ask it questions about road conditions, exactly how long a trip should take, and traffic conditions. We carefully plan out our trips before we leave so we know what areas to avoid, and when and where we are going to stop. If we are staying at a facility or with friends we stay in close communication so we donÕt have any surprises. Email is great for that.

The Belmores recommend some resources to help find accommodations. The Horseman's Hotel Index and Horseman's Travel Directory are resources that help the traveler find stables as well as campgrounds, fairgrounds and roping arenas that are available for overnight stays. Information on these publications is available online. Another resource is the Nationwide Overnight Stabling Directory (316) 442-8131.

Another resource we have found helpful is the local Sheriff's Office. They often have mounted units so they have facilities that might accommodate the traveler, or they can recommend nearby facilities.

The Belmores prefer, if possible, to travel on the larger Interstate roads.

They are usually smoother riding which is easier on the horses, and the gas is cheaper. We always stop for gas at the truck stops on the Interstate -- it's much less than regular gas stations, she explained.

If you have a diesel truck you need to be aware of varying regulations on diesel fuel. For example in Arizona there is a special diesel tax, but, if you request it, you can get a refund for recreational travel.

Hitting the road for the show circuit, or traveling to experience spectacular new vistas from horseback should be adventures that make your heart beat faster with excitement not terror. Knowing that breakthroughs in the horse care industry, and advances in trailer and tow vehicle design provide for safer and more comfortable travel should help to put your mind at ease. The experience of legendary travelers, along with common sense and some research, can help transform you into a skilled and confident traveler.

Obtained through Rio Vista Products Website

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