Whether you’re traveling to a horse show or taking your equine companion on a trail ride, making a long trip with your horse can be exhausting for both of you. Travel can be especially stressful and fatiguing for your horse, with the confines of a trailer and unfamiliar surroundings adding to the anxiety.

While your horse might not share your enthusiasm for travel, there are plenty of ways to make the trip as safe and comfortable as possible. With preparation and research, you can anticipate your horse’s needs, prioritize safety, and prevent the headache of starting your journey ill-equipped for the road ahead. That way, you and your horse reach your destination safely and ready for the performance or adventure that awaits.

What does traveling with your horse look like?

Bringing your horse on a trip is exciting and rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Travel does not come naturally to horses, and most are claustrophobic to some degree due to their flighty nature and instincts. If not already accustomed to riding in a trailer, your horse may be hesitant when it comes time for loading. This will take patience and practice.

Horses also become exhausted quickly when they travel. Standing in a trailer for hours involves constant balance, which requires a lot of energy. Because of this, you’ll need to plan to stop a number of times depending on the length of the journey to allow your horse time to rest. On longer trips with an overnight stay, you’ll need to find a layover barn that will provide a paddock or stall for your horse. Giving your horse the opportunity to stretch his legs, lie down, and get rest will be much appreciated.

Another thing to consider is that horses thrive in routine. A trip away from home can make your horse anxious. To ensure calmness and comfort, keep the surroundings and routine as familiar as possible–like home on the road.

What you need to travel with horses

A trailer

Traveling with horses is an investment. If this is your first time traveling with your horse, you will need to research horse trailers, as well as trucks that can pull trailers. The options can be overwhelming, but you should choose a trailer that best fits you and your horse’s needs. Keep in mind the number of horses the trailer can accommodate, how much ventilation it provides, and what the loading style is.

A horse trailer is either a straight-load or slant-load. In a straight-load trailer, the horse faces forward and has adequate space to move around. This type of trailer is best if you only transport one or two horses at a time. Slant-load trailers have divider walls that slant diagonally, which makes loading and unloading easier and gives the horses more headspace. The dividers may also be removable, making slant-load trailers ideal for horse owners who regularly travel with more than two horses.

Bumper pull horse trailer

A bumper pull horse trailer can attach to the back bumper of an SUV, van, or pickup truck. They typically have a side entrance and windows for ventilation. These are generally the smallest and least expensive, though they can still carry up to four horses depending on the model.

Gooseneck horse trailer

The gooseneck horse trailer attaches to the bed of a pickup truck which makes it more stable and maneuverable. These are more spacious and can even offer each horse its own box stall in some configurations.They typically load from the two sides or the back. The gooseneck trailer’s spaciousness makes it ideal for larger horses or transporting a larger number of horses at once, but keep in mind this also means they are heavier.

Living quarters horse trailer

Think of this trailer as an RV with a built-in trailer for your horse. Living quarters horse trailers typically have customizable floor plans and can include a bed, sink, bathroom–whatever you need to feel at home on the road! This type of trailer is perfect if you love to camp or if you travel to shows frequently and need ample storage for tack.

A truck for towing your horse trailer

If you’re traveling with a bumper pull horse trailer, you may be able to use an SUV or van, but most trailers require a pickup truck.

Papers from the vet

Once you have the vehicle for you and your horse, you will also need to make an appointment with your veterinarian at least two weeks before you leave. When traveling across state lines, you’re required to bring official documentation of your horse’s health. This includes a Health Certificate or Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) and a current Coggins test. Your Coggins is valid for 6 or 12 months, depending on the state.

Planning your trip in advance

When planning a trip with your horse, give yourself plenty of time to coordinate your route, stops, and stays, as well as a backup plan for your route and stops. You can’t predict all the circumstances that might come up, but you can go into your trip prepared to deal with whatever comes your way. 

Plan your route

Map out your route, including any stops and overnight stays. In good weather conditions, you can go between 400 and 500 miles per day, but keep in mind that horses not used to traveling may require more frequent stopping. Weather conditions can also affect how quickly you’re able to travel, so plan according to the forecast. If you’re hauling during a particularly hot time of year, try to travel during the coolest parts of the day.

