Updated: Mar 24, 2019
The definition of adaptation is a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to it’s environment.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the faster you can adapt to a new situation or circumstance, the faster your success will be.
For horse owners, moving your horse to a new location can be very stressful. Horses are large and can be intimidating creatures; However, they are super sensitive to changes in environment, people, diet and routine.
I recently made the move from the cold Northeast to the beach. A dream come true, yet I was filled with trepidation at the very thought of moving my horse Zeus.
When you are moving and not hauling your horse yourself, you need to look into professional horse transport. I wanted to give you a guide to moving your horse professionally since I’ve just gone through the experience myself. Some of the items I mention may seem very obvious to some and not so obvious to others. Take what you need and leave the rest.
These are my personal observations and you may or may not agree, and I would encourage you to decide for yourself what will and what won’t work for your horse.
When looking into hauling your horse professionally, it’s incredibly important for you to be as educated as possible to ensure that your horse has not only a comfortable ride, but a safe one.
We have all had or heard about others who have had bad experiences moving their horses “professionally”. As with anything in life, there are really great movers and very bad ones.
One of the boarders at my barn had a bad experience with a shipper who had “lost” their horse for a day. Sometimes horses go missing and go to bad places where they are never seen again. Other times, horses come off the trailer looking like a shell of the horse that was put on at the beginning of their journey.
In my first experience with a professional hauler, as soon as I paid for my horse, the owner stopped feeding him!! By the time he got off the trailer in the middle of the night, he was skin and bones and didn’t look anything like the horse I had left two weeks prior.
My point is that bad things do happen to people who have money, who love their animals and who make all the correct preparations to ship their horses. The whole point of making this guide is to avoid the bad shippers, prepare you correctly to move your horse so that you both come out of the experience safe and sound.
To begin, PLEASE do your research when looking into professional transport.
In my humble opinion, this is NOT the place to skimp on the cost. You get what you pay for and the safety of your horse should be paramount in your mind.
There are many bad stories that happen to good people and good horses and it doesn’t always happen because the owner is misinformed. To eliminate as many bad shippers and experiences as possible, here are some questions you should ask the shipper. Note: These are not in any special order.
QUESTIONS TO ASK SHIPPERS
How many horses do you ship a year? The company I went with (Brook Ledge) is the biggest shipper in the US and ships more than 700 horses a day. The more experience a shipper has the better.
What is their track record of success? Meaning have they ever “lost” any horses? Have their horses been delivered on time? Do they have happy customers?
Do they have a positive reputation? Do they have lots of positive reviews for you to read? Do they have a past customer you can reach out to and ask questions regarding their service?
Do they have layovers to get the horses off the trailer to rest? Some of the larger shippers have actual stalls in different locations so they can get the horses off the trailer to rest before the next leg of their journey.
What is their safety record? You can google this online by looking up their name and accidents.
Do they drive straight through to the destination? Time is literally money to shippers and you want your horse there asap. This can be accomplished by shippers driving straight through to the destination or area where they can offload your horse to rest. The only way to do this is to have more than one driver. Usually one driver will drive for 6 hours and then the other driver will take over while the other driver rests. They still need to stop for water every few hours for the horses.
Do they sub out drivers? This is super important. You want to make sure that all the drivers are employees and not subs. The use of subs is sometimes when horses go MIA, off schedule and things go very bad very quickly. The less subs, the more control the company has of the driver’s time, credentials and of the whole shipping operation. If the drivers are employees, you have a much better chance of having a healthy horse returned to you because as employees they have to report back to the company with their routes, where they stopped etc. Additionally, they will be in contact with the office and it makes for a more seamless experience.
How long have they been in business?
Have they transported any famous horses? Why should you care? If they have moved famous horses, you know they are at least somewhat reputable. Famous horses are very expensive and even if your horse isn’t as expensive, it’s nice to know that your horse will get the same treatment. Fun Fact: If they have shipped notable horses, they will most likely have that information on their website. Sometimes race horses are allowed to have an assistant go with the horse for the duration, especially if they are bringing the horse from the rig to the plane.
