I realize that all of you reading this article are seasoned travelers and most have logged many miles with your horses. So, I am not going to give you your Dad's laundry list of "check your truck battery, check your trailer lights, etc."
Instead, I am going to try to give you a list of some of the little things that make a trip safer and easier for both you and your horse.
1) Hydrate - Hydrate - Hydrate - We all hear the mantra "Drink More Water." Well, it is true! Almost as true as "You can lead a horse to water but......." So, here are some tips:
a. Flavor your water - Gatorade, Electrolytes, Apple Juice, a gallon of your home water mixed with the local water it really doesn't matter as long as you use common sense. Use a small amount of flavoring to a large amount of water and make sure to try it at home first!
b. Soak your hay- this is another option for getting water into your horse. Placing it in a hay net and soaking it in water for 10-30 minutes will saturate the hay well enough to deliver adequate water to your horse while he eats. Win win!
c. Hydrate yourself!- Both of you will go farther and arrive in better shape from your journey if you hydrate yourself along the way. Additionally, your horse will appreciate the frequent bathroom breaks to rest for a minute or two.
2) Electrolytes - Horses don't sweat their electrolytes evenly. So, to keep a horse balanced you have to replace what is lost. My personal favorite is a product from Purina called "ElectroEase." It comes in a granular form and is also available as a paste. It’s coated to pass through the horse stomach and then be absorbed in the small intestine. This is a huge benefit for horses that might have ulcers (think salt on an open wound) or any horse with a finicky stomach. If you can’t find these electrolytes, the regular granules (flavored or plain) or table salt are both adequate. When feeding electrolytes, it is important to make sure there is fresh water available for your horse to drink. If this doesn’t happen, the increase in electrolytes combined with a lack of water can speed up the dehydration process and cause imbalances.
3) Take Breaks, whether it is to go to the bathroom or stretch your legs, the constant motion and low frequency vibration of a horse trailer is exhausting. Also, you will drive better if you take 15-20 minutes every couple of hours. Drink a bottle of water yourself and offer a bucket to your buddy in the trailer. Your horse will appreciate it.
4) Don't skip the leg protection - Those funny looking shipping boots do actually serve a purpose. Especially if you have a horse that likes to kick or paw in the trailer. Or, if your horse is stuck riding next to one that does. Also, I have started shipping all of my horses that actually have to do something at the end of the ride in "Soft Ride Boots". They are not cheap, but they often eliminate a full day (or sometimes two) of rest time needed to get a horse to compete at their best. Anything to shave that .001 of a second, I know!
5) Have a good equine first aid kit - I know that it sounds like a simple idea but take the time to get online and buy one or build your own. Also, at the start and about halfway through your competition year, go through the kit and replace what is missing. I find that I use mine on the humans more than the horses, but that's OK, the horses don't seem to mind. Don't forget to get a tube a Bute (Phenylbutazone) and Banamine (Flunixin Meglumine) from your vet. Double check the expiration date on your current supply.
6) Paperwork - Ugh! - Make sure that you have the proper paperwork for where you are going. Oregon and Washington now require Coggins tests to travel between them. We can also issue you a six month Heath Certificate as well as a Coggins to ensure you can travel properly between states, including Idaho and California. Montana requires a lifetime brand inspection on all horses entering the state, as well as the Health Certificate and Coggins. When in doubt call your veterinarian.
Chris Wickliffe, DVM