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Transporting Horses - What You Need To Know

It is very likely that at some point, a horse owner will need to attempt to move their horse, either to a vet, to another stable or to a show. There are a couple of different methods for transporting a horse, each of which has their advantages and disadvantages. And there are a number of ways that you can help your horse cope with the process. 

In this guide we will help explain to you how to transport a horse with ease, ensuring that they have a stress free journey. We will also offer you information on dealing with claustrophobic horses as well as some great tips for driving with a horse trailer and more!
So read on for plenty of useful information that can come in handy when it comes to moving your horse from place to place. 

Horse transportation methods

There are a number of ways that you can transport your horse from A to B. These methods vary and may suit a variety of different needs that you may have. 

horse trailer
Image courtesy of extension horses via flickr

Horse trailer 

This is probably the most well known and most common horse transport methods. Using a horse trailer when moving a horse is very quick and easy. Provided that you have a powerful enough tow car (such as a Land Rover), you can simply load the horse(s) into the trailer and head off down the road. 

Those who plan on moving a horse regularly may wish to look into buying their own horse trailer as it will save money over continually having to rent one. You can buy a second-hand horse trailer for quite a good price and this should be considered amongst one of the best regular horse transport methods. 
Click to see Horse Trailers for Sale
horse box
Image courtesy of Manhattan Research Inc

Horseboxes are similar to horse trailers in that they are operated and driven by the horse owner but they are more like trucks and are all one unit. These sorts of horse transport methods are better for moving multiple horses and their equipment.
Many people find these easier methods for transporting a horse as they are easier to drive and to park than a car/trailer combo. Moving a horse in a horse van is considered to be less stressful for the horse as well because there is more room. Horseboxes often have separate tack and equipment rooms as well as living quarters for riders/owners making these excellent for people that frequently go to shows.
The disadvantages of horseboxes are that they are often considerably more expensive to buy than a horse trailer. Because of their size, these horse transport methods often require extra certificates on a UK driving license and they are harder to store when not in use.
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Professional haulers 

These horse transport methods are excellent for moving a horse over a considerable distance, such as across continents like Europe or America. There is probably not as much business for these methods for transporting a horse in the UK but they still exist. If you are only making occasional long distance journeys then this could be an economical way of moving a horse.
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Training your horse for transportation

As with most new experiences for your horse, it is always a good idea to train it so that it can cope with it better in the future. You should prepare the horse trailer in advance by making sure the area is safe and there is nothing in the way of the loading space. Ensure the trailer is already hitched to your tow vehicle and cannot move. If you have one, set the horse transport ramp up. Ramps make the process run smoothly as they can walk up them easier.

You should place a reward such as a bucket of grain or hay inside horse trailers. This will help you to entice the horse into the trailer. If your trailer is a new purchase then allow the horse to get used to it, let it stand around the trailer for a few minutes in order to become acquainted with it. 

When first training your horse to enter the trailer you should move one of its feet into the trailer. The horse will probably bring it back out. Keep placing the foot back in until it stays there. Now place the other front foot in the trailer. With a ramp this will be simpler than without as you won’t have to train the horse to lift weight off one foot. When both front feet are in, reward the horse and let him stand like this quietly. 
If the horse backs out, do not be put off as this is to be expected. Simply repeat the previous stages. Once the front legs are comfortably in, most horses will be fine with walking forwards. If not, keep repeating the steps from before, but make sure to give the horse a break every now and then. Do not forget to reward the horse each time he has stepped in the right direction towards the horse trailer. And make sure that once it is in, you reward it again! You should repeat this process so that when it comes to actually transporting your horse, it is used to getting into the trailer. 

Loading a horse into a trailer

Loading and transporting horses can be a worrying time, and changes in the law regarding this have also made it a potential minefield. The type of vehicle chosen will depend on when you passed your driving test, how many horses you need to transport, and the type of horses you want to travel.

