RESPECT – Travelling with your horse – A follow-on from last month’s article on Loading.
By Anne Wilson
Travelling a beloved horse, for whatever reason, whether it be necessity (a veterinary hospital visit) or for pleasure such as a competition, clinic or special riding destination, can be a fraught affair. I remember one woman telling me that starting to hitch up the trailer was one certain way to start a full-scale row between her and her husband. This is no doubt due to nervous tension and stress caused by the anticipation of things going wrong. I don’t have any doubt that this tension contributes hugely to the horse’s apprehension, both of the loading process as well as the journey.
Last month we dealt with ways of de-stressing the loading situation, by doing it so many times before actually going anywhere, that it becomes an everyday occurrence for both horse and handler. If you still feel tense when you know that the journey is actually going to take place, you might do well to consider treating yourself with some Bach Flower remedy such as ‘Rescue Remedy’; just to help you calm down and take things more in your stride. Any tension and apprehension you feel will quickly be transferred to your horse, so you owe it to him to stay calm.
By now your horse should be loading with ease and now our aim is to make him just as relaxed during transit. Firstly, the first few journeys should ideally not be too long. Your horse should be rested but not too fresh before he travels. Ideally he will have had some turnout and time to let off steam or relax with his friends in the field, before he is loaded, but he should not be tired from work, since travelling itself is very tiring.
FOOD AND WATER BEFORE AND DURING TRAVELLING
Do not travel your horse after a large hard feed. Make sure any hard feed if necessary, is given at least an hour beforehand.
Offer him water before travelling but do not let him over-drink before the journey.
Give him a small haynet to nibble on the journey, but not a large amount if you are going to ride him. Take another larger net for the homeward journey.
TO USE A PARTITION OR TRAVEL ‘LOOSE’?
This is a big question and one which cannot be answered definitively when referring to every horse. It has been my experience with my horses, that once they are used to the feel of the padded partition being placed near to them; they not only come to accept it, but they rely on it whilst in transit. I have actually travelled in the back with my horses and witnessed how they relax and lean on the partition whilst going round bends, which must relieve a lot of stress on their legs which they would otherwise have to rely on to keep their balance. As I referred to in the last article, just try travelling yourself in a train without holding on or leaning on anything and you will see how difficult it is to keep one’s balance. It may be slightly easier for horses since they have four legs, but then they have a lot more weight which is continually being shifted from one side to the other as well as back and forth.
Nevertheless, there are many experienced horse people who prefer to travel their horses with plenty of room to move around and it seems to work for them, but personally I feel this is dangerous.
There have also been studies suggesting that horses travel better facing backwards. One of the reasons for this conclusion has been given that, given the choice, when travelled loose with plenty of room to make their own choice, they are nearly always found with their backs against the front wall. It is my opinion that this is just to give themselves the benefit of the rear wall to lean on (the rear wall will not usually push them right or left.)
I do not believe that they prefer to travel facing backwards. Anyone who has ever suffered from travel sickness will know that there is no worse position to be in than facing backwards. This is something to do with the fluid balance in the nose/ear area of the head which causes the nauseous feeling.
PROTECTIVE HORSE CLOTHING
There are some super travel clothing items on the market these days. The invention of Velcro means we don’t always have to use time-consuming bandages. The possibility of uneven pressure and obstruction of blood flow always concerns me when bandages are put on in a hurry. Of course the use of a good padding of Gamgee on the legs underneath goes a long way to reduce this possibility. But tail bandages can often be applied too tightly, in which case would be very uncomfortable and not help the horse to have a good journey.
Modern tail guards don’t seem to have this problem and give good protection from rubbing on the tailgate of the vehicle.
Leg protectors are a very good idea, providing the horse does not feel too restricted in them. Here again, there are some lovely soft, well padded leg protectors on the market today, which are quick and easy to put on and take off. The hocks are an area which can easily be banged against the tailgate. However, some horses seem to hate the feel of anything restricting their hock movement. Some horses will not walk up the ramp with them on, but will accept them if they are applied after loading. I had a horse who hated them so much; she once kicked the back of the trailer the whole of the journey. On the homeward journey I left them off, and she stood perfectly calmly without any kicking. I decided that the kicking was more harmful to her legs than the possibility of damage to her hocks, and she always travelled well after that with leg protectors below the hocks.
