Horse Trailer driving in mountains

Whether you trail ride, compete, head to warmer climates or need to haul to a veterinary specialist, there are many reasons to know how to keep you and your horses safe and comfortable on the road. European horse people marvel at the distances Americans travel with our horses in the U.S. A two-day drive from England to the South of France is about the most they ever need to go. In the U.S., people travel from California to the East Coast for a hotbed of competitions, or travel south to ride in the winter to avoid cold and snow in the northern parts of the U.S.

After a few longer trips to Kentucky, northern Montana, Arizona, and many “locally” such as Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas and Utah, here are 16 things to know as you globetrot with your horses:

1. Shipping boots (go from the ground up over their knees/hocks) or standing wraps? Depends. Is your horse alone or with more horses in the trailer? If they are with other horses and the divider does not go to the floor, they can step on each other while balancing, so yes, they need shipping boots that go from the floor to over their knee/hock. Does your horse kick or paw in the trailer? Then yes. Does the divider go all the way to the floor? In this case, if your horse does not paw or kick, it is up to you. If it is hot out, I opt for no boots to keep their legs cool, but bell boots to keep them from stepping on themselves. Although, if my horse competed that morning and then has a 10-hour trailer ride, I will use liniment and then wrap with standing wraps.

2. Bedding or no bedding, and how deep? Bedding should be deep enough to absorb urine and poop without getting slippery. I have heard some very experienced horsemen bed their horses with 12-18 inches of shavings in the trailer for cushioning and leg protection with no wraps. About 6-8 inches of shavings seems to work for us.

3. Level trailer: Make sure your trailer is riding level on its tires. Not only does it help your tire wear, your horse is not constantly working to stay forward and can just ride with the regular shifting of the road.

4. Must-have tools: 1.) Trailer tire ramp such as Trailer Aid where, if you have a flat on your trailer, you can drive the good tire up on the ramp without unloading. Don’t forget to loosen the lugs first! 2.) Impact wrench with rechargeable battery and deep socket set to fit truck and trailer lug nuts. This is new for me, but I had a flat on my truck and there was no way the cross bar was going to loosen the lug nuts. Fortunately we were at a competition and someone drove by and said, “Here. You need this.” She handed us a bag with the impact wrench with a 7/8 inch deep socket and voila! It was like butter. 3.) Floor jack ideally rated for the weight of your truck or at least a bottle jack. Floor jacks are not small, but if you ever needed to get under a truck or trailer with a very flat tire, you will be thanking your lucky stars you had it. Bottle jacks are easy to carry and very versatile. Don’t depend only on the jack that comes with your truck.

5. Spare tire or three? We typically have the one spare tire, but on a long trip consider at least one more. What if you run over something on the road that flattens both tires on one side? Maybe you can limp to the next town on one, but that may be 200 miles away!

6. Leaving your trailer in a sketchy place: The easiest solution is to leave your trailer hooked to your vehicle with a padlock through the part you usually have a pin through that holds the ball in a bumper pull or gooseneck, and don’t forget the pin attaching your receiver to your truck. They make those with locks as well. Even with ball locks, trailers get stolen with the chains. A boot on your trailer tire is the best insurance if you have to leave it. If you are staying in it, that is ideal, or leave in a well lit area with lots of activity. Make sure your trailer is insured as well along with your vehicle.

7. When and how often to stop: We all want to get to our destination, including the horses. Stop for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours. Horses typically don’t urinate or drink much while you are moving. While you are getting fuel, fill their water buckets to 2/3, replenish hay bags and make sure they look happy—looking around, eating, alert. Once you are refueled, roll up to a good spot to take the dogs out or whatever you need to do and let the horses have a break from moving. Love’s Truck Stop is your friend. We look for Love’s on the road because they have clean bathrooms, decent food, snacks and plenty of parking. The “Trucker Path” app also rates truck stops and you can look for them in the areas you want to stop

8. Watering: Some of the water is going to spill, of course, if you are able to hang buckets, but keep an eye on consumption. If your horse drinks pretty good on the road, especially when you stop, just keep them at about 2/3 and check again before you head out after a stop. My horses love the Horse Quencher product, so I put a couple handfuls in their bucket and they drink to get to the bottom. Not all like it though so try it before you go. There are a lot of tips to search up on getting your horse to drink when you are away if you need more ideas. Start ahead of a big trip if you can and see what they like.