If you passed your test before 1997, you can drive a lorry with a weight of up to 7.5 tonnes or tow a trailer.
If you passed your test after 1997, you are restricted to driving a lorry with a weight of up to 3.5 tonnes. In order to drive a larger lorry or tow a trailer, you would need to take an additional test.
These smaller 3.5 tonne lorries are really only suitable for transporting one horse, and only comfortably up to about 16hh. If you need to transport something bigger, or more than one horse, you would be best advised to take the additional test.
With larger lorries come different legalities. A 3.5 tonne lorry can go through a car MOT, but anything larger needs to pass a different test, called plating. Larger lorries also may also need more safety features, such as reflective strips and bars down the sides. A trailer does not need any tests done, but it is advisable to have it regularly checked for safety.
Horses can be wary about loading and travelling. If it is ensured that they have a good experience every time out in the lorry, these worries are likely to be easily overcome.
When you want to transport a horse, the first thing you should do is park up your vehicle and trailer on even ground with the ramp down. Make sure there are no obstacles in the trailer. Moving a horse into a spacious trailer will be much easier than if it is cluttered.
Now, load a horse into the trailer making sure you do not step in front of him. The horse will probably hesitate, so speak softly and encourage him in. Show him that moving a horse on the ramp is totally harmless.
When the horse is in the trailer, tie him up. The best and safest way of doing this is by tying a string loop to the tying-up ring and then tying the lead rope to this string. This will prevent the horse from injuring himself if he thrashes around. 
Loading horses that are genuinely scared or worried is a job for experts. There are many approaches to this. The horse needs to make the decision himself to load, as forcing him on will only confirm his fears that there really is something to be afraid of.
The interior set up of a lorry can make a huge difference to how horses travel. Studies have shown that most horses prefer to travel facing backwards, but this can be different for each horse. Some prefer to travel diagonally (herringbone), some forwards, some prefer a partition to lean against, and some prefer no partition at all.
Horses can move about a lot in a lorry, and it can get quite warm. Ventilation is important, and all windows should always be open, even on cold days. A haynet to keep the horse occupied will always be appreciated and may help the horse travel better.
Horses do not really need to travel in a rug unless they are likely to get chilled. Many people choose to travel horses without boots, although some insurance companies stipulate that horses must be travelled in boots, so it is always worth checking this. There are many different options – traditional travel boots, bandages, or brushing and over reach boots are all sensible choices. Many horses have a personal preference to how they like to be booted, so trial and error may be the best way to decide.
The handler should always wear a hat, gloves and sturdy boots to load.

How to trailer a claustrophobic horse

If you discover your horse seems reluctant to enter a trailer and reacts with some distress, it is important not to panic.
This is a fairly common reaction for most horses, therefore there are many training techniques available which may help you curb the problem of claustrophobia. Below, we explore just a couple:
  • Don’t ever try and force the horse to enter the trailer. This could be dangerous for both you and your horse, and you can never predict the reactions of a spooky horse. Instead, approach the trailer slowly and allow the horse time to become accustomed to the smell and shape of this foreign object. Circulate the trailer, allowing the horse to sniff it at regular intervals, thus enabling it to examine the potential dangers.
  • Make a judgement call. You will have the best overall knowledge of your horse’s characteristics and inclinations. Therefore, it’s likely that you will be in the best position to judge when the horse feels a little more comfortable with the trailer. Lead the horse slowly towards the back of the trailer, and try a few tentative steps on the loading ramp to see whether the horse is happy to move inside.
  • Use treats as a sweetener to encourage the horse to enter the trailer without fuss. Even if it takes a number of slow steps to gee the horse on, offering up treats when the horse begins to show enthusiasm for the trailer will help your cause massively.
  • Ask a couple of friends to help you with loading up a claustrophobic horse. Placing them strategically around the trailer will help make loading less complicated, and slow, gentle movements by each person may give the horse little option but to advance into the trailer.
  • Unfortunately, in some cases a horse will simply be too nervous and claustrophobic to be in a fit state to enter the horse trailer. In these instances, the horse may need to be sedated an blindfolded in order for the loading process to be as safe as possible. While this option tends to be a last resort, it can be a good way of ensuring neither horse nor owner gets harmed while loading.
  • Finally, once the horse is within the confines of the trailer, offer up some feed. This will help any lingering doubts about horse trailers subside as the horse begins to associate the inside of a trailer with positive experiences such as feeding over time.

