Monday, February 18, 2019

stress-free horse hauling

Anyone who has been reading since the beginning will know that my foray into eventing was made possible by the acquisition of a truck and trailer.

the truck and trailer are hands down some of my absolute favorite material possessions 
Deciding that my lease horse Isabel and I wanted to learn to event meant getting into a lesson program. But we didn't have any trainers at our farm at that point and I kept striking out at getting anyone to come to us, so this dream necessitated travel. And so it began.

charlie dressed up for travel from this weekend's adventure to Kealani Farm (spoiler! more to come soon!)
The idea of owning my own rig had literally never even occurred to me before being inspired by this amazing blogging community, where dozens of you routinely ship out to lessons. Prior to that point, I'd only ever just lessoned with the resident trainers at my various barns. Picking a training program was synonymous with choosing my home-base barn.

But that all changed with the truck and trailer. Have trailer, will travel, right? And it was like a whole new world opened up to me! Suddenly I could lesson and train and school all on my own terms!! I could go wherever I wanted, to do whatever looked fun, whenever I felt like it!

pictured: poor charlie stuffed into my Calico stock trailer. homeboy .... did not fit haha
I bought my truck (a 2000 Chevy Silverado 1500 4wd with 200K miles) and first trailer (2013 Calico 2Horse bumper pull stock trailer) in the spring of 2014. Charlie didn't exactly fit in that trailer, tho, so in late 2016 I upgraded to my current Cotner 2Horse bumper pull. And over the years I've logged well over 10K miles of hauling horses.

this is my ideal trailer layout: two extra wide escape doors and extra nose space with no dressing room. ymmv obvi, but for my typical shipping outings this is absolutely perfect
That may not seem like very high mileage, esp for some of you who live in remote areas with long hauls to any of the "local" events. Maryland is densely populated horse country tho, and virtually all of my outings are < 3hrs round trip. Probably more than half are < 1.5 hrs round trip. So lots and lots of short hauls over the years haha.

the wooden bench is so key. as are the extra hanging hooks in front of those ribbons. and the drinks and snacks -- so so so key to have snacks!
In the spring of 2014 I started hauling out for weekly lessons, a routine that persisted until Charlie moved to his current barn in the summer of 2017. During the winters with Isabel, we often shipped out 2+ times a week to local indoors, since our own outdoor arena would freeze solid for a couple months each year. Plus, obviously, we ship out to almost all our shows.

Moving Charlie to OF reduced our hauling frequency substantially, since we no longer have to ship out for weekly lessons. Still tho, I probably average 1-3 outings a month for most of the year.

we've since added another set of extra hooks over the right side window. the two saddle racks allow for stacking so four saddles fit easily.
I'd never towed a trailer before buying mine - let alone even really thought very deeply about it. Since then, tho, I feel like I've learned a few things. Especially relating to setting up a stress free, efficient process to make hauling less of a hassle.

So when Katherine from Virtual Brush Box reached out asking me to write about my process and thoughts, I was more than happy to oblige! See, Katherine is in a similar situation as my Isabel days: Especially in the winter season, there isn't a whole lot of riding that can be done at home. So any meaningful riding requires travel. And travel is exhausting and time consuming and occasionally stressful.

have trailer, will travel!! adventures await wherever we go!!
While nothing I say can erase the reality of how much time gets spent on the road, maybe some of these thoughts can help make the process go a little more smoothly, or at least feel a little easier?

So. With that in mind, here are some things I keep top-of-mind when it comes to hauling out for the average lesson, horse show, or other elective activity:

1. Getting Comfortable with the Rig

For starters, it's key to actually be comfortable doing the driving. I'd only ever driven small little sedans growing up in urban environments with on-street parallel parking. So the truck was a big adjustment in spatial awareness for me.

don't be like me and let your truck sit neglected for so long that even a tractor can't jump start the battery....
The first two weeks I owned the truck, I decided to use it exclusively as my daily driver just to get a feel for it. This meant parking it everywhere and anywhere (on the street, in tight garages, or labyrinthine lots...), driving it on narrow city streets, winding country roads, and major highways, and generally just getting a feel for how it handles. Once I finally bought the trailer and hooked up for the first time, at least the truck part of the equation felt familiar and easy.

