My horses spend a lot of time in the trailer, so their comfort and safety as we travel to and from events is a top priority. I carefully consider every element to minimize the opportunity for problems to arise.
Your horses might not be road warriors like mine, but you probably still haul them on trips of varying distances to shows, trail rides, and other events. Here I’ll describe the features of my trailer that keep my horses happy on the road, and then offer tips for long and short trailer rides. Put them to use this summer, and remember them when hauling in winter months, too.
No matter the length of your trip, be prepared for a roadside emergency with first-aid kits for horses and humans. You also need tools to change tires, reflectors to divert traffic away from your rig, contact information for any roadside assistance program you pay for, and a general idea of what you might do in an emergency on the road.
I focus on two main areas to keep my horses sound, healthy, and happy on the road: footing and temperature-controlling insulation.
My trailer has a gel floor, topped with rubber mats, followed by sawdust on top. Those three layers combined provide excellent cushion and shock absorption. The bumps and rattles of road travel can cause foot soreness, obviously, but they also fatigue soft tissues in your horse’s lower legs. Your horse must brace against each stop of the truck and rut in the road, which makes those soft tissues susceptible to serious injuries. Additionally, this footing combination helps dissipate the heat that rises from the road, especially on hot summer trips, and keeps warmth inside the trailer on colder excursions.
Insulation plays a big role in keeping my trailer cool in the summer and warm in winter. The roof and walls of my trailer are insulated to help control the temperature, no matter the season. This helps my horses arrive fresh and ready when we get to a show. Think about making a road trip without air conditioning in the summer—when you get to your destination, you’re tired and lagging; your horse feels the same way after riding in a hot, humid trailer. Traveling in a car without heat in winter means you must contract your muscles and shiver to stay warmer, which uses up energy; the same holds true for your horse.
We try not to travel during the heat of the day, instead opting for early-morning departures or late-night drives when temperatures are cooler.
High-mileage trips are part of the deal in my profession. We regularly haul to Northern California, Arizona, and Nevada for big events. When we compete at championship shows, that means trips farther east to Oklahoma and Texas. No matter the destination, the horses don’t spend more than 12 to 14 hours a day in the trailer.
Even on a 14-hour hauling day, we don’t unload often. Some people disagree, but to me, unloading on the road can open the door for injuries and problems, especially if you unload in places with less-than-ideal circumstances, such as busy gas stations.
When we do stop for gas or a quick meal, I sometimes offer water to my horses, but they seldom drink—they’re more likely to just make a mess. Any stop we make is quick. We don’t take time for long meals or leisurely strolls while our horses are in the trailer. We get in, get out, and get back on the road.
No matter the speed limit, I don’t travel faster than 70 or 72 miles per hour with my trailer. You can only stop so quick, especially with a large rig. Common sense about speed—to accommodate the trailer and the road conditions—is essential.
We deep-clean our trailer every two or three trips for our horses’ health and to extend our trailer’s serviceability.
Even brief trips to the vet clinic or a nearby arena require common sense. Don’t be tempted to leave your drop-down windows open, even if you’re going a few miles, to prevent debris from flying into your horse's eyes.
Short trips tend to involve more traffic than longer, interstate trips. Choose to travel at times of day when you can avoid stop-and-go traffic. Keep tabs on construction that could lengthen your trip or be difficult to navigate with a trailer. These scenarios make travel harder on your horse because he's jostled around the trailer and spends more time confined on the road. That's especially problematic in summer heat.
Your cell phone can be helpful to find alternate routes or identify construction and traffic before you depart, but don’t fiddle with your phone on the road.
Bob Avila, Temecula, California, is an AQHA world champion, three-time NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity winner, NRHA Futurity champ, and two-time World’s Greatest Horseman. He's been named the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year. Learn more at bobavila.net.