Know where to stop

If you’re driving in remote areas, you may go 50 miles without passing an exit with a gas station. Figure out in advance where those areas are so you can fill up before you reach them. Additionally, research places to stay overnight, such as layover barns, to be sure they can accommodate you and your horse’s needs. 

Have a back-up plan

Fingers crossed, your plan A holds up. But in case it doesn’t, it’s best to be prepared. Find horse layovers earlier in your route in case you don’t make it as far as you think you will. Also, identify alternative routes and places to stop along the way. Finally, leave a cushion of time in your travel itinerary. If something comes up, you’ll still be at your destination on time. 

Check your trailer

Inspect your trailer a week or more before your trip. Check the tires, fluids, and hook-up to ensure your brake lights and turn signals are working on your trailer, and familiarize yourself with the basic operations of it. Storing extra trailer tires and a jack ramp can also be helpful in case you need to fix a flat tire on the road. By diagnosing and taking care of any issues before you hit the road, you can make sure you and your horse remain safe and on schedule.

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What should you pack on your horse trailer?

Food

Giving your horse access to food the entire trip can help him remain calm and entertained. Use hay bags or nets in the trailer, and check if they need to be refilled at each stop. Also, make sure the extra hay is accessible.

Water

When horses travel, they can get so anxious that they refuse to drink. They may also refuse to drink if they aren’t used to the taste of the water. This is why it’s best to bring water jugs or fill your trailer’s water tank (if it has one) with water from home. You can clip a water bucket in front of your horse in the trailer and refill it as needed. If your horse still refuses water, you may choose to add a small amount of juice, drink mixes, or food to encourage drinking. Flavored equine electrolyte powders can be mixed into water and are another great way to entice your horse to drink and stay hydrated.

First aid kit

Keep a first aid kit containing leg wraps, bandages, a thermometer, antibiotic ointment, and more in your horse trailer so that you can tend to your horse along the way and once you reach your destination. You should also pack anything else that you regularly use for your horse, such as fly masks or spray, Duct tape, a hose, and supplements or medications. 

Documents needed

Bring copies of your horse’s current Coggins test and a Health Certificate or CVI.

Emergency contact information

If you’re in an accident, the emergency services will not be trained to care for your horse. Provide them with an emergency contact like your veterinarian, who can advise the best care for your horse. You should keep this information with you in the truck.

How to prepare your horse for riding in a trailer

Riding in a trailer does not come easy to horses. Before the first long trip, you’ll need to ease your horse into riding in the trailer. Here are a few tips to alleviate your horse’s anxiety and make your trip smoother.

Start with shorter trips

Take your horse for a few shorter drives first. Not only does balancing require energy and strength, but the movement of the trailer on the road takes some getting used to. Allow your horse to experience riding in a trailer for several 15- to 20-minute outings before being hauled for hours.

Add electrolytes to their diet week-of

Many horses refuse to drink water while traveling, which causes dehydration and affects their energy and performance. Adding a powdered electrolyte to their food or water can combat dehydration. Electrolytes rapidly transport water to the cells that need it, which encourages your horse to drink more water. Introduce electrolytes into your horse’s diet 24 to 48 hours before you leave, and continue this during the trip.

Dress them in protective gear

Protective gear may not be essential for every horse, but it can help some horses be more comfortable and help prevent injury. Shipping boots, standing wraps, head bumpers, shipping halters, and fly masks can help protect your horse from their surroundings while in the trailer. You may also try a tail wrap if your horse tends to lean on the butt bar.

Introduce your horse to the gear before traveling to see what’s helpful and what’s uncomfortable. Adjust or remove the gear if your horse seems uncomfortable, and keep it to a minimum in the warmer months to prevent overheating.

Loading and unloading

When loading your horse onto the trailer, it’s important to walk next to him to keep you safe and tell your horse to move forward. If your horse is panicked, calm him down before entering the trailer. You may try feeding your horse one meal a day in the trailer so that they learn to associate the trailer with safety and reward. You can also open the windows to make the trailer seem more spacious and inviting, but be sure they cannot stick their nose or any other body part out of the window since this is a hazard. Before securing your horse with a breakaway tie, shut the doors of the trailer so he cannot back up and cause potential damage to himself.

