Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Long Distance Hauling: When an 18 hour drive is no longer a big deal...

When we bought our first trailer, I felt overwhelmed just taking our pony to a Pony Club meeting down the road. Over time I became more comfortable and began venturing further from home. Two hour drives became easy and three hours to Vermont a regular occurrence.  Last year we took a trip to Canada and thought six hours really wasn't a big deal.

Packing for a long haul requires a bit more thought!
Then came Maryland. The 2016 Long Format at Waredacca was my first venture into longer distance hauling. I had to really think about our route. Several trusted sources told us to go through NYC and take the GW Bridge. I couldn't even imagine it. So we set out at 2am because no way was I going to hit that bridge any later in the day than 6am. It was a good choice. We made fantastic time and got to Waredacca in about 8 hours having budgeted for 10 hours. Our return journey was more complicated. We hit construction, traffic from a Giant's game and other hindrances but it was a happy drive and we made it home in one piece.

I have since driven south two more times - once to Morven Park in Virginia and once to the Kentucky Horse Park via the Plains, Virginia going down and Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania coming back. I can now tell you I will never take a horse trailer through NYC and over the GW Bridge ever again (until I do because sometimes you just have to do these things). My biggest issue with that route isn't even the city. I hated, and I mean HATED, driving a horse trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike (95 South). The road is awful, bumpy and loud. There are a ton of rest stops but they're crowded. Driving that way was super stressful.

So my first piece of advice in planning a long distance haul is plan a good route. Ask EVERYONE who has ever hauled horses and give preference to good roads over shorter distances. The route I now take to Virginia is about an hour longer but so much more pleasant. It also skips all the cities on the Eastern seaboard so I'm not sure that it really does take any longer to go that way. I manage to stay on really nice roads the whole way - smooth surfaces, minimal traffic. Driving from Boston to Maryland/ Virginia we now take 90 (Mass Pike) to 84 South to either 81 South - this is definitely the longer route but if you don't have a navigator to help you it's simple to follow - or we take 84 to 87 to 287 to 78 to 81. Google maps doesn't really suggest this unless you force it but it is an excellent way to go.

My second piece of advice is to pay attention to where you can stop for gas and food. Going the roundabout way with no cities can mean good stopping points are hard to come by. We like to stop about every 3 - 4 hours. You have to be careful not to drive into a long stretch of desolation without a plan and more than once we've gotten off to get gas only to find that the gas station is not really horse trailer friendly. So if you can plan ahead, do.

The third piece of advice is to plan ahead for a layover if you drive is going to be more than 10 hours. Ask around. Your friends probably know of a place that will work for your route. There is a phone book of places that provide layover stabling. I saw it somewhere once but I can't remember what it was called.  There is a great website called Horse Motel. I've now used 3 places on that website and they have all been wonderful.  I encourage you to find something in the general vicinity of where you need to be and then call and ask lots of questions about the stalls, if they can give you an hour of turnout, if you need to clean the stall before you leave, if they have water buckets or you need yours, etc.  The timing of arrival at your layover may not be ideal but choosing the good layover is more important than your drive time. For instance, if my drive is 18 hours and my layover isn't exactly half way, I prefer to drive further on the first day but that isn't always possible.

As far as the horses are concerned, it actually isn't that big of a deal. My daughter's horse is a really
On our way to cross the Canadian border!
good traveler but I think in general the idea is to just keep driving and get through it as quickly as possible. When we drove to Kentucky for Pony Club Championships we had some friends who drove straight through for 18 hours with two drivers. We went on our own so I stopped half way for the night. Either is fine, just different.

Many horses don't eat or drink on the trailer and many don't like to pee in the trailer so the longer the haul, the longer such horses go without these things. Other horses relish the chance to chow down for a long road trip. My limited experience has taught me not to worry too much. I like cutting up the drive to 10 hours at a time because it makes me feel better that after 10 hours our horse will get to eat and drink and move around.

Which reminds me, you do not stop and take the horses off the trailer! The horses are fine. When we stop for gas we open the door to check on them, offer them some water, change blankets if necessary and then we close the door and hit the road again.

On our first long haul we hung a water bucket for Quizz.
Regarding water, we have tried lots of different things and they really don't work for us but you should definitely try them. We tried apples but Quizz will only eat one per journey. Water is of no interest. She will eat soaked Alfalfa Cubes so we soak them with lots of water and offer them to her at each stop which gets some water into her. We do the same with beet pulp. If you have a horse that just won't drink on the journey, it's ok. It's not ideal but it is ok. Just make sure you are heading to your destination with a horse who had been well hydrated prior to getting on the trailer and that you will arrive with enough time to rehydrate your horse before he has to do much of anything. I know some people do IV fluids prophylactically and I think that's a good idea if you have a bad drinker and it's hot. We really haven't had an issue but we do keep a close eye on the horses before, during and after travel so that we can act quickly if things take a bad turn.