Is there anyone you can actually speak to (a live human) before and during transport? This is HUGE because most of us want to know where our horse is during the trip. The most reputable businesses have someone in the office who can radio into the driver to get an update and eta on your horse’s delivery time. I got a text and phone call the day Zeus was being delivered from the driver and she delivered him on time.
Think about it this way, if you can’t reach anyone, your horse can easily go MIA for hours which will have you in tears, frustrated and worried about where he or she actually is. Eliminate all the nervousness by having someone to speak to, a live human is preferable to any type of recording.
How close can they come to accommodating your travel schedule? I wanted to be at the new barn waiting for my horse to get off the rig and I was. They were in contact with me so I knew where he was and what time he was coming in the day of transport.
What does the rig look like? This is a biggie. The transport Zeus got was a large trailer with an air ride. However, I had the option of a straight stall or a box stall. I chose the box stall because it gave him more room to move. We were going from Connecticut to South Carolina, which is a 16 hour trip. I would always recommend a box stall for your horse’s comfort to give them at least some room rather than a straight stall.
It’s also important to know what the rig looks like because my horse can only front load. He has never learned how to get off a rig by backing off so he needs to be able to enter and exit face first.
Additionally, you want to know that your horse will not only ride in comfort, but will also be safe. I’m sure you have seen the rickety vans that have rust on them and should not be in use. Transport doesn’t necessarily have to be shiny but it should be safe, free of rust, not have been in an accident and be working correctly. In other words, the lights go on when you hit the brakes etc. I also am a huge advocate of the word HORSES on the back and sides of the van. There are crazy drivers out there that know nothing of how valuable the cargo is. By having the signage on the side of the van it will at least give them a heads up to potentially slow down.
Can they take “extra” items? Brookledge took up to 3 items with one of them being hay. During travel most shippers don’t feed grain, only hay and water. I added two bales of hay for the trip which is way more than he needed. They also took my tack box. They could have added my blankets and saddle but I wanted to bring them myself. NOTE: If you have a saddle that is custom or special to you, I would suggest bringing it yourself. Even if you have a great shipper, sometimes gear can get mixed up and go with the wrong horse. You can eliminate the risk by bringing it along with you.
What does Carrier Convenience mean? When Zeus was ready to ship, I gave them the greenlight 4 days before I wanted him at the destination to give me time to get to the new barn before he arrived. Carrier convenience means that once you tell the shipper you are ready for them to pick up your horse, they will do so when it’s convenient for them to get him. NOTE: This can be up to one week’s time before they actually ship. Make sure you sync up your timeframe so it matches theirs. They will usually call you with a time and day your horse will be picked up 24-48 hours AFTER you tell them the horse is ready.
REMEMBER: Don’t go cheap – you get what you pay for. Your horse being delivered in good health (meaning he looks the same when you put him on the trailer as when he comes off) and on time usually requires money. The best shippers are worth their weight in gold. Think of it this way. I heard a story from a friend who had a horse come off the trailer almost dead. The mare had been through the ringer and needed IV fluids immediately and spent a week in the hospital recuperating. The vet bill alone would not have been worth all that she and her owner went through. Pay for the best.
What does it cost to ship your horse? Shippers can charge anything they want to, so a short trip (a few states away) can range anywhere from $700 to $2,000+. The care and health of your horse should be what you are most concerned with and that brings me to a few items we should discuss and you should always ask the shipper.
IMPORTANT SAFETY QUESTIONS
Do they tie the horse’s heads when they travel? If they say yes, run away! Horse’s heads should never be tied. Your horse needs to be able to shift their weight as the truck moves and if their head is tied, they can’t. Tying their head is very dangerous for your horse.
How often do they stop to give the horses water? Horror stories abound about horses who have been driven straight through to their destination without any water available to them. Combine that with extreme heat and you have a recipe for disaster.
