9 Steps to Happy Travelling

Taking your horse out and about, be it to competitions or sponsored rides, can be daunting. Especially if you’re going on your own. I’m helping a friend get out and about with her mare, so I’ve devised this program to get them out and about confidently.

  1. Get confident with the empty box or trailer. If you passed your driving test after 1997 you’ll need to take the trailer test to tow a horse trailer and ensure you have the correct license for the weight lorry you’ll be driving. Practice hitching up the trailer and reversing it in particular, but it’s a good idea to have a couple of dry runs with the empty vehicle.
  2. Introduce your horse to their mode of transport. I’m not a huge fan of endlessly practising loading, but having a trial load, especially with a young or unknown horse can be useful so that you’re best prepared to load them when you want to venture off the yard. It may be that you need to leave ample time, or it may be that you need to adopt a particular technique or approach to ensure a smooth loading process. You’ll also need to introduce travel boots so that your horse is happy to walk in them.
  3. With a friend who is familiar to your horse and knowledgeable about travelling horses. for moral support, find and book a local venue. For my friend, we found a quiet yard five miles from her yard with an arena she could hire. She was familiar with the route and the journey was short and straightforward. Once you arrive at the venue, have a ride in the arena. Depending on your confidence as a rider, it might be better to book a lesson so that your instructor can help create a calm environment and dispel any worries. Don’t feel that the lesson or ride has to be earth shatteringly good; you’re not looking for your best performance, you’re looking for you and your horse to be relaxed and listening to each other. It’s also a valuable time to get to know how your horse behaves away from home – is he more forward going? Is he tense? Is he spooking? Or is he taking it all in his stride? Then after your ride, load up and go home.
  4. Fairly soon after, perhaps a week later so you keep building your momentum and confidence, do exactly the same outing. Keep repeating this with your friend and/or instructor until you’re confident and feel competent.
  5. The next step, is to travel without your friend. Load up yourself and arrange to meet them there, or for them to follow you in their car if you’d rather. Once at the venue, you still have their support and help.
  6. Next, instead of having a lesson, just ride on your own. Again, you’re slowly taking away the support of people on the ground and becoming more independent. You have to think for yourself about the new environment and potential hazards, and instil confidence in your horse. Depending on the venue, you could ride in another arena, or use one of their on site hacking routes.
  7. Next, go without your friend. So you travel, ride, and travel back solo. I’d do it at a time when my friend could be on standby – at the end of the phone and ready to drive over in case of a confidence wobble or loading issue.
  8. Go to a different venue. Do research the route thoroughly so you don’t need to worry about getting lost as well as towing or driving the horsebox, and you’ll need to check for any low bridges or weight limits. You may need to take a step back and go to the new venue with a friend, especially if the journey is longer and involves the motorway or busy junctions, but continue going to a variety of venues until you’re confident about how your horse will react, and confident about riding in different places, and most importantly confident about driving there and back.
  9. Reward yourself by entering a competition or sponsored ride. Go with a riding partner for company, and most importantly have fun!

Now obviously you don’t have to go through every step if you don’t need to. For example if you’ve towed a trailer before you won’t need to spend very long getting your eye in, and if you’re a competent rider then you may not want a lesson at the venue, you may be more interested in using the fine to ride a course of unknown fences or run through a dressage test. However, for those of you who have never, or only infrequently travelled with your horse I hope this guide will help you tackle travelling so that you make the most of riding opportunities this summer.

#FriendsOfHorses

A couple of months ago you may remember I wrote an article about how I had written an email of thanks for a highway company who went out of their way for me and the horse I was riding to pass safely. You can read that blog post here.

The idea has been floating around my mind for a while now, and I approached a hi-vis company to see if they would support this idea but as I haven`t heard back I can only assume they think it`s a load of tosh. So I`m going to put this idea to the public, and hope that everyone gets behind it, for the benefit of all of us.

Lets face it, when you`re riding on the roads the bigger vehicles tend to be the scariest, because of air brakes, size, smell, etc. Nothing related to the way they are driven. These vehicles tend to be commercial, so have the company logos scrawled all over them. That means that the driver has some responsibility. He can be traced.

Now we don`t want to hold drivers responsible in a negative way, otherwise that will just tarnish the reputation of equestrians, which is tainted enough as it is by other road users.

