Travelling with your horse in bad weather conditions should be avoided. If, however it is unavoidable, e.g. in the event of a medical emergency, then your main priorities should be to maintain your horse’s health and safety. Planning ahead is the name of the game!
Travelling with your horse in bad weather conditions or in severe wintry conditions increases the risks for your horse and the driver. The most important challenge will be to ensure your horse’s health and safety while travelling. Your journey will require more planning than when travelling in calm conditions, and common sense; you will need to balance the need for meeting a schedule with the hazards of transporting your horse to it’s destination.
Having a horse that is easy to load and unload calmly even in the worst weather conditions is going to be a great advantage, it will save a lot of stress and time out in the cold. Safety is paramount, check the ramp is clean and not slippery and is in good condition; make sure you have a safe area to do the loading and unloading, if possible in an area that in a well-lit and dry, and make sure there are no distractions, tie back any swinging doors or windows.
Checking the weather forecast is essential, you will need to know what to expect, including the road conditions; it is wise to have an alternative route in case roads become impassable. You will need to plan for stops; these locations need to have accommodation for horses and yourself. Call ahead at various locations to check availability if you think you might need to stop. If you are prepared and know when extreme weather is on it’s way, you will be able to get your horse off the road and into a safe environment – don’t forget your horse’s best interests are of the utmost importance.
A trailer or lorry will keep your horse sheltered from the wind, rain, snow or hail, so there is no need to shut your horse in a trailer without opening windows. Your horse will need adequate ventilation and will need to be kept at the right temperature.
Without proper ventilation, condensation builds up and your horse will end up breathing in this moisture which can lead to various respiratory problems. As well as keeping the back windows open in a trailer, air vents in the roof also help keep the air moving. If your trailer/lorry has sliding windows, make sure these are functioning so they can be opened a bit at a time depending on how warm it starts to get inside; the windows should also have screens to stop any rain, snow, etc from coming in.
Horses thrive in cooler conditions (12°C), so you will need to make sure that your horse does no become overheated, this is more of a problem than getting a chill. Trailers/lorries soon become warm, increasing the humidity resulting in your horse sweating more than usual, leading to increased fluid loss. The more horses there are travelling together, the warmer it will get. Deciding on what type of rug or sheet your horse wears while travelling is an important factor. Many people tend to put too heavy a rug on their horse when travelling in cold weather which only adds to their discomfort – match the warmth of the rug or sheet to the temperature outside, the horse’s coat and how many horses are travelling together. Check under the rugs regularly, if your horse is sweating under his rug then he is too hot.
Keeping your horse well hydrated is also very important as dehydration can occur in very hot and very cold weather. In hot weather, travelling horses sweat and lose large volumes of fluid; in cold weather horses tend to drink much less water (5-8 litres/day instead of 10-20 litres/day in hot weather) and can lose significant amounts of water trying to moisten cold dry winter air. In extreme cases electrolytes should be given to horses, these contain salt and minerals which replace essential elements lost in sweat and encourage horses to drink more. When travelling hydration is essential to health, so plan to stop every few hours to let your horse drink; some horses do not like drinking very cold water, so providing your horse with warm/tepid water may encourage him to drink. It is a good idea to take a supply of your horse’s usually water with you since tastes and smells differ between water sources and some horses are particular. If you have to feed your horse on a trip, mix the feed with water or offer a wet mash as another method of increasing water intake.
Weather conditions can drastically change the way you drive. Heavy rain means muddy, wet and flooded roads; snow will cause slippery and icy conditions with reduced visibility; wind will cause excess movement of the trailer/lorry and hamper your control. When driving in any of these conditions the safest way is the slowest way! You will need to continuously check the performance of your trailer/lorry, make sure you have checked the brakes and always use the safety chains when you hitch up, if your primary hitch fails at least the trailer will remain firmly hitched to your car. Covering the trailer hitch with a plastic bag will prevent it becoming covered in ice or snow
Although driving in snowy and icy conditions is not a good idea, if you have to, use tyre chains; tyre chains will provide a bit of a rough ride for your horse, so using chains on the brake wheels on a trailer or the rear wheels on a lorry should be adequate – they will certainly help to prevent fishtailing!
Make a checklist
If you have done the research and correct planning for travelling in bad weather conditions, you can keep your horse and yourself safe and healthy. Making a checklist of things you need to take with you and things you need to do before you go, will help ensure this is the case:
- Breakdown insurance
- Contact information and directions for accommodation
- Emergency contact information
- Plan an alternative route
- Research the weather
- Service your trailer/lorry, don’t forget the tyre pressure!
When travelling in bad weather conditions you have to think of all eventualities. In addition to your usual travelling kit, consider taking the following items:
- Additional rugs/sheets
- Bag of sand – useful for spreading on a slippery surface when loading your horse or for traction if the trailer/lorry gets stuck in mud or snow
- Extra head collars and lead ropes
- Extra hay and bedding
- Extra water
- Flashlights and batteries
- Ice scraper
- Mobile phone with extra battery and charger
- Tyre chains