bright interior lights inside the trailer are also key, esp for early mornings or late nights!
These days both the truck and trailer live on the farm full-time. Trucks that just sit require a bit of thoughtful attention to stay healthy. Running an engine regularly serves important functions like resisting rust on the moving parts and keeping the battery charged. So at least once a week I'll at least turn it on to run for long enough to warm up.

this stuff has been helpful in keeping the connection between my truck and trailer working properly, since this Cotner turned out to be a bit fussier than the Calico ever was....
Likewise, to avoid letting either the truck or trailer brakes get too stiff or locked up, I'll generally roll the whole rig back and forth a couple feet once a week. And if it's been a while since the truck has done anything, I might take it for a solo jaunt down the road to gas up and put air in the tires.

And as always, it's important to check the trailer hitch every single time, no matter what. Maybe double- or triple-check it. And if parking the trailer stresses you out? Only answer there is practice!

2. But Will the Horse Load?

On the subject of practice, another thing I take fairly seriously is my horse's trailer loading behavior. Personally, my own taste is to have a horse that will self load on the first try with no fuss or drama.

Like so:

And so:

I've written at great length about the methods I use for achieving the calm self loading behaviors demonstrated above. Mostly? It started with investing in training with a professional. All three horses in the videos above had sessions with a local pro who taught the horses the process, and then taught me how to do the same.

Honestly tho, I'm pretty convinced that virtually any sort of trailer training method will work, so long as you're consistent and the horse understands. It's critical that the horse understands, and that it's a calm and safe process.

relaxed + calm behavior at the trailer is a must. extra sets of hands are key too for keeping everything easy! thanks Austen and Brita for always being so helpful!
Because again, the whole point here is to reduce the stress of travel, right? Feeling confident that loading and unloading will be non-issues can go a long way toward making hauling out less of a hassle. And again, like with anything else, it's never a bad idea to do some practice sessions - esp if it's been a while since your last trip or if you've had some hiccups recently and want to reset the parameters.

Waiting until the last moment when you're already feeling under pressure is a recipe for disaster.

3. General Strategies to De-Stress

So with that in mind, another major component to my hauling strategy is being realistic about planning how long everything will take. If I am rushing, I am stressing. Full stop. Maybe you operate differently on tight time schedules, but it stresses me out. Thus the #1 way I stay relaxed is to plain old give myself enough time.

horses are happier with friends too!! the more, the merrier!! esp with there's a DINO pony involved!!!!
Considering my horse can basically read my own heart rate better than I can, it's generally worth it for me to stay relaxed so I don't subconsciously transmit my worry to him.

Other than timing, honestly my favorite way to turn hauling into a fully enjoyable endeavor is to do it with a buddy. My horse especially is much happier with company. And since I'm happy when he's happy, I always try to fill that second trailer spot - esp for longer hauls.

dramatic reenactment of me falling out of said trailer and breaking my leg. mounting block and shipping boots are there to protect against repeating history haha.
This is made relatively easy by boarding at a big bustling barn full of other riders who want to go on adventures haha. And it's also proved to be a good way to get to know people better and make more friends. Plus extra hands are always useful in case there *is* a problem with loading or unloading a horse, or just for normal packing and clean up, or, uh, in case you fall out of your trailer and break a leg by accident. Whoops....

Ahem. Cough cough. Moving on haha.

Life on the road is also generally better when everything I need is within reach: snacks, drinks, phone charger (and blue tooth adapter if needed), a reliable GPS.... Good music or an audio book are key too, esp if I'm traveling solo.

so so so much gear pictured here. all those buckets and jugs of water, and folding chairs and saddle racks and hanging hooks and bungee cords and muck buckets and drinks and snacks and hay nets and and and and... a happy horse and rider <3
Regarding directions - especially if I'm going somewhere new, I'll often look up the address in advance on satellite images. This way I can kinda get an idea of what the driveway might look like, and what the trailer parking situation will be.