Food is about the same as water. Make sure they have plenty of nice hay, offer something yummy
We offer very wet alfalfa cubes each stop.
when you stop for food and gas. If they don't eat, there isn't a great deal you can do about it other than get to your destination as fast as you can so they can settle in and get back to eating and drinking. The more fit your horse when you put them on the trailer, the better able they are to withstand the stress of travel coupled with lack of food and water.

And speaking of stress, we do give our horses UlcerGard before, during and after travel. Consult your vet for the best treatment for your horse. We start at least one to three days ahead, depending on the level of stress we anticipate, and continue through the first full day at home. It has worked extremely well for Quizz.

I hope you have a good co-pilot. It's nice to have someone to talk to and someone to search for a good stopping point while your driving not to mention having someone to look at the written directions you brought along since you can't trust your navigation system. I also like to get a few books on CD from the library. I get a few because some of them are terrible but if you hit on a good one it definitely helps keep you awake. We also found some good podcasts. Most recently we discovered Heels Down Happy Hour. I highly recommend it to get you through a long drive.

Another note on long hauls - be prepared for issues with your car or trailer. We take extremely good care of our rig but things happen. While heading to Kentucky for Pony Club Championships our car just stopped. Thank God we were in the right lane on a straight stretch of highway and the breaks were still working. We pulled over and called AAA. I learned several things that day and immediately joined US Rider which is like AAA for non-commercial people hauling a horse trailer. AAA happened to be close by with a spare truck and I had options for places within 100 miles I could take the horses but we were worried about getting to Kentucky. In the end, it was an easy fix on the road. A hose had come loose and the guy from AAA reattached and tightened it. I yelled at my Ford dealer when I got back. And I really am lucky it happened where it did rather than the next day as we drove through the mountains.

When you get back from a long haul you really should pull the mats out of your trailer and clean it
properly. When the horses are on that long they will, inevitably, pee on the trailer. In fact we would worry if they didn't. So it's important to wash the trailer floor with bleach and water so that it doesn't rot. This is even more important if your trailer has a wood floor. The mats are heavy and extremely awkward to clean and dry. We hang them over saw horses. My daughter has gotten amazingly good at moving them around.

Soon we are heading off on another adventure! Elizabeth and I are taking both our horses to Aiken, South Carolina, for ten weeks for winter training. Other than concern that winter weather could prevent our departure, we feel pretty well equipped to handle the task. This will be our first long haul with two horses so I'm a little concerned about weight and hope the girls can tolerate each other for 18 hours.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Canadian Adventure: As you're planning your schedule for 2017, consider doing an event in Canada!

When planning our eventing calendar for 2016 we decided to get a little creative. We needed another event in early July and Area I didn't have exactly what we wanted. We saw a listing for Napierville Horse Trials and decided to become international eventers!

Napierville is just over the boarder in Quebec. The first order of business was to acquire health certificates, hotel reservations and plan our route for getting there.

The health certificate didn't seem to be a big deal but I think we might have a better relationship with our vet than some other people. I have since had people ask me about the cost of the health certificates. We paid $50 per horse. I have heard vets quote $350 for the health certificate which is absurd. The health certificate has to be stamped by a federally designated vet. From what I gather there is one per state. Our vet pulled together the paperwork, sent it off to the vet for Massachusetts who stamped it and sent it back; then we went to pick it up. The certificate is proof of negative coggins, rabies vaccine and more all in one document. You may need to designate which border crossing you plan to use when you file the health certificate paperwork.

Finding information about the horse trials was not easy. Eventing Canada's website was very confusing and the omnibus was not thorough. Much of the information out there was in French which added an exciting layer of challenge. The venue is called La Criniere. We found the event on the USEA Area I page. It was listed with the schooling shows and has a website, email and phone number listed. The website is not great and much of it is in French so email worked best.

We booked a motel very close to the venue. No one there spoke any English and we had to book the old fashioned way - by phone. I ended up having a French friend call back to make sure we had actually booked three rooms and that dogs were allowed. With that all set, it was time to travel!

We decided to take 87 north through Vermont. The drive was beautiful on great, new pavement and with no traffic. The border crossing was interesting. There was a line of traffic at the border and an option to go off to the right where trucks and livestock were sent. Apparently we could go either way and had we known, we likely would have pulled off to the right. Instead, we waited. Our crossing was totally uneventful and the agents just asked what we were up to and how long we planned to stay and waved us through.

Our friends traveling in another rig had a more difficult time. They were sent over to the livestock area and questioned a bit more. They were also chastised for not providing extra copies of their health certificate and coggins. So one piece of advice, in addition to bringing your passports, bring copies of all your documentation, just in case.

