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.

Pony Club Anecdote #2

I was testing the teenagers on their stable management in preparation for their C-test.

They were all lined up, slouched, arms folded, resenting this new instructor (I thought “I’m not that much older than them so it’s hard to gain authority and respect. I’ll prefer teaching them when I’m older.” Then I realised that I was double their age – when did I get so old?!). 

Anyway, we were discussing travelling horses and I asked one boy,

“Describe how you would load a horse?”

His response, and get your imagination ready, because it conjures up a great image.

“Well you walk the horse up to look at the lorry. Turn him round, walk a couple of strides away, then turn towards the ramp. Smack him with the whip and trot up the ramp.”

I’m sure you’ve all got the same image in your head that I had, as I tried not to laugh and tactfully asked if the whip needed to be used with every horse …

Travelling and Trailers

Last week I spring cleaned my trailer – emptied, swept, scrubbed, washed, the whole caboodle. Although I don`t have an off season like some, now the eventing season is over I won`t be using my trailer as frequently and I felt it was due a clean. My chauffeur and I are also going to service it over the next couple of weeks to make sure the brakes and everything are still fully functional.

Anyway, I`d had to put the partition in last weekend to give my friend a lift to our eventer`s challenge. Otis has travelled in the partition before, but I`ve discovered that he is a lot more stable travelling in the whole trailer, and standing slightly diagonally. He no longer sweats, and doesn`t lean on the walls.

Cleaning the trailer made me think about how everyone has their own little ways and routines when travelling.

For example, when Llani is in the trailer he spends the whole journey trying to turn around to look out of the back, over the top of the ramp. So we closed the top rear doors, making the trailer a bit dark, but it stopped Llani gawping out of the back door and meant that he didn`t wobble around corners, because he was concentrating on the journey.

Then of course, is my Mum`s pony, Matt. He`s been a great loader since we upgraded to an Ivor Williams and had a front ramp, but he is always breaking his hind travel boots! When a friend started selling off her late horse`s belongings in the spring I came up with a brainwave. Matt seems to stand on his own feet when travelling, so ripping the boots just below the fetlock. I wonder if he would prefer travelling diagonally, but to solve the problem of the broken travel boots I got my Mum a pair of hock boots, a set of soft leg wraps, and then told her to purchase some overreach boots. Okay, it`s more of a faff to put on three items onto each leg, but overreach boots are hopefully more durable than the travel boots, and are a quarter of the price to replace. I await to hear how they get on with this contraption.

This brings me nicely onto all the different styles of travel boots. I have to say that I prefer the shaped ones with a good tough covering around the hoof. I think this comes from Matt, but also Otis`s staggering whilst in partitions, but I feel that these more rigid boots will give more protection than the lighter wraps that you can buy. The other option is of course bandages, which I initially used on Matt but rapidly got fed up of chasing him around the yard whilst my bandage unravelled, as he started marching circles when he saw the trailer being hitched up.

Who uses tail guards? And do you use them as well as a tail bandage or instead of? Again, I started with a tail bandage to keep the tail laid on the way to shows, but when Otis was young he leant on the ramp so damaged his bandage, which made me invest in a tail guard to use additionally.  However, recently I travelled him home with just the tail guard, without a partition, and there was no damage to his guard or tail, so I can only assume Otis is getting better at balancing himself whilst travelling.

Poll guards are another thing I rarely see; I don`t use them myself, but would definitely consider it if I had a horse who had a high head carriage, or was going into a trailer that was a touch on the small side. Does anyone use them?

The BHS tells you you should always travel with a leather headcollar so that it will break in an emergency, unlike the nylon ones we use daily. I still have Otis`s leather headcollar that we bought for his first Christmas, although the name plate is illegible now, it still serves it`s purpose for travelling. Perhaps he deserves a new one this Christmas …

Then of course is the whole rug situation – do you travel in a rug? Don`t you? Will your horse sweat up? It`s a massive conundrum and I never used to as Otis always sweated, but now he`s much better so I will put a thin rug on when it`s really cold, and then take a thicker one to put on while he`s standing in the trailer if necessary.

If you have any travelling particulars, or special alterations that your horse needs, then please tell me as it`s always good to know of other tricks when someone asks for advice.

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.

Tidy Muckheap Tidy Yard …

Yards are always proud of their muckheaps aren`t they? It`s the sign of a tidy yard apparently.

When I was younger “doing the muckheap” was an all day job, and God help you if you forgot to throw that dropping all the way up or sweep the dust against the muckheap wall. We did have rather a spectacular `heap though. It was in a shed, and began at the end of September. Dutifully we forked up everything and built a rectangular pile, with edges you could drop a plumb line down. Once this first layer got to about 8ft, and it was nigh on impossible to put any more up there, and we used a ladder to scramble up in order to level off the top and push back the muck, we were permitted to begin the second layer. And then the third. By about February there were three large layers, with the top one almost touching the roof, and only the smallest helpers could go up there and level it off. The rest of us would be on the other layers forking piles up. Usually a mother would be standing by the gate informing us where we had left lumps, or it wasn`t quite horizontal.
For some reason, I remember in a half term, we decided for some reason that the muckheap needed remodelling. So layer number two was split in half, and the majority of it forked upwards so that layer three reached the roof and we were bent double levelling it off. I think we were obsessed. But we were very fit and strong. And smelly, come to think of it.
Towards the end of March a local farmer, along with his muck spreader, would come and empty the contents of the shed. It would take him a day and a half, at least!

The next yard I went to had very small muckheaps, which required emptying once a fortnight. And there was a reluctance to do anything to them except dump wheelbarrows. Invariably leading to straw piles across the yard until whichever staff member was flavour of the month and had to “sort it out”. Towards the end of my time there a couple of us became quite accomplished at muckheap modelling; photographic evidence even reached Facebook! Our faces used to fall as the next livery owner pushed an overflowing barrow towards us …

Now we have muck trailers, which are actually very useful and get emptied weekly by the tractor. Barrows are wheeled up a ramp (easier said than done), round a corner and into the trailer. Livery owners are usually pretty good at keeping it forked back, right up to the top of the sides. I have seen it being emptied when it`s half full because everyone`s dumped their muck. Today, however, the trailers hadn`t been emptied for about ten days and there was a queue of wheelbarrows down the ramp. We couldn`t muck out because they were all full! The trouble was that the guy who usually takes the trailer away is off this week celebrating his birthday (I mean, how dare he?!) so we called in the reserves. Affectionately known as Bill and Ben, I asked the two middle aged odd-jobbers if they could assist. Willingly they went to get the tractor and proceeded to tow away the first trailer … along with the fence post …
Whilst they were gone we took advantage of the prolonged absence of the trailer to have a good sweep underneath it. Usually it returns in the time it takes to blink so we don`t have time to pick what has missed the trailer. Bill and Ben return, crashing into the gate, and then have a prolonged discussion about how to reverse the trailer back safely, without crashing into the new livery`s shed. They call for back up in the shape of a builder (who built the stables over a decade ago and is still here titivating them). He performs a twenty three point turn and manages to back the trailer in to it`s parking space. “Make sure it`s against the ramp” I say, supervising this manoeuvre whilst holding up my broom. They nod in agreement, unhitch the trailer and disappear off.

One of the grooms starts the mammoth task of emptying the wheelbarrows… only to find that there`s a four inch gap between the ramp and trailer! So we have to ring up the men to come and sort us out before someone puts a leg down it.

Honestly, it was a comedy act. But now the muckheap and yard are tidy!!