By law, all shippers must stop every 4 hours to give horses water, but not all do. Horses can become dehydrated during shipping and should have hay and water available to them at all times.
Do the drivers have live video of the cab so they can see if a horse becomes distressed? This is important for obvious reasons and should come with every rig, but it doesn’t. Always ask the question to find out if the drivers can see the horses at all times.
Do they use air conditioners or open windows? Horses need good ventilation when shipping to reduce their body heat and allow them to sweat. Look for a shipper that will open all the windows even if it’s hot because air conditioners can get your horse sick very quickly.
Shipping your horse requires a little effort and follow up on your part. I suggest making a checklist of all the things you need to do to get your best friend to the new destination as smoothly as possible.
GETTING YOUR HORSE READY FOR THE BIG DAY
Preparing your horse to ship is easy as long as you give yourself a bit of time to get your tasks completed.
First, get an up to date Coggins. Horses CANNOT ship or enter a new barn without an up to date Coggins. Your local vet needs to have done a Coggins on your horse within the last 6 months. This certificate has 3 pictures of your horse as well as the Coggins and other background information.
Obtain a Health Certification from your vet. This form is completed by your vet signifying that your horse is in good health, is up to date on all shots and ready to ship. It is good for 30 days and MUST GO WITH YOUR HORSE BEFORE YOUR HORSE STEPS ONTO THE TRAILER.
NOTE: I bought an 8 ½ x 11 plastic file with a zip lock at the top to keep all Zeus’s important papers in.
Ulcerguard: I would also recommend adding Ulcer Guard to your daily routine which you can purchase over the counter without a prescription. This will help keep your horses’ gut coated which is especially helpful in stressful conditions. My trainer recommended that I begin the regime 5 days prior to shipping and 5 days after. In my opinion, this is a gamechanger to maintain a healthy horse throughout the whole process.
Farrier Visit: Make sure that your horse has his last farrier visit right before he travels. This will give you up to another 4 plus weeks to find a new qualified farrier in your new location. I also took pictures of what my horse’s foot looked like after my farrier finished his feet. I took down notes to pass along to my new farrier from what my previous farrier mentioned that was important to keep him in prime condition. This is an important step that will help ease the transition and give you a bit of time to find a new farrier.
WHAT TO PUT ON YOUR HORSE
What you put on your horse for shipping purposes is a personal decision.
If your horse is shipping in the Winter, you may want to include:
Blanket(s) with neck wrap if needed
Shipping boots (NOT WRAPS) NOTE: Many wraps will unravel during the trip and can get caught between the horse’s feet potentially tripping him up.
If you are shipping in the hot summer, I would put on bell boots not shipping boots. I would also not put on any type of fly sheet to offer them a better chance of cooling off normally by sweating.
If you have the time, I would recommend adding a bit of weight to your horse before the moving date arrives. Most horses lose weight during transport due to anxiety, stress, dehydration and changes in their normal routine.
Make sure that the shipper gives you back all of your paperwork. When my first horse moved, the shipper tried to keep all his paperwork. This is a low move that happens because if paperwork is kept on a horse, they can use your paperwork for horses that don’t have any. All paperwork should be returned to you once your horse is off the trailer.
I know this last bit will raise eyebrows but I would encourage you to talk to your horse. Horses are extremely smart. The more you can explain to your horse where they are going and when, it may go a long way in helping them through the transition of travel. Tell them you will be there on the other end and you have taken care of everything to make this a smooth transition as possible. Remember, your horse has no idea where he or she is going. They only know they are going for a ride and are hoping they will be safe and cared for. They don’t know if you will be at the other end of the ride or if they will be alone. Take your time and prepare for this event as much as possible. You will never regret asking too many questions or having as many communications as you can with your horse prior to departure.
You can also engage a communicator to let your horse know where they are going, when and what your schedule will be. This has made a huge difference in how positive the experience was for both of us. I am a firm believer that the more you talk to them, the more at ease they become. Yes, they are still horses but they understand more than you know.