Unloading a horse trailer

Loading a horse into a horse trailer is often much easier than unloading because the horse is walking forward. Walking backwards down a step or a ramp often makes a horse uncomfortable. With practice, unloading horse trailers will get easier but it is important that you don’t make mistakes and risk injuring yourself or the horse. Here are some points that should help you when it comes to unloading your trailer:
  • Make sure that you park up your horse trailer somewhere with plenty of room and try to minimise distractions from other people or vehicles as you will want to keep the horse as calm as possible when unloading from the horse trailer.
  • To unload a horse trailer, you will need a lead rope. Make sure it is securely clipped to the horse halter before you start unloading. It is best to get someone to hold the lead rope while you go around and open the back door of horse trailers. Don’t untie the horse from the horse trailer until you have reached the horse, coming through the back door.
  • When you are inside the horse trailer, make sure you move in a calm and quiet way and don’t make any sudden noises that may startle the horse. Make sure the horse knows you are there but try not to alarm him.
  • Ask the person who is helping you to untie the trailer tie when you are near the horse’s head. Pull the lead rope through the slats in the horse trailer and turn to face the back of the horse trailer and begin unloading.
  • Give the horse some room, but not too much, in the horse trailer so that he can manoeuvre and so that you don’t get injured should he decide to play up. Give the horse a gentle nudge with the lead rope and use the command to back up out of the horse trailer.
  • Keep walking the horse backwards out of the horse trailer, keeping the lead rope tight enough to keep control but loose enough to allow the horse some movement. Some horse trailers can house two or more horses so make sure that you close everything up again so it doesn’t move around and startle any remaining horses.
  • Larger horse trailers may allow you to fully turn the horse around and walk him out forwards. Only do this if you can be sure that the horse won’t scratch or cut himself on the sides.
  • Before unloading a horse trailer, warn any pedestrians around you so that they don’t walk past at the wrong time and startle the horse.

Driving whilst towing a horse trailer

Towing horse boxes is one of the main ways of transporting a horse from place to place. We all want our horses to be as comfortable and safe as possible when inside a horse box, whilst maintaining a safe driving atmosphere on the road.
With this in mind, there are a few tips regarding towing a horses box that can ensure that you, your horse and other road users are kept happy and safe.
  • Make sure that you are wisened up to the following tips to prevent potential trouble, or even accidents, from occurring when in transit. Humans can be injured, animals harmed and road disruption can be caused, all thanks to the misuse of horse boxes.
  • A lot of the time, incidents that involve horse boxes are caused by overloading, using the wrong sort of tow-car, bad driving, and burst tyres. 
  • Prepare for your horse transport journey properly by first ensuring that the tyres are correctly filled and are not damaged. 
  • When on the road, drive carefully and be alert at all times. This will reduce the risks of scaring the horse and of road accidents. 
  • Find out about the legal speed limits on roads for towing horse boxes. Also, cover yourself with appropriate insurance and breakdown recovery when looking to buy a horse box.

How to feed a horse in a trailer

It can sometimes be difficult feeding horses in a horse trailer. The claustrophobic, unfamiliar environment may leave them ill at ease and unwilling to satisfy the appetite. If you want to learn how to feed a horse in a trailer without any problems arising, then follow this advice:
Before you load a horse into a trailer and prepare to travel, it’s worth considering the impact a journey can have on a horse’s attitude towards diet. Horses are renowned for having fragile digestive systems, so it’s important to make sure the trailing process does not become too disruptive. 
Try and provide your horse with familiar feed. As creatures of routine, horses will appreciate having something familiar to feed on. On most occasions, it’s best not to tamper with a horse’s regular diet, and this becomes even truer when it comes to providing feed in horse trailers. If you have never used horse trailers before, try and make conditions inside as comfortable as possible so the horse does not feel alarmed. 
For the duration of time it spends in the horse trailer, the horse needs to be fed at the same time and in the same amounts as the feeding programme used in the stables. This will help reassure the horse, reducing stress and maintaining the digestive system, reducing the chance of ailments such as colic occurring. 
Attach a hay bag onto the trailer at a suitable trailer so there is easy access to horse feed. Try and keep the hay as fresh as possible; this will help the digestive tract to function more effectively. Finally, provide plenty of water in the horse trailer, especially at feeding time, as this will ensure the horse digests the feed properly.