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.