9. Feeding: I keep my horses on their regular grain schedule. Because I use pelleted feed, it is easy to soak it for a short time and get more liquids in them.

10. Tying: If you tie them, they should be loose enough to lower their head and cough or they can be untied as well. I have seen a few horses that are shipped from overseas and then they get on the ground transport with their heads cross tied with 2 chains. They can’t lower their heads, they get tired and after all that travel with their heads up, they end up with shipping fever.

11. Travel halter that breaks: I hate to mention it, but in the case of an accident, you want the halter to break or be easily cut. If they have their head, I don’t see padding as necessary.

12. Front facing, slant, forward or backward, or stall? Trailers that convert into stalls are very nice to have, but after a cross-country trip with two horses in two stalls, I can tell you that at least those two horses stood facing each other against the same wall, unless we stopped. It is definitely easy to get in and feed and water. Why rear facing? When it is windy, horses put their rear end to the wind. While rear facing, road debris is not flying in their faces and if you have a rear facing slant load, most of the time, the horses are looking at the quiet side of the road, not the traffic. Many European horse boxes ride the horses rear facing and now the U.S. trailer companies are starting to make more rear facing trailers. Stock trailers are a great option where the horses can ride front or rear facing. I used to have a 4-horse stock and had the front two horses face backward and the horse in the back face forward so they were all facing each other which they seemed to be happy with. Front and rear facing straight loads have a similar feel. A stock slant load gives you the option of having the horses ride rear facing as well. Riding in the trailer rear facing is more natural and horses arrive at their destination less stressed and fatigued.

13. Where does your horse overnight? There are some great spots to be found to stop on, but depending on your route, local fairgrounds are very inexpensive and in good locations near hotels and restaurants. Call ahead. Ask local people you know. Recently, I called around to local boarding stables and found out that their fairgrounds was a great place to stay. If it is a downpour or blizzard, many have stalls, but if the weather is decent, it is nice for the horses to stay in a big pen where they can move around.

14. Caravan! When you are headed to a competition, you may know others headed the same direction. Keep an eye out for others on the road in trouble. Better yet, make a plan with people you know. Find out when they are leaving and keep in touch on the road. Thanks to technology, a great way to keep track of each other is to share your location with each other on your phone. That way it’s easy to see where each other is even if you are a bit apart.

15. Insurance? As you likely know, AAA will not help you with your horses. Then there is US Rider for people with vehicles and horse trailers. Personally, I have had US Rider and have tried to use them three different times, and each situation was a total failure by US Rider. I know several people with similar stories. I am not saying that in the odd situation it wouldn’t help, but I can pretty much guarantee that you will be waiting there so long for any help from them, you will wish that you just had the tools you needed to take care of the problem yourself. Be prepared, have the right tools for most any situation, communicate with others, be resourceful and trust in other local horse people if you need to.

16. Maintain your trailer regularly. The bearings need to be attended to yearly, not necessarily because of use, but because of the life of the grease. Have your brakes checked and rotate your tires even if the tire people think you are weird. It matters. Check your lights and tires before each trip. Make sure your spare tire(s) are in good order. Clean out your trailer after each trip to keep out moisture and corrosion. Pay special attention to the floors to make sure the boards, mats or whatever material you have has no chance of holes, rotting or softening, even in wet weather.

Traveling distances with your horse does not need to be intimidating. There are so many amazing places in the U.S. to enjoy with your horse and your friends. As with many things in life, you need to take the first step and get prepared. Preparation leads to confidence. If you need assistance getting the correct tools, adjusting your brakes or even with being able to drive and back your trailer safely and confidently, please email me at [email protected]. I am here to help. Don’t forget to print this out and keep it in your horse trailer for reference.

Heather McWilliams © 2022