I actually get asked about traveling with a horse somewhat frequently. It is not really surprising as horses are as captivating subject matter now as they were hundreds of years ago and well, I get asked about all kinds of horse stuff all the time from non horse people.
I was asked specifically the other day by a dear friend, “So what does traveling for him FEEL like???” Literally, what does it feel like for the Lito Man to be in the trailer and travel. What does it feel like for him? No wonder I love this person!
Anyway, I thought some of you might also like to hear and see what it is actually like since it is a big part of the travel experience. You know, sharing the whole picture like I like to do and I have yet to really do that with this kind of travel. This is how we get there and back and then, yes, I will share about my hill country ride! In order to know how it feels for him, one has to also know what it looks like. Visualization is key to a lot of things with horses.
Just like everything else in life, there are many ways to ‘skin a cat,’ as they say. This is just how I do it these days based on my horses and experience. Horse travel can vary from discipline to discipline, from state to state, and from country to country. It can also vary different times of year or even with different distances.
There are some things that always apply. Trailers are generally always hotter than the ambient temperature and air movement is key. It is also generally not very fun or comfortable to ride in a trailer. There are things one can do to make it better, outside of being able to have the best and biggest trailer, and I generally try to do what I can.
What I am about to show you is what we do when we are going to be gone for over a week. If I am just hauling 45 minutes down the road with little to no traffic to ride with friends for half a day, we just grab a hay net, my med and grooming totes, treats of course, my horse’s tack, load up and go. It is different when you’re going to be hauling long distances and staying away for a while.
The one thing that is universal no matter when or where, is that horses require a lot of stuff!
I tend to approach packing in stages. First I have a list started. Then I pull the majority of stuff and put it all into piles. The piles themselves generally depend on where they are going to be packed and when they are going to be needed throughout the time away. I try to pull most of what I need a weekend or two in advance and I try to pack and load it all except the last things a weekend in advance. This keeps me from getting stressed and running out of time. That is another universal horse thing, everything takes more time than you think and that is without hiccups. I am better at packing for my horse than I am for myself, but hey, we are all works in progress.
How do you like my tack room packing job? It is always fun to me to get it all in there in an orderly manner. Adult Tetris, you know.
I forgot about taking any pictures of half way through packing the tack room so you could see everything, but you will just have to imagine it yourself from the fully packed version. Whenever I pack for a long ride with this much stuff in the tack room it makes me think of the movie Eerin Go Bragh: The Little Horse That Could that came with the Breyer model horse. Anyone know about him? Apparently he has his own Wiki page! Anyway, I digress.
The trailer itself never goes anywhere without a few things no matter if it is just a day trip or if we are going to be gone for a week.
The mounting block for starters. I need it to mount the tack room itself in addition to my horse! You think I am kidding, but I am not! Stepping up in there gets old and tiring after a while, especially with a western saddle. This mounting block, which is over 20 years old by the way, is the exact perfect height for this trailer by happy accident. You can open and close the door without moving the block. Lito is also 16.3 hh, so a mounting block is nice for the both of us.
A copy of every horse’s Coggins and other health papers hangs in the trailer in sheet protectors (I also have a full set of copies in my truck at all times). I just update them every year when we get our updated copies. Two bag chairs never leave the trailer as you never know when you are going to need or want to have a sit down! Our travel panels also live in in the tack room there, bungeed to the wall. They fit perfectly there without taking up too much room and I generally only use them when we travel.
If a horse goes in the trailer, so goes the medical kit. I was once going to do a post on my med kit (I upgraded and revamped it in 2020) because it is an important subject that many horse owners do not even realize, but I never did get around to it. I might do it if there is some interest, but the point is, in my opinion, wherever a horse is, there needs to be a medical kit. I have all kinds of stuff in there: electrolytes, Bute, Banamine, wound and other ointments/sprays/medications, gloves, gauze, vet wrap, duct tape, scissors and clamps, twitch, thermometer, needles and syringes, hoof pick, flash light, etc. You just never know what can happen and when, especially with horses, so it is just better to be prepared.