These are a good idea and should prevent tread injuries in the event of a sudden stop.
Another good idea and most horses accept them without any fuss. They are particularly important for horses who tend to throw their heads around, especially whilst loading.
PROTECTION FOR THE HANDLER
Always wear a hard hat and gloves when loading and unloading.
Unless you are travelling your horse loose, always tie him securely with a quick release knot, not so short that he cannot reach his haynet, but short enough to prevent him from turning round.
LEARN TO DRIVE SMOOTHLY
The way in which the vehicle is driven is likely to have the biggest effect on whether the horse has a comfortable journey. You should drive as though you had precious eggs in the back. Well, actually you have something a lot more precious! Learn to anticipate any slowing down or stopping, long before it actually happens. When you see red stop lights ahead, slow down in good time, much sooner than when driving a car. Take your foot off the accelerator and aim to slow down gradually, preferably without braking. Obviously there will be times when you will need to use the brake, but do it as smoothly as possible.
Accelerate slowly and smoothly; anticipate any bends, round-a-bouts, etc., by slowing down well in advance, taking the bends very slowly and steadily, so that the amount of swing to the passengers in the back will be minimal. Don’t worry if this annoys following traffic, you are entitled to drive carefully and slowly like this when you are carrying livestock. If they get impatient with you, just ignore them, it’s their problem, not yours.
If you are on a road where passing is impossible and you know there is a long tail-back behind you, it may be courteous to pull into a lay-by or suitable place if available, just to let them get past, before slowly pulling out again.
If you are going to ride, make sure you reach your destination in good time, not only for preparation, grooming, saddling up etc., but allowing time for your horse to relax and recover from the journey.
Remember that travelling is quite tiring for the horse, so he needs a rest before he is gently warmed up. Scientists have said that a horse needs an hour’s rest for every hour’s travel time. This may well be impractical, and your horse may be too excited when he gets there to rest properly, and standing in a lorry or trailer will not really amount to proper rest. It would be best to walk him slowly and graze him in hand. By putting his head down to eat he is more likely to relax and clear his airways.
If he is then ridden, for say an hour, he should again be rested before travelling home. The scientists say an hour’s rest for every hour’s work. However, this length of time may be impractical, if not impossible and circumstances are not always ideal, but it is well worth bearing in mind. If he will stand calmly eating a haynet outside the vehicle, then this would be ideal. Alternatively again walking in hand and grazing would be good. In any event he should always be walked after work.
CHECK LIST OF THINGS TO TAKE
- Carry a water container and bucket, so your horse can be watered when you reach your destination. Horses often refuse to drink when away from home because the water from a different source smells or tastes different.
- Carry a packet of Horse Quencher to add to a bucket of water (a feed based water additive designed to encourage horses to drink) in case your horse starts to become dehydrated and refuses to drink
- Take enough full haynets – no need for him to be hungry
- Take appropriate rugs – especially if you are riding, e.g. rug suitable for travelling according to the weather conditions, anti-sweat rug, outdoor rug in case of rain, and a cotton cooler
- Carry suitable grooming equipment, hoof pick, and a sponge to cool your horse if he becomes overheated.
- Carry farriery tools such as pincers and a buffer or similar tool to enable you to take off a shoe in an emergency.
- A human and equine first-aid kit is essential (take it and hopefully you will never need it).
- Don’t forget your saddle and bridle if riding, as well as your own riding clothes. You will already have your hard hat on your head!
After all this preparation, I hope you and your horse arrive relaxed and enjoy yourself.
Anne Wilson is a freelance classical riding trainer, based in Bedfordshire; trained with Sylvia Loch and holder of the Classical Riding Club Gold Award Certificate – Phone 01234 772401 or email:- firstname.lastname@example.org