4. Equipment to Make Life Easier

Finally, tho, if all has gone according to plan, we've arrived wherever we're going with plenty of time to unload and get set up. So this is where we get into all the accouterments of trailer travel.

absolute must-have piece of equipment right here. plus charlie nose <3
You probably already know that routine and convenience are my personal favorite antidotes to stress. So I like having a clear plan (or a LIST) for what needs to get packed for any given trip. And aside from whatever specific tack I'll need for that particular adventure (dressage lesson? xc clinic? trail ride with friends? full 3-phase event?), there's an entire independent set of gear specifically devoted to the trailering process itself..

ditto the above. also : always remember that directions for literally any how-to or trouble-shooting situation are only a google and youtube video away!
For virtually any trailer trip, I'll want plenty of hay spread across multiple nets, about 10-15 gal of water plus separate buckets for drinking and bathing, and usually a little grain (or even a full meal, in case my travel schedule interferes with Charlie's normal meal times). I also have mucking equipment for the trailer - a tub, muck cart, pitch fork, and broom.

Additionally, it's good to have emergency tools and kits on hand for the horse, truck, and trailer. Including a basic first aid kit (bandages, bute, wraps, wound cleansers and dressings, etc), equipment to change a truck or trailer tire, heavy duty rope or tow straps, di-electric grease for fussy electrical hook-ups, and probably a roadside assistance membership too. I'm covered through my insurance company, but have also heard great things about US Rider.

two main water containers, plus that water cooler jug visible in the background. tons of buckets - normal drinking buckets, the cosequin bathing bucket, and that purple muck bucket. and like. ya know. whatever other junk you wanna throw in the back of your grandfatherly truck cap, which i adore btw
Finally, depending on my trailer set up, there's all manner of equipment to set up my "tack-room-to-go," including tons of extra hooks, saddle racks, and grooming totes. I also have my own mounting block, tho it's only a two step and a bit too short for Charlie unfortunately....

It's never a bad idea to have a number of spares too: spare halter, spare leads, spare girth or bridle, spare hoof pick, spare protective boots for the horse.... You get my drift.

gotta save the best for last tho: the saintly holy muck bucket, muck cart and pitch fork!

In Summary

So all in all, my trailer experiences have remained overwhelmingly positive despite some bumps along the road. I've had a few break downs, a few repair jobs, a few navigational catastrophes, one broken leg, and god knows how many other smaller forgettable headaches.

But by and large, hauling horses out to various adventures has gone the best for me when I prepare in advance, my rig is in good shape, the horse is practiced at trailer loading, I've given myself enough time, and I have all the necessary equipment for safety and efficiency.

Sure, sometimes the hours on the road are long. And tiring. Usually tho? Usually it's worth it. And at the end of the day, all the hiccups and snags and small snafus are generally forgotten, with just the lasting memories of the riding experience itself.

What about you? Do you have a truck and trailer, or plans to acquire them eventually? Does your process look similar to mine? Or maybe different in some key ways? What am I forgetting on my list of essential trailer equipment? With the competition season on the horizon, will you be going through a checklist and inventory to make sure everything is in order?

Or, coming at it from a different perspective, how do you deal with the stress of the travel? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep packing up again and again for those longer hauls? Or does there come a point where you figure it's not really worth it except for special circumstances?


  1. I love my truck and trailer. I don’t haul much in winter (mostly not at all) so I make sure it’s clean and empty. In the spring I load it with things that live there so I don’t have to worry- extra halters, leads, first aid kit, rain jacket, buckets and so many clips/hooks.

    I like to pack up the day before so in the morning I’m just loading the horse and checking on things.

    1. I feel like emptying it out once a year is probably a good practice ! I went thru mine a couple weeks ago to cull items for consignment but it really needs a full re-org I think. Also - agreed 1,000% to packing in advance. I don’t do that so much these days for normal lessons or whatever bc all I’m packing is my saddle and bridle and helmet, everything else is already where it needs to be. But for shows? Esp early mornings? Absolutely!

    2. I also love having horses that self load is invaluable. I agree with the training to- it has to be clear and consistent (and not stressful).

  2. No trailer for me yet, but it's in the plans for the next year or two. I have a truck finally (totally get you on getting used to driving something bigger than a sedan! lol) I do have a friend with a horse trailer and a utility trailer that I can borrow to get some practice in before I purchase my own.