When it comes time to unload your horse, walk to one side of him and back up or walk out of the trailer gently and calmly, allowing time for your horse to acknowledge their surroundings before walking away. The process of loading and unloading will get smoother as your horse gets used to it, so practice several times before you travel.

Keeping your horse safe in the trailer

Your horse’s safety is your top concern, and there are several things you can do to prioritize it. First, use a breakaway tie to secure your horse with just enough slack to reach the food and water. Breakaway ties that are too long can increase the risk of injury. Also, use a breakaway shipping halter so your horse can free himself in the case of an accident.

Because traveling can be hard on horses, you’ll want to monitor your horse’s activity. Attach cameras in the back of the trailer, or stop more frequently to check on your horse. When you check in, offer water, and allow your horse to move if you’re unloading to encourage more water intake.

How far can horses travel in a trailer?

Horses can typically remain in the trailer for many hours if they’re accustomed to traveling, but the type of trailer and number of drivers will also impact how long you can travel. Stopping for breaks along the way is vital for your horse’s safety and is a great time for you to assess if you can remain alert and attentive as you drive or if you need some rest. Depending on where you stop, you may be able to unload your horse safely. This will add time to your trip and potentially stress out your horse by introducing another new environment, but it can be helpful for both the driver and the horse.

How frequently should you stop?

It can be tempting to drive long segments to keep stopping to a minimum when hauling a horse a long distance. While this may save you time and conserve your energy, it makes for a rough trip for your horse. Because travel can be especially stressful and physically demanding for your horse, it is important to take breaks every three or four hours. 

When you stop, let the trailer sit in a shaded area if possible. Your horse expends a lot of energy to stay balanced while you speed up, slow down, and make turns. Allow time to relax and recover for the next leg of the trip.

During your breaks, check and refill your horse’s water bucket and hay bag. Offer additional water, even if you think he’ll refuse it. You should also check the trailer’s ventilation and whether your horse is too hot or too cold. You can open windows to increase airflow and make the trailer feel more spacious, but always watch your horse when the window is open and be sure they cannot stick their head out when you resume your travels.

Places to stop

Before leaving, it’s important to know your options for where to stop along the way. The best option for a quick 30-minute stop is a well-lit gas station or truck stop with plenty of parking space where you can refuel and check on your horse. You should not let your horse out when stopping at a gas station.

If your horse needs a longer break to get out and stretch their legs in the middle of a travel day, consider finding a Tractor Supply. You can also call a county fairground to ask if they would allow you to stop for an hour or two. Most county fairgrounds will even permit you to stay overnight, making them a great option for a layover.

Where to stay overnight when traveling with your horse

County fairgrounds often will let you stay with your horse overnight for a small fee or donation. Call ahead to ensure they have enough space available and reserve your spot.

Horse layover facilities are increasing in popularity, so chances are there will be one somewhere along your route. A night at these facilities will only cost you $25 to $50 per horse, but some book up months in advance, so plan ahead. Before booking a horse layover, look at reviews, and make sure it has all the features you and your horse need, including space for your horse to move freely after a long trip. Use sites like HorseandTravel.com, HorseMotel.NET, and horsemotel.com to help you find layover facilities along your route.

How to keep your horse calm on the road

Horses are more likely to get spooked when they’re in a stressful situation. That’s why it’s important to take extra measures to keep your horse calm on a long trip.

  • Remain calm. Generally, the best way to put your horse at ease is to be a calm presence and avoid panicking.
  • Be consistent. Do your best to keep things the same as at home, and bring your horse’s favorite toys.
  • Drive smoothly. Focus on minimizing bumps, harsh turns, and startling noises. This may involve choosing routes with better road conditions in the planning stage.
  • Prioritize comfort. Add bedding to keep your horse comfortable and safe. Spreading shavings on the floor of the trailer provides cushioning and protects your horse’s legs. Shavings also absorb urine, which keeps the trailer sanitary and prevents slipping.

Travel in style with R.J. Classics

Don’t forget to bring your favorite riding apparel! For maximum comfort and performance on the road, choose R.J. Classics. We proudly offer training shirts, show shirts, breeches, show coats, and more that will keep you comfortable without sacrificing style so you can perform–and travel–at your best. 

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