Travel like a pro

Travel like a pro

Loading your horse onto a lorry or trailer and setting off for a day full of riding fun is a great way to spend your summer, but how can you ensure you prepare and travel your horse as safely as possible? We explain how to do it.

From checking out new hacking routes to enjoying a gallop along the beach, having transport to travel horses opens up a whole new world for you and your horse. But it’s worth bearing in mind that travelling horses isn’t natural for them, so giving them a safe, pleasant journey will make the experience better for both of you. There are also some key safety issues to consider, but with a few simple checks, and a little preparation, you'll be on your way.

How to prepare a horse for travel

While travelling, horses can’t sit down like us, so they have to balance themselves and this can increase the risk of knocks and bumps. For this reason, many owners prefer to travel their horses in protective clothing.

  • Travel boots, bandages or hock boots and overreach boots will protect the horse’s legs, but it’s important they are secured correctly to stop them coming loose without being overly tight.
  • Many owners opt to transport their horses in a leather or field-safe headcollar that will break or come undone easily should the horse struggle. There are also poll guards that can protect the top of a horse’s head.
  • Some horses like to lean back against the wall or door, which can rub their tail, so a tail bandage and/or tail guard can protect it. Again, check the tightness to prevent it coming loose but also that it’s not too tight – the blood supply to the skin of the tail can be compromised when the bandage is too tight.
  • Horses can get warm while travelling, so it’s important not to over-rug them. On cooler days, a lightweight cooler rug will be sufficient to prevent them getting cold.

TOP TIP If your horse is new to travelling, try on their travelling kit before you travel them, so they get used to it in the safety of home. Travel boots in particular can feel quite strange to a horse at first, so give them time to get used to them.

How to check and prepare the trailer or lorry

Once your horse is ready to go, you need to check your transport:

  • Check that your tyre pressure and tread depth is correct. Check tyres when they’re cold – the recommended pressure should be listed in your vehicle manual. The central three-quarters of the width of the tyres should have a tread of no less than 1.6mm.
  • Check your lorry’s payload, or car’s towing capacity to ensure you are safe and legal.
  • Check that your lights and indicators are working by asking a friend to walk around your lorry or trailer as you turn the lights on, including rear lights, indicators and reversing lights, and number plate lights. Make sure the trailer’s electric cable is properly connected.
  • Look out for loose fittings or sharp edges that could injure your horse while loading or in transit.
  • Ensure the floor of your lorry or trailer is in good condition and not showing any signs of wear or tear. Even aluminium floors need checking.

TOP TIP Have your lorry or trailer serviced annually by a specialist to make sure everything’s in good working order.

How to load and unload safely

Give yourself plenty of time to load your horse, particularly if they are new to travelling, or tricky to load. To help them get used to it, practise loading them, then feeding them inside the transport before unloading them. This helps to show them that it is a safe place to be. It’s also advisable to wear a hard hat and gloves when loading and unloading.

  • Parking downhill can lessen the steepness of the ramp. Ensure the ramp is stable and not slippery.
  • To make the inside of the lorry or trailer feel light and airy, fix back all the windows, partitions and doors.
  • Walk your horse calmly but confidently towards the ramp. If they stop at the foot of the ramp, don’t pull, just maintain pressure on the headcollar until they step forwards, before releasing the pressure and rewarding.
  • Once inside the lorry or trailer, tie your horse up using a quick-release knot tied to either a safety strap or piece of easily breakable string, then secure the partitions.
  • Close the ramp slowly and quietly to prevent startling your horse.
  • To unload, open and secure all doors and partitions before untying the lead rope and leading your horse out.

TOP TIP If your horse is new to travelling, take them out on several short practice drives before you make a trip that’s a big deal, such as a show. This will give you an idea of how they travel and what they’re like to load. It will also teach them that travelling doesn’t necessarily mean a stressful experience at the other end.

How to drive carefully

Unlike us, horses have to stand up when travelling, which requires a huge amount of effort to balance. The smoother you can drive, the safer they will be and less likely to fall or slip.

  • Drive as smoothly as possible with gradual acceleration/deceleration and gentle braking, keeping the trailer in line with your vehicle before accelerating after corners or turns.
  • Practise by putting a cup of water in the passenger side footwell and trying not to spill it.
  • Make sure there is good ventilation in the horse area by opening all available windows even in winter, and rug your horse to maintain a reasonable temperature.
  • Know the speed limits for towing trailers:
  • 30mph limit applies on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.
  • 50mph applies on single carriageways unless signs show otherwise.
  • 60mph applies on dual carriageways and motorways.
  • If your trailer begins to snake or swerve, don’t apply the brakes – ease off the accelerator and reduce speed gently.
  • Avoid sharp braking.
  • Before reversing, always get out of the vehicle and check that all is clear before making the manoeuvre. If possible, get someone to watch and help you manoeuvre.

TOP TIP Be prepared for a breakdown by ensuring you have breakdown cover for your lorry or trailer and the horses inside it as some policies don’t cover livestock. Always carry enough supplies in case you are stuck for a few hours, and carry any breakdown details in your vehicle. You must also always carry your horse’s passport when you travel.

Take a break

For long journeys of two hours or more, it’s important to factor in breaks of at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow your horse to rest, lower their head and have some water to prevent dehydration. Lowering their head drains their nasal passages.