    I'm lucky so far - both horses are good loaders. I think I'll add self-loading on my bucket list for this year though.

    I've only been on one majorly long haul and it was fun - but I wasn't driving! My friend took me to Kentucky in her massive 36' LQ trailer and big diesel truck. I think it was about 18 hours of driving down empty, loaded 3 horses in Kentucky, went to Michigan to drop off two and then took mine home. Michigan is 8-10 hours from home. I don't know that I'd want to do long hauls like that too often!

    1. honestly being a "good loader" is pretty good, right? so long as there's a system and it works and it doesn't stress you or the horse out, it doesn't much signify whether you have to walk in with the horse or not, imho. but then again it is mighty nice when you can just send them in and shut the door behind them! and yea omg those hauls sound loooonnnnggg. sometimes i think about doing a little pilgrimage to aiken one winter, but that's like 8hrs and i'm like, ehhhhh idk about that haha. maybe one year...

  3. love my truck and trailer love to go. Havent gone anywhere with trailer since October (Hay doesn't count right LOL) but love having it as an option. I really like your Cotner. If I hadn't gotten the Kingston that may have been a contender. Me with my extra wide extra tall trailer for my 15 hand horse may be overkill (well maybe not the wide part HA) but it is great for ahemm big horses like Charlie to visit in :)

    So glad you finally went to ride at Kealani. what a gorgeous farm right?? LOVE THAT PLACE GOD I MISS THE NORTHEAST :) HA HA HA

    1. eeeeeh i was so happy to finally go to kealani! it made me think of you tho and yea the northeast misses you too!! also your trailer is awesome sauce haha. charlie obvi LOVED it and probably would have hung out on it for the rest of his life, given the choice ;) hopefully this coming year brings you more opportunities to get out and about in it!

  4. This is a great post! I am genuinely curious, who is your insurance company? I have State Farm, and I have roadside assistance...unless the trailer is hooked up and then they'll tell me they can't do anything for me. Which is why I have US Rider. But I would cheerfully switch to a different insurance company if I could cover it all in one payment.

    1. i have allstate and my trailer is literally listed on my plan as one of my covered vehicles. i also supplement the standard plan with membership to their motor club, which i use for road side assistance since it doesn't have limits on things like tows. my first year with the plan i needed three tows, some of which were over kinda long distances, so with that alone, the motor club paid for itself.

      that said, i haven't actually had to test the roadside assistance for my truck and trailer while hooked up. but i've been told that it would be ok, supposedly haha

    2. That's interesting! I'll have to give them a call. Roadside assistance with State Farm is like $2/month and I have definitely used the heck out of it when the trailer isn't hooked up. Even for stuff I could do myself but don't want to because it's on the side of a dangerous road or whatever.

      And, I always pin State Farm down into giving me answers like that in writing, lol. I don't trust any insurance company as far as I can throw them.

    3. yup, i suppose we all have different tolerances and thresholds for stuff like that!

    4. I was like you and had only ever really driven small cars when I bought my first truck, which was a 350 dually, so quite the difference! But I drive it everywhere and can maneuver it quite skillfully, if I do say so myself. I DID take forever to learn how to back up a trailer but once I started making myself learn it, it's now second nature as well.

      And ditto for the loading ease of horses- P self loads and I will never understand those who don't just take some time to teach that skill (or find someone to help them do so).

    5. ha your truck is total #goals for me. i love my chevy with the fire of a thousand burning suns, but it's definitely on a sunset trajectory at this point.... my next truck will be BIGGER YAS and i'm kinda excited about that haha...

      and yea, honestly the way you put it: "just take some time" is pretty perfect. almost every single horse activity could be improved with, ya know, just a little time. a barn mate once kinda acted like it was silly-bordering-on-stupid when brita and i practiced loading bella and charlie together for the first time. she couldn't understand why we put the horses on just to take them back off again and not actually do anything. but like, when has anybody ever regretted a little practice or positive mileage?

  5. One of my requirements when we moved to Michigan and were planning on buying horse property was that I would also get a truck and trailer. I've had one bad experience where potentially having a truck and trailer of our own instead of relying on friends could have saved Gwyn's dam from colic. It was an awful situation that I had no control over at the time (didn't own any horse) but I saw the anguish my friend went through and vowed never again.