Of course, horse or not, you need to have all tools to change a tire in addition to other road safety supplies, including whatever you need to unhook and park the trailer. I travel with an impact wrench (man, I will tell you, you will never want to change a tire any any other way than with an impact wrench!), both a Trailer Helper (metal) and Trailer Aid (plastic) ramp jacks, wheel chocks, tire pressure gauge, air compressor and battery charger, and trailer hitch lock. I also have a milk crate basket full of other road safety like flares and lamps etc. Don’t forget a fire extinguisher! I also have a fire blanket in there.
Treats are also very important. Just ask any horse! If a horse goes in the trailer, treats are coming along, even if we are not riding. Some people do not agree here, but again, this is just what I do. He gets one when he gets in the trailer. I ride with treats in my pocket and he gets some too when we get back. I keep a mixed variety of treats in a tub right by the door under the travel panels for easy access.
Feed and hay are a large part of the packing with horse travel, no matter how or what you feed. Horses eat a lot! Now, you can see a bag of alfalfa cubes and a bag of feed there right up front. Normally, I have it packed on the far wall of the tack room, but because we had a layover at a different place the weekend before the ride, I wanted Lito’s feed at easy access without having to unpack anything. Many people pre pack each day’s feeding in bags. I have done that before and I do like the ease of it. However, I prefer to be able to alter feedings as needed given my experience with Lito.
In addition to the alfalfa cubes and feed, he gets coastal hay. This is where it starts to get a little complicated. I always over pack on hay and feed because, again, you just never know. (Are you catching on to a theme yet?) I had three bales in the back of my truck under the bed cover and two bales in bale bags in the tack room. I also had shavings both in the back of my truck and in the tack room. I knew when we got to the ride, I was going to need some shavings when I got Lito set up in his pen and that I could leave the two bales in bags by his pen for easy feeding until they were gone, so those things would be out of the tack room for the week along with the muck rake and wheel barrow. A muck rake always lives in the trailer, but I also brought along a wheelbarrow so I could muck out Lito’s pen. This way I would have enough room in there to move around and just grab hay and shavings out of the back of the truck, where they could still be covered, as needed. I also had all my water and feed buckets in the back of the truck. Additionally, I pre loaded hay nets to have in the back of the trailer ready to go. He got one to have while we were in transit and the rest were ready for the weekend layover and his short trailer ride over to the ride camp so I would not have to break open a bale over the weekend before we were stationary.
Horses are meant to graze 17 out of 24 hours a day and it is really important for them to have access to forage as much as possible. Hay in the trailer is a non negotiable for me, no matter how short the ride. They is is good for their digestive tracts, but it is also a de-stressor while they are in the trailer. I also usually hang a hay net while I groom before I ride and Lito really seems to appreciate his grooming hay net.
For longer trips away from home, I feed electrolytes and probiotics beginning a few days before travel and for a couple days after we arrive somewhere just to be sure he is staying hydrated and everything is working. Again, this is just what I do. Part of it is me and my worries, but it is also Lito and how he handles the hauling. I have just learned by trying that this is what works for him.
Obviously, we are going there to ride, so we need Lito’s tack. I generally pack two of everything. I have a few reasons for this. One, the good old standard of just in case. Are you catching on? You never know if something might break or be in disrepair. Things also change when you are riding long distances and over terrain. If you need to change something up because of fit or wear, you can. You also never know if your bestie, R, (or yourself) is going to forget something and between the two of you, you will have it all covered. I only brought one saddle this time (I have brought more than one before), but I have three saddle pads, two saddle blankets, two cinches, two flank cinches, two pulling collars (breast collar), two full bridles, two rope halters and leads. I do not lunge Lito all that often anymore, but I always bring a line and whip with me, especially when we will be gone for more than just a day trip to a place we have not been to a bunch. I keep extra straps and tack repair equipment in my trunk of ‘extras.’
