Photo courtesy of Getty Images/xavierarnau
Transporting horses and horse campers to the trailhead can be a smooth, trouble-free experience, providing the vehicles are properly equipped and maintained. Most groups will have two or more vehicles, and those should travel as a convoy. Then, if one vehicle has a problem, the other can help solve it.
If no one in the party has been to the trail-head before, make certain that you have maps, and pay attention to the signs. Making a wrong turn on backcountry roads can get you lost, and there won’t be anyone around to set you straight. Find out where you are going ahead of time, rather than en route.
All preparations for the trip should be made before the horses are loaded. Once the horses are loaded, the vehicles should move out. Horses don’t like to be loaded and then made to stand in an enclosed area – which amounts to a horse straightjacket – while a half-hour’s worth of last minute preparations are made. They will become impatient, and will paw, bite, or kick. So be sure to have air in the tires, the fuel tank filled, and the coolant and oil checked before the horses are loaded.
You won’t know how a horse reacts to hauling until you have taken it on a trip. Most horses accept travel and do not cause any problems. There are ways to solve hauling problems when they develop. If a horse persists in pawing, put hobbles on its front feet. If a horse feels compelled to bite, put a nosebag or cavesson strap over its nose. Horses can sometimes be tied short enough to be prevented from biting other horses.
Like people, horses are compatible with some of their own kind and not with others. Load compatible horses, not feuding horses, next to one another.
Horse hauling goes slower than a business trip in a company car. If you allow enough time you won’t be tempted to drive fast. Shift into low gear for downhill grades. Horses create a top-heavy load. Their added weight calls for extra distance when stopping the vehicle. While hauling the horses, there should be ample time to think ahead some distance down the road.
If you have to stop, leave your vehicle in park or in first gear. Draw the emergency brake, and either block the wheels or turn them against a curb or obstacle. I knew of an Idaho couple who left their rig in the mountains to look at the view. When they returned, they discovered that it had rolled down the slope and overturned. One horse had to be destroyed. The movement of horses in a truck or trailer can start it rolling if it is not secured.
Cover courtesy of Washington State University Press
Check out health and brand requirements when transporting your horses across state and national boundaries. Many states require a current (within thirty days) health certificate, and some states and Canada require a Coggins test. Western states ask for a brand certificate, whether or not the horse is branded. If your horse is registered, carry a photocopy of the registration certificate. If not, take along a bill of sale. You might need to prove ownership.