Tips for Travelling Interstate with your Horse
A guest blog by Adam Fawcett
In May 2012 I travelled interstate with my horse Gandalf for the first time. Having never travelled longer than 90 minutes before, it was a major event for me and involved a lot of planning.
I was lucky enough to be sponsored with the Frederick model from Equiluxe Horse Floats, which was the perfect unit to transport my large warmblood horse in over such a long distance.
Following are my personal experiences, observations and tips for travelling horses interstate. They are by no means complete but will hopefully give you a head start when trying to plan your first trip, or improve your next one!
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
1. Prepare your journey well in advance
There is much more involved in travelling interstate with your horse than simply putting him in the float and heading off. You need to start planning your journey at least a month out from your intended date of travel. The last thing you want happening is getting caught out on a detail you didn’t think of because you were rushed and left everything to the last minute. A good plan, made in advance, makes for a good trip!
2. Get your vehicle & float serviced a week before you leave
This is vital. I had my car serviced a week before and the mechanic discovered the drive belt was about to snap! If that had happened during our trip it would have been a nightmare. Similarly, your float should also be serviced before you leave – simple things like getting the bearings checked and re-adjusted/replaced can make a huge difference to the safety of your horse and your own peace of mind. Also make sure you tell your mechanic about your trip and ask them to check over anything that might be important mechanically for this situation.
3. Estimate your fuel costs
Using your own knowledge about how far your petrol goes, or your vehicle’s handbook (or failing that, just search your vehicle’s fuel consumption on Google!), and using Google maps to determine the length of your trip, you should be able to easily estimate your fuel costs. Bear in mind though that you will probably be carrying more gear (weight) than your normal trip to pony club etc., which will effect your fuel economy. You also need to allow for the fact that you often have to travel quite a few kilometres into towns (and out again) to reach your rest spots as they are rarely ‘just off the highway’. Whatever you estimate for your fuel costs, add an extra $200 to it for good measure and you will be able to travel in confidence for any variations that may occur.
4. Plan your rest spots carefully
Ask friends, Internet forums, and check out agricultural society websites to find the best places to stop for your horse. Always remember to try and stop every three to four hours maximum and get your horse out for a good 30 minutes. It adds a lot of time to your trip but you will be rewarded with a horse that is much more fresh at the end of the journey. Many show grounds are open to the public 24/7 but it pays to check before you leave!
5. Allow time for unforeseen events
On our trip to Sydney we had to go through Melbourne where we hit some major road works near the airport. This had us travelling at 60kmh for a good 30 minutes – pushing back our arrival time somewhat! You should always try and allow at least an hour for unforeseen events – if it isn’t needed, then you simply get to your destination early and can give the horse even more time to settle in.
6. Pre-pack your horses meals for the journey
Put your horse’s meals into individual plastic bags before you leave. This way when you have your rest stops, you can simply empty the feed into the bucket and away you go. Another tip is to carry a few 5ltr containers (I used my old Stockgain containers) of the water from your horse’s water trough. My horse Gandalf is incredibly picky about water and so I even mixed this with some molasses before I left. He didn’t even hesitate to drink the water on our trip and I was then able to add molasses to the water at the venue in Sydney and he drank perfectly well.
7. Do not travel alone
You should really try and have at least one other person in the vehicle with you when you travel. Aside from the simple pleasure of experiencing a pretty amazing journey with you, they can share driving responsibilities and look out for you whilst on the road, especially when there are major on-ramps and you are in heavy traffic.
8. Use an Pro-biotic paste before you leave
I put Gandalf on a course of Protexin, a paste which helps to stabalise intestinal microflora, maximise gut health and resist the effects of stress. These are all really important factors when travelling, especially over long distances. I began the paste 7 days before I travelled and continued 3 days after I arrived. Because the horse has such a complex digestive system the last thing you want is to experience trouble in this area, and an probiotic is a small price to pay to make sure all those functions are working well during a stressful trip.
9. Drive carefully!
This might sound obvious but I have seen people drive through round-a-bouts with horse floats attached at 60kms! Your horse is working hard the entire time he is in transport to balance himself – don’t make it harder for him. Accelerate gently, brake gently and try to keep a good 5 seconds between the car in front of you. If someone pulls in front of you to shorten that distance, then you need to slow down again until you get back to 5 seconds. It can be annoying but once you are out of the city areas there is less traffic and things will hum along nicely.
10. Check the horse regularly
If you cannot have a camera installed in your float, then at least try to have a vision of him in your rear view mirror if possible. Even just to see that he has not tangled himself with the lead rope or that he is munching on hay, is a big advantage.
11. To bandage or not to bandage – that is the question!
I am not aware of the research on the benefits or not of bandages during long distance travel for horses, but this is a difficult question to answer and every horse and the conditions it travels in is unique. For me, I bandaged my horse’s legs with a pad and bandage. If it was exceptionally warm weather I might not have bothered, as I would have been concerned the legs might heat up too much, so it also depends on the conditions you are traveling in. Rugs present a similar dilemma, and again, you need to use your common sense. When we were travelling early in the morning and it was around 5-10 degrees outside, we had a woolen rug on Gandalf in the float and once we hit midday and got to a rest stop, we switched it over to a cotton rug for the afternoon.
12. Get your horse’s nose down during transport
It is absolutely vital that your horse can stretch his head down during transport and you need make sure you tie his lead rope to a much longer length than you would for normal travel. Some people even unclip the lead rope during travel, especially if their float comes equipped with a head divider that extends a little towards the back of the float to ensure the horse can’t try and turn around. I simply tied Gandalf’s rope as long as possible and positioned the hay net so that to reach it he would need to drop his head a little which worked a treat. When ever your horse eats during rest stops or in stables overnight etc., make sure you feed him on the ground and not over the stable door. The more he can get his head down, the more he can clear his airways, which is vital to ensure your horse doesn’t get a respiratory disease.
13. Get your horse moving during rest breaks
Make sure you take your horse for a wander during rest breaks – get his legs moving and the blood circulating a bit. Because the horse is not good at pumping blood around its legs (this is why they swell so much when knocked!) horses need to be constantly moving to achieve adequate circulation.
14. Give your horse enough rest after arrive before asking him to compete
If you are transporting your horse with the goal of competing him at your destination, allow at least a day in between arrival and competition. In Sydney, I was due to compete on Thursday. We left on the Monday, stayed over night in Tarcutta and arrived in Sydney at lunchtime on Tuesday. I did not ride Gandalf until lunchtime on Wednesday and competed Thursday. They need that break so that their bodies can recover and rest without the stress of travel and if you are treating your horse like an athlete (which they are) then you owe it to them to allow them to also prepare for competition as best they can to achieve peak performance.
15. The quality of your float is vital to a successful journey!
I would never have been able to make my trip to Sydney to compete if I was not offered the Frederick model from the Equiluxe range for my warmblood horse. I wanted my horse to have the room to stretch not only his head but also his entire neck down as much as he wanted. The Frederick model is long enough to achieve this easily. I loved the two extra large access doors with windows that pop down, the fantastic ventilation and storage options, which are an absolute must for interstate travel when you are carrying a large amount of gear and feed.
The other great feature which I believe many riders have not considered, is the noise reducing roof lining which features in all the Equiluxe floats. I had my dad drive me around the block whilst I sat in the float before we left and I couldn’t believe how much quieter it was compared to my old float. This has a major impact on Gandalf and ensured he arrives as fresh as possible because his journey was as comfortable as possible – and at the end of the day, that is what we are trying to achieve when we travel our horses interstate.
By Adam Fawcett
FEI Dressage Rider