The trunk of extras also has a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in it that I do not need all the time, but you bring because you just never know. Leg wraps and boots, pillows and standing wraps, tarps, fly or regular sheet, hose (which, I actually have the hose hanging there on the hooks on the long wall). Lito’s regular sheet I actually have there on the top saddle rack. Why do you ask? We had our first fall front arrive our first night away. Go figure! At home I would not have sheeted him, but I generally will sheet him if it gets into the mid fifties (F) or below if we are away from the farm. Again, just to keep him that little bit more comfortable and warm to make sure everything is happy and working.
I also bring along a saddle stand when it is not just a day trip so I can let things dry and air out in the open air or in the back of the trailer or if I just want more room in the tack/dressing room) as this trailer does not have a back tack. We had the permanent back tack taken out when we purchased this trailer to be able to take the dividers out to have the ability to use it as a cattle trailer when we need it.
I, of course, have my groom tote (I am not a one brush kind of gal, OK, there are many and it is a process). There are three important items that I keep in my grooming tote other than my actual grooming tools. Mouth butter, essential oils, and Rescue Remedy flower essence. Lito’s overall demeanor and attitude really benefits from having his lips and bit well greased in addition to pre ride calming oils and some drops of Rescue Remedy. Where the Lito goes, so go these things.
I also bring along my bathing kit. I do not really do full shampoo baths that often anymore, but you just never know when you are going to need or want to! He might have wallowed in mud after some rain. I also bring along a pair of saddle bags, usually horn bags, but I rarely use them on this group ride. We have many stops and support, so they are not really needed.
The most important thing about traveling with a horse next to making sure your vehicle and trailer are safe and road ready, is to not be in a rush or stressed. I can not stress this enough. Being rushed or stressed, or both, is a surefire way to make sure things do not go right with your horse, especially when a trailer is involved.
Some non-horse people might wonder just why this is fun at this point, and I might have had a fleeting thought while packing that your wonders might be right…especially seeing it all written down! EXCEPT. Look at that farm sunrise!
Enjoy the pretty sunrise! It really is not as bad as it sounds and it gets easier the more you do it.
Pack early, have everything on your list, have a plan and routine in place (the routine here works wonders for the horses and for you too. I can not stress this enough either…or the med kit), and give yourself plenty of time.
I was able to enjoy my coffee and sunrise after packing a few final things in the truck before I had to get Lito ready and loaded.
Just wait until you see the between the ears shots from the ride and you will know one of the main reasons why we do this!
Ahhh, so pretty, right!?
You want to know what is also pretty? Or handsome, rather? My Lito man!
Just look at my by in all his glory! No, I am not actually speaking to his get up or his lovely package he just left on the ground (poop is always good with horses!). I am talking about his fall coat! His fall dun dapples just smack me! And this is them without anything but a quick brush with only ONE dirty barn brush and a spritz of fly spray (obviously his mane and tail got a good spray and brush out).
Anyway, as you can see, getting him ready for a long drive is a little bit of a process for us. There are some that just load their horse up straight out of the pasture and have no worries or troubles. That is just not for us. Hauling concerns Lito some and I like to do whatever I can to keep him comfortable and safe.
First, he wears a Hidez compression hood mask under a fly mask. The Hidez mask helps to activate certain pressure points to aid in relaxation and reducing anxiety (he actually ripped a hole in it somehow and I am trying to decide if I should get another one or try something new). I actually used to ride him in it some when he was younger and he really responded well to it. He really does seem to like it and puts his face in it himself. The fly mask is to protect his eyes from flying road debris and hay from inside the trailer. He wears a padded sheepskin leather halter for head protection mainly because he is so tall and I do not have a warmblood sized trailer. I used to make him wear a helmet cap and actually, the helmet also lives in the trailer…just in case. I do not like to use leg boots or wraps while hauling (or overly much in general) as they generally cause too much heat to build up in the legs and that is not good for the tissues. I do however like to put bell boots on all around in case he steps on himself or feels the need to paw etc. while in transit. I do wrap his tail with a padded wrap to protect the hairs from rubbing and to keep it clean. This last bit is not generally as important right now because I do not have the dividers in the trailer.