    Since we have a schooling show on Sunday but haven't hauled out in a while, I think I'm going to take Gwyn for a refresher load and haul on Friday to school at an indoor.

    I did get US Rider this year for coverage of roadside assistance. We just switched auto insurance providers (stupid Michigan and its ridiculously high insurance rates) and my horse trailer just plain wasn't in the system for the new provider. They kept coming up with RV and toy haulers, not horse trailers.

    I really want to get a Trailer Aid too. I have most everything else and I can pack in camping gear in addition to horse stuff.

    1. oooooh that's so exciting about the upcoming schooling show! a little refresher ahead of time sounds like a good idea, esp if it works to reduce any of those show day nerves that always want to creep in haha. have fun!!

      and you should definitely get the trailer aid - it made changing the tire last summer such a non event, even tho i'd never had to do it before. i ordered mine on amazon prime - easy peasy!

  6. I think I've mentioned my Kenya experience with flat tires here before (changing about one a week for six weeks while there was construction near my lab). I have to say that this paid dividends even my friends trailers have gotten flats. BrBei comfortable changing a tire w/lions nearby DOES translate to changing one on the freeway, evidently. I'd encourage everyone to practice changing their truck and trailer tires a few times to get REALLY comfortable with the process.

    1. agreed 1,000%

      the one time i had to change a tire could have been so stressful. we were in a different state, on boyd martin's property of all places, about to school xc when i noticed the flat. but knowing that i had the appropriate tools and necessarily knowledge meant that i could basically just shrug like, "eh i'll deal with that later!" and proceed to go out and enjoy my schooling anyway. and dealing with it later went just fine, thankfully! tools + practice go a LONG way haha!

  7. Ummm.....I MIGHT have entered the "let my truck sit so long nothing will jump the battery anymore" club. Whoops?

  8. When I was first learning to drive a truck and trailer my mom had me go out with one of the instructors at the barn who was a stickler for safety. She had me practice running off the road with the trailer so I could get the feel of safely bringing it back onto the road without freaking out and jerking the truck. Mom then again had the same instructor go with me to my first time hauling to a horse show and she was adamant about slowly changing lanes and watching for cars. It's definitely helped along the way and I still count to 7 as I change lanes on the interstate!

    1. oh man, totally! it's so so so worth it to be thoughtful esp at the beginning when you're first learning how to do everything. bc crazy things *will* happen, right? but if we've already developed habits focused on safety, we can hopefully make the best of any situation!

  9. The trailer aid is a great tool and makes changing a tire so much easier. I also purchased a tire inflator that plugs into the..brain fart...old cigarette lighter port...darn I'm getting plugs in there and you can inflate a flat tire anywhere. It is slow but it works and I've had to use it a few times. I got mine at Sears for pretty cheap and it lives inside the truck.

    I need to really work on H'Appy's trailer loading skills. He goes in, but isn't a self loader and before I head out somewhere I want to get him more solid. I've been working on using the cue "walk on" every time I have him walk through a gate or into hi stall in front of me to get him used to that meaning "go froward into the void" and he is getting a lot better. next up is to spend a non rainy weekend, if that exists anymore, working on using that cue with the trailer.

    1. ooh yea i've thought about an air compressor, but usually just go for changing to the spare to deal with the bum tire at a later point. tho one lucky convenience is that the gas station 2mi from my barn has free air. so theoretically if i'm staying on top of maintenance, i shouldn't end up in a situation where my tire just needs a little air other than if something acute actually happened to the tire itself.

      also good luck with the trailer practice with H'Appy!! i actually really liked doing all that ground work practice with charlie too bc it was such an important part of us getting to know each other better anyway

  10. Yeah, being able to haul is life changing. Especially when you get your trailer all set up and it's just easy and fun. Although I'm still always a nervous wreck on the freeway.

    1. agreed completely!! it's interesting tho, in my years hauling i've come to decide not all highways are created equal for hauling. the big giant interstates tend to be the easiest imo, but the beltways and such are nightmares. baltimore's beltway is awful - esp with both left and right exits so cars are constantly zig zagging through traffic - and i will avoid at all costs ever having to haul my trailer on the dc beltway ugh. just NO.

