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Reduce Trailering Stress – Keep Your Cool When Traveling With Horses

As Published in the July, 2011, issue of The Northwest Horse Source.

Summer is officially here, and in spite of high fuel prices, trail riders are hitting the highways in large numbers to haul their horses, and mules, to “work” as they travel to that perfect riding destination.  In my last article we discussed the fundamentals of trailer maintenance and how to check your equine partner’s travel accommodations for safety. Let’s expand on that topic and talk about how to create an equine friendly environment while we roll over the blacktop. There are several topics to discuss around trailering such as; front or slant load, bumper pull or goose neck, step up or ramp, tie or not tie, and more, but today we’ll narrow our focus and concentrate on two factors; dealing with heat and driving styles.  Regardless of how far we haul we’re asking a lot of our horses and we’re creating stress on them in several ways; from the stress of heat to the stresses of being bounced around inside a trailer.

Dealing with heat – Most horses’ comfort range is between 30 to 75 degrees depending upon the breed. While this is a wide temperature range consider the wide range of horse breeds from cold loving Icelandics to thin coated Arabians.  They each have adapted to different environments. Now consider the trailer and how hot it can become on a warm sunny (think perfect riding weather) day. Studies have shown that temperatures inside trailers can easily be 10 to 15 degrees greater than outside temperatures.  That perfect 80 degree day just became a hot and humid 95 plus degrees inside the trailer. In order to ease heat stress on your animals you can take the following precautions.

• Carefully select departure/arrival time schedules to avoid the hottest parts of day (i.e. leave early when it’s still cool).

• Ensure your horse is well hydrated beforehand and offer water frequently (at least every 4-6 hours) during longer trips.

• Keep the trailer moving and avoid parking for long periods. The wind’s cooling effect is most helpful so keep those vents and windows open. This also requires you to check road conditions prior to the trip to avoid congested areas.

A second factor to consider when you’re hauling is you, or rather your driving style.

Your driving habits are a major factor in the comfortable trip for your horse. Towing a horse trailer is, as you already know, very different than going for a Sunday drive in your car. Trailers are long, heavy, and loaded with your favorite riding partners. Your consideration of your equine passengers will not only reduce their levels of stress during the trip, it will also help in having them load willingly into the trailer at the start of your next trip!  Driving practices to keep at the forefront of your mind when hauling are:

• Avoid sudden stops and starts. You’re in a truck and pulling a loaded trailer so now is not the time to pretend you’re a NASCAR driver. Slow and steady starts and stops will give your horses time to adjust and to brace themselves. Think ahead and anticipate what could, would, or should happen before the situation occurs.

• Passenger friendly driving also includes careful braking and smooth cornering as key elements to towing a trailer in a responsible manner. Take turns easily and wait to resume your normal speed until the rig has straightened out from the turn.

• Take it easy when traveling over bumpy roads.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re blessed with some of the finest riding opportunities in the world. Unfortunately one of the prices we pay for our wonderful trails are some of the “roads” we have to take to get there. Take your time, the mountains won’t leave before you get there.

One of the best ways to learn first-hand what your equine friends are going through is to take a ride in your horse trailer. Find a large parking area or your driveway (not on the road in a bumper pull trailer, it’s illegal) and have a trusted someone take you for a brief trailer ride. You’ll be amazed at how it feels each time the rig turns or makes a sudden stop. I can almost guarantee that this exercise will cure anyone of poor trailer driving habits.

As always, for more information on this and other topics, as well as the largest source of validated and free horse trail and horse camp information in the U.S. visit