He really is too big to shut him into the trailer stall with the dividers. He would really rub his tail and rump coat out otherwise. When I did have the dividers in, he would ‘be’ in the middle stall and I would secure the divider open so he was not a sardine. Without the dividers though, he has the room to stand how he likes (straight on the left side) and balance as he needs to. I like to tie him loose enough so he can carry his head the way he wants, but at the same time, tight enough so he does not move too much and throw us all around. He is a big boy, bigger than photos make him look.
Many people also do not realize how much physical work it is for a horse standing in trailer while moving. This is what is actually FEELS like for the horse. It can be hard and exhausting! A workout itself. It is not just standing there. It is work to balance the entire time. If you have ever ridden in the back of a long vehicle or even in a trailer, I am sure you noticed how much it moves you around back there. Conscientious, steady, and smooth driving (accelerating and decelerating) and turning is key to making it as pleasant as possible for the horse, but there is still a lot of moving going on requiring constant balancing. I think that some horses with loading issues actually have issues with how they are being driven.
I know some people probably make fun of me for putting all of this on him, but you know what? I do not care. This is what works for us and what I feel he needs and what I need. And we are the only two in this equation. He is not just my horse. He is my best friend, my buddy, my baby. I want him not only looking good, but feeling good.
The total drive to our weekend layover was about four hours and I planned a nice stop at our half way point at a large tack store. He got to rest and I got to shop! I have stopped there with R several times in years past on our way to this annual ride and I think the horses do appreciate the rest. If the drive was any longer than this, I would likely offer water while I was inside. This is one the reasons I give electrolytes for a few days before long travels, so I know he is well hydrated through the trip and when we arrive. Some horses will not drink when offered water on the road.
We arrived at our layover, a friend’s ranch, a little delayed due to road construction, but Lito seemed happy enough. He was glad to be there and stretch his legs a bit and to have a pee (sorry to be vulgar again!). We only had to wait about 45 minutes for our other friend and her horse to arrive. Lito was not bothered to be alone, but he really fell in love quick with my friend’s mare! He has met her several times before and has been stalled next to her in previous years, but he decided he was a Spanish stallion trying to impress her and get her attention. She was however, not impressed and did not pay him any mind.
When we were all settled, we fed the horses and enjoyed the sunset after dinner.
Like I mentioned, it got a bit chilly that first night, so I put Lito’s sheet on him right before we went to bed.
I as per usual, woke early way before anyone else. Lito patiently waited for his breakfast while I enjoyed my coffee with him. I slept poorly and actually checked the horses a few times in the night. I saw a cool fox though, so that was nice.
I did not want to feed him and have my friend’s mare get upset, but I also did not want to feed her mare without having discussed it with her the night before.
At some point in the morning, Lito complained nicely about the morning service being late and not what he ordered.
I just enjoyed another cup of coffee and stood with my boy, soaking up our time. I think I had about 3 cups that morning!
I think by this point he had demoted me to just ‘Food Lady’ and I decided to just go and get him his breakfast. She was just going to have to wait, but she was OK with it though. Do not worry, her mom woke up shortly and she got her breakfast.
No matter where you are, there is just something about a sunrise and how it unfolds. It is just so different in the hill country. The layers of it. The first shine on the hillside.
The hill country is truly a magical place. So much beauty everywhere you look.
I made sure to ask my friend if I could feed Jazzy for her the next morning so Lito would not have to wait so long and she agreed. We had one more night here before we loaded up for the hour plus drive into camp for the week. We humans made the most of our special time together and the horses seemed to really enjoy their large pens.
My apologies for the delay in posting. I wanted to write to you long before this, but I have been having many difficulties with WordPress and images getting along. Hopefully all is sorted now!
Walk in love, dear readers!
Check back tomorrow to SEE the reason behind why us crazy horse people do this!