Travelling – safety first!

Transport of horses is a common practice, involving individuals and groups of animals over short, medium and long distances. When you travel with your horse, the most important thing is that you both arrive safely at your destination. Preparation before you travel will ensure you both travel safely and confidently.

There are various modes of horse transport, they most commonly include the following:

  • Horsebox (float) – carry 1-3 horses.
  • Trailer – carry 2-3 horses.
  • Lorry – carry 4-6 horses.
  • Purpose-built vehicle with separate compartments – can carry up to 9 horses.

Forward planning is the key to a safe journey. Follow this checklist and you should have a smooth journey:

  • Has your horsebox been serviced and is it in good condition?
  • Check the usual things you would normally check if you were going on a journey in your car – petrol, oil, water, tyres, lights, etc.
  • Make sure your spare tyre is also in good condition.
  • Have you got a Jack and do you know how to use it?
  • Make sure you have the necessary emergency equipment, including: torch, spare batteries, jump leads, water for radiator, fire extinguisher, etc. A mobile phone is a good idea, particularly if you are travelling on your own.
  • Make sure that you have the following items in the horsebox tool kit: crowbar, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrenches, etc.
  • Ensure your first aid kit is fully kitted out with supplies for both horses and humans.
  • Kit yourself out with supplies if you breakdown in particularly cold weather, eg blankets, sleeping bags and emergency food supplies.
  • Be a member of a breakdown service – it will reduce stress and inconvenience if you have a problem.

You then need to prepare the inside of the horsebox and make the following checks:

  • The loading area has been checked for any objects that could cause injury to your horse.
  • The horsebox has fresh straw or sawdust on the floor – this makes the vehicle look more inviting to the horse.
  • There is a full haynet tied securely to the front of the horsebox in easy reach of your horse. Do not tie it up above the horse’s head, ideally just below head level.
  • The windows and vents are all in working order – open them for a while to ventilate the horsebox, particularly if the weather is warm. Good ventilation in the horsebox during hot and humid weather is essential – keep the vents fully open.
  • Your horse must be able to stand it its natural position, so make sure that the minimum height of the horsebox is 1.98 m.
  • To make loading your horse less stressful, make sure that the ramp slope is no steeper than 25° and provide secure footings on the ramp, eg battens to prevent slipping.

Now you can prepare the rest of the equipment you will need for your horse, including:

  • Buckets for food and water.
  • Extra water, hay and haynets – carry as much water from home as possible, horses can taste the difference and may be reluctant to drink if the water is different.
  • First aid kit.
  • Grooming kit.
  • Tack and rugs.

First of all you need to make sure that your horse is fit for travelling. As well as being in good health your horse should also be up-to-date with all necessary vaccinations and worming. It is also a good idea to make sure you have practised loading your horse into a horsebox before you travel, so both you and your horse are relaxed, this will mean less chance of delays or hesitation on the day.

Horses need to be protected by various items of clothing when they travel. Travelling is a stressful experience, both mentally and physically, for a horse, so the more comfortable you can make it the better. Your horse should be kitted out with the following:

  • Travelling boots or bandages.
  • Tail guard.
  • Poll guard.
  • Travelling rug.

Optional extras include:

  • Fly mask.
  • Knee boots.
  • Hock boots.
  • Over-reach boots.

Allow yourself plenty of travelling time – its surprising how long a 30 minute car journey can take with a horsebox. Make sure you know your route, take a map and plan your pit-stops if necessary. For short journeys of 1-2 hours, it probably isnt necessary to have a pit-stop, although if you feel that your horse has become stressed, he may start to kick or stamp around, you just might have to!

While you are driving make sure that any acceleration or deceleration is made gradually and that you take corners slowly and carefully – your horse wont appreciate being jerked around the horsebox, in fact a horse uses muscles that he usually wouldn’t use in ordinary circumstances, so the easier you are on the breaks and accelerator the better.

If you are considering a journey longer than 2 hours, plan to take pit-stops at least every 2 hours for 15 minutes or so, this gives you time to check on your horse and the horsebox. Check that your horse is not too hot or has broken into a nervous sweat. You should also check that your horse has been urinating regularly. In extreme circumstances you may need to unload your horse, calm and cool him down. Offer your horse some water and fill up the hay net again if necessary. Keeping the horse hydrated during long journeys is essential. Clean away any droppings and check his clothing is all in place. If your journey is going to be longer than a days drive, it would be wise to stop somewhere overnight, or unload your horse for at least an hour of exercise or grazing before continuing your journey.

While travelling some horses can be prone to ‘scrambling’ (loss of balance, sometimes referred to as ‘claustrophobic behaviour’).

The problem with scrambling or panic due to loss of balance can be avoided by ensuring that horses are given as much space as possible to adopt a braced posture during transportation. This is helped by having half length, rather than full (to the floor), partitions so that the horse is supported but not confined in terms of the surface area it can use to spread its fore and hindlegs. Scrambling will often develop in horses that are inexperienced travellers, and/or where driving methods are poor, e.g. fast cornering, abrupt braking and gear changes.

To accustom a horse to the relative confinement of the transport experience prior to being loaded, it is worthwhile gradually confining the horse in the horse trailer or lorry whilst it is being fed. The first few journeys should be kept short, and careful observation of the horses stance and demeanour, along with checking for any scramble marks on the lower walls of the trailer or lorry (paint scratches, dents, etc), can be used to determine how well the horse is adapting to the changing forces imposed upon it by the movement of the vehicle.

Where a horse has developed a problem with loss of balance or panic, it may be helpful to change the internal layout of the trailer or lorry so that the horse is given more room to spread its legs, whilst ensuring that there is good body support, for example through the use of padding on the inside of the half-length partitions. Sometimes it can be helpful to change the direction the horse faces during transit (rear-face transport will encourage a shift in weight loading as well as potentially reducing any fear the horse may have of falling forward when the driver brakes or gear shifts).

The main thing is to protect the horse from injuring itself through the use of good travel boots (as long as this does not make the problem worse), and to deal with the problem as quickly as possible so that this does not cause the horse to fear transport and so become a problem loader.

On arrival lead your horse out of the horsebox, check him over to make sure he has no cuts or bruises and let him get some exercise for a good hour or so before putting him in a stable.

Now its your turn to do some hard work! The horsebox will need cleaning, inside and out and left to dry. Regular maintenance of your horsebox is essential – make sure it is always fully serviced.