What we do want to do, in my humble opinion anyway, is to reward courteous commercial drivers. Publicly thanking them will raise awareness of passing horse riders safely within the company, makes the company appreciate their staff for positive public relations, and setting a good example. Hopefully it will lead to companies incorporating some horse awareness in their driver training, as well as being a good form of advertising. I also hope that a driver who has been recognised by his company will take the same approach forward to their private lives, which should help make the roads safer. I toyed with the idea of giving drivers window stickers or some other form of nomination scheme but that seems very complicated.

I wrote an email to the highways company, but it`s time consuming and a bit excessive if all you experienced was a driver stopping and turning off his engine while you pass. I hadn’t thought of the answer to my predicament yet.

Then one day last month I was riding up a fairly narrow country lane when a large lorry came around the corner. He pulled in close to the hedge, turned off his engine and waited patiently while I walked the two hundred yards to the lorry. I thanked him as I passed; my horse wasn`t at all fazed by the lorry which meant that he had a positive experience – all good for his education. I kept a note of the company name, and on my way home the light bulb came on. I would tweet that company. By adding the location and saying “this morning” I hoped that the driver would be identified and thanked personally by the company.

My tweet was liked and retweeted by the company.

Then a couple of weeks later I met a large recycling lorry which stopped and turned off the engine, giving me plenty of room to pass. I decided to tweet this company. But this time I would add a hashtag – #FriendsOfHorses. Not too long, fairly self explanatory.

It`s happened a few more times since. Everytime I`ve met a lorry or commercial vehicle that has stopped, waited patiently, turned off their engine, reversed, or just shows respect to us horse riders, I`ve tweeted the company a thank you with the hashtag. Each time they have liked or responded to the tweet.

I think if everyone can try to take the same approach we can litter social media with positive messages, promoting horse rider safety, promoting good driving, and improving customer relations for those companies. Hopefully companies will reward their staff and become far more aware of equestrians on the road, and then we will have more positive experiences with larger vehicles. 

Does anyone else agree? I think the next stop for taking this idea forward is to speak to some equestrian magazines, such as Horse and Hound, and charities such as the BHS to see if they will get on board…

Watch this space!

 

Travelling Horses

Today was an exciting day for Otis. He had his first outing in our new trailer. It`s a bigger, more modern version of our old one as he grew out of the first trailer.

Otis can be a stressy traveller, and usually sweats, but we thought it might be because he felt claustrophobic in the partitions. Anyway, this afternoon we took a short trip to our dressage lesson in the new trailer with the partitions taken out.

Otis was slightly reluctant to load as it smelt funny, but travelled as well as he ever does and it was an uneventful trip. The trailer was easy to drive and tow, so fingers crossed it is a success.

On the subject of travelling horses, my Mum was telling me about her friends youngster, who is difficult to load. Once, he was being taken to the Winter Fayre Show as a weanling, but it took so long to load him in the morning they missed their class! I don`t think he did anything naughty, but just planted his feet and refused to move. I think the last eighteen months have been spent regularly walking on and off the trailer and going on short journeys. Then last week, in high hopes, my Mum`s friend went to load the now three year old ready to take him to be professionally backed. The gelding loaded fine, but as the ramp went up he went into a full panic. So he had to be brought off again. This went on for a couple of hours and then eventually they gave up.

It`s a nightmare when your horse is difficult to load though; you have to allow plenty of time at either end of the day to load, and you can guarantee that as soon as you`re late, even one minute behind schedule, they won`t load. Or when it`s chucking it down with rain …

My pony used to be horrendous to load; we had a wooden green trailer, and it had a steep ramp and was very dark. Mum and I hated it cos it was heavy but I think my pony hated it too because as soon as we upgraded to an Ifor Williams he walked straight up the ramp! Mum has negligible problems loading now, he occasionally tries it on but otherwise is very reliable.

Otis was brought up to load well and be used to travelling, but when he was five I got a lift with a friend to a competition in her elderly lorry. It juddered terribly and after that Otis was difficult to load. I soon solved this by only using my trailer, and he went back to normal. Nowadays he occasionally goes in a friends trailer, and if it`s been a while he`ll stop and stare. But if you bring out a whip and hold it he practically jumps the ramp! I`ve never hit him with the whip ever!!

I think the horse needs to come to terms with travelling in his own time; and get used to the prospect with the help of a quiet companion. At the same time owners should make sure their transport is the right size for their animal. I`ve seen a 17.3hh horse being squished into a tiny pony trailer before, and then they wonder why he`s reluctant to go on next time! I`m not a fan of the old style trailers which do not have front doors to let light in. It`s basically the same as asking your horse to walk into a cave.

Have a think about how a trailer looks to a horse, a prey species, and you soon understand why horses can take a dislike to loading onto a trailer or lorry.