  11. I love having my own truck and trailer! It's liberating! Since we had horses at home when I was growing up, my dad taught me to drive the rig as soon as I had my license. I hauled myself alone to lessons and shows throughout high school. My family had a big 3-horse gooseneck, so I had a bit of a learning curve to adapt to my little 2-horse bumper pull I got a few years ago, haha.

    The only thing I don't like about having my own rig is being asked to haul someone else's horse for free. People sometimes assume that since I'm going to a show or trail ride with one of my horses that I won't mind taking their horse along gratis. I don't know where people get the idea that it doesn't use any more fuel (or time, or inconvenience) to haul two horses instead of one (that belongs to me), but it's super annoying!

    1. oh man, yea i feel ya on that. luckily i haven't had too many folks with that attitude, bc most of the people i go places with either have their own rig too and know how much it costs, or are already accustomed to paying for shipping. it's kinda funny tho -- one of my friends boards west of me, so if we're going to points west or south, i'll pick her up and drive. if we're going points east or north she'll pick me up. so it feels a little bit like we're just trading the same $20 back and forth between our paypal accounts haha.... but it works!

  12. I really hope to learn how to drive a truck and trailer someday soon!

    1. you should!! it's actually really liberating haha, and not nearly as different from driving a normal car as i was afraid it would be

  13. So I need new trailer tires... I have a flat. And dry rot. And instead of doing anything about it, I'm letting it sit and crying about it. I have a spare that will have to go on before I can get tires, but I'm just sad and sulking. But, it's not like I'm riding my horse right now... And, if I really do need to haul, I have a spare...

    But, a horse who loads is really important... lol. Been there, done that. Thank you wonderful trainer who fixed Batty for me.

    1. ugh i hate knowing there's expensive repair work that needs to be done.... i replaced all the tires on my truck last year and it definitely sucked ugh. why can't tires just last forever?

  14. Trailer aid is good, also get fix flats from Walmart and an air compressor from harbor freight. One blogger recommended a fire extinguisher in case of burning tires! Also us rider insurance. They have helped me several times!

    1. omg the idea of burning tires on the horse trailer sounds horrifying!

  15. Yes! But I’ve heard of it happening to one of our fellow bloggers. One old man recommended feeling each tire at each stop, to see if heat is building up.

    1. yikes - hopefully everything worked out for that blogger! most modern tires probably aren't at risk for burning up esp on short drives. but if the brakes get rusty or locked up that could be a whole 'nother can of worms (i understand many of those fires start with overheating brakes). yet another reason to maintain the farm truck and trailer even when you're not using them often!

    2. The newer model trucks (which I absolutely cannot afford, lol) have a trailer tire temperature sensor built-in for just this reason. Someday that feature will fall into my very used price range!

  16. If my memory is correct, 900 $ Facebook pony had an add on system where you could monitor trailer tire pressures from your truck. Wireless and self installable.

  17. One of the things we have to be really aware of here in Aus is trailer weight and what a vehicle is rated to tow. We tow with smaller vehicles, most are only rated to tow 3.5T. We have to be very aware of how much everything weighs to not overload the car. I see a lot of unsafe set ups here because people have NO IDEA!

    I also check the floor of the float all the time because I am super paranoid.

    One day I'm getting a truck and that will half my worries!

  18. That is the most majestic photo of a muck bucket that has ever existed.

    I have a lot more anxiety about hauling than I should. It's fine and I've done it successfully - even with hiccups - quite a bit, but my subconscious brain still fusses and frets and sends my body into various anxious patterns that are no fun. Audiobooks and podcasts soothe my fussy brain though, so all is usually fine. I just wish I could pinpoint WHY exactly my brain feels the need to fuss so I could work to combat it. Time and miles make it easier regardless.

  19. Great post, Emma!

    Being comfortable hauling the trailer is huge - it took me a bit to be 100% comfortable and taking it for random or short drives here and there really helped. I love the freedom that having a truck and trailer gives me - we can literally chose to go wherever we want whenever we want!

  20. This was a great post - and then I got to the recreation of your ankle incident.... at least time gives us humor for those things right lol


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