We got lost after crossing the border. The road signs were a bit strange and our directions weren't great. We did eventually find our way to the venue, just in time to unload in a down pour!

Stabling was in the indoor and the temporary stalls were wooden. They did not have gates/doors so we were glad we had a good supply of stall guards! Actually they had wooden doors but they were piled in a dark corner on the other side of the indoor and we didn't find them until it was time to leave. By the time we were unloading it was pouring rain and we had to drag our gear a really long way. There is room on the road to park after you drop the trailer but it would be difficult to unload closer with the trailer still attached. So it was a bit of a slog but totally worth it!

That night everyone set out to walk their XC courses. We had three people going three levels. The XC start is about a mile from stabling. Not kidding. All of them got lost. It was dark and raining. We wished we had gotten there earlier in the day so that would be my advice. Be sure to arrive by noon so you have time to set up and find your XC course. They have a crazy amount of space and so many beautiful trails. The footing is phenomenal everywhere. But it is extremely confusing out there!

The show ran over two days and we really loved the format with Dressage in the morning on Saturday followed by Cross Country and Show Jumping on Sunday Morning.

Dressage was pretty typical, grass warm-up, sand ring. The scoring was on an FEI scale which was
confusing at first but kind of cool to experience something new an different.

Cross country was a whole new adventure. It was BIG. It was LONG. And it had some crazy questions. Novice had a legitimate and intimidating full coffin where you needed to jump a roll top from the sun into the dark and go right down a steep hill, over a little brook, up a steep hill and then another roll top.
Training had two coffins back to back. This is a good place to go test your skills before a move up! Our poor Beginner Novice rider ran into a herd of cows on her course. Her horse took issue.

I did find a video on YouTube of someone running Novice (Pre-Training) there a few years ago which is worth watching. The footing was much better when we went. The year this video was made they had a ton of rain. The Novice gained a couple jumps by the time my daughter did it, including the coffin, but it gives you and idea of what's out there including an upside down canoe, an amazing water jump with banks, trakehners at most level and more.

Probably the coolest thing about the place, and a bit off-putting for the horses at times, is the carvings.  The people who own this place are amazing. They are warm, hospitable and clearly passionate about horses and eventing. Yves Landry competed on the Canadian team. Watch this awesome YouTube interview with him. His wife is equally wonderful. Years ago Yves gave his wife a mini chain saw as a gift and voila! She populated the cross country course with her wonderful carvings. They make this place truly unique and really a beautiful work of art.

After walking some courses post cross country we all agreed this would be an amazing place to come visit for schooling. They have some permanent temporary stalls and welcome visitors. They have SO MANY JUMPS through all levels. I definitely saw some things out there that have to be advanced but they have a ton of stuff for Novice through Intermediate.

That night we went out to dinner in St. Jean Sur Richelieu. It was the most wonderful place!! Right on the Richelieu River, as the name would suggest. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but the food was amazing and there were tons of restaurants on the waterfront which all looked worth a visit. It isn't too far from the show venue so a great option with the more relaxed schedule of a two day show.

Sunday morning we had show jumping. They have a beautiful derby type field with built in hedges and banks and really nice jumps as well as a tent for viewing. Again, this phase pushed the levels. Everything was maxed out and there were more jumps than we see here in the US. But it was awesome!

One thing I tell people when I talk about this show is that it is not a dressage show. So often these days, especially at the lower levels, it seems like eventing is only about the dressage. Well, in Naperville, dressage had little to do with it. There were very few clean rounds in either cross country or show jumping. One could certainly argue that it isn't very confidence building for the horse or the rider but from where I stood, it felt how I always thought eventing would feel. It felt intense, like you were going into battle. Area I is especially guilty of having cross country courses that don't challenge the lower levels and they're really inconsistent. This place threw everything at the rider. I wouldn't want to go there without being really well prepared but what an awesome place to ride if you are ready for it! I loved everything about it.

Perhaps my favorite part was after show jumping, as we packed up, we could see later rounds. As the day wore on, more and more cars arrived and the jumps got smaller and smaller. The cheering grew louder as the jumps grew smaller. By the time we left there was a good size crowd enjoying a gorgeous day, sitting outside cheering on little kids and their ponies going over tiny jumps. It was inspiring. I loved it. Everything about this place made us feel like we had stepped into another world, a fairy tale type place. Life is a little better knowing it's out there.

I was recently attempting to find some information for this year and found the website, which wasn't very helpful, has disappeared. They do have a Facebook page so if you want to contact them, that seems to be the best way!

Training jumped into the water over this crocodile!

Pre-Training (Novice) jumped next to, rather than through, the water jump.

Panoramic photo of the water jump.  It distorts the jump a little but it was SO COOL!!!

Seated on the Pre-Training "Canot" - French for canoe!

They have an amazing gallup track out in the main field. The field has a crazy number of jumps.