The thrill and excitement of show season are upon us once again. Show season 2021 may look different from previous years as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. While we may not be venturing quite as far afield for shows as we’re used to, one thing will remain the same for most competitive equestrians this season: shipping.
Shipping is stressful. Trailers are small, cramped, and often with less-than-ideal ventilation; strange horses may be worrying and potentially dangerous when infectious diseases come into play.
Shipping is also physically exhausting: the stops, starts, and swaying of the trailer force the horse to constantly readjust and redistribute his weight to stay balanced.
There’s also the likelihood of injury, as your horse may step on himself, be kicked by a traveling companion, bump himself against the inside of the trailer, or slip on the loading ramp.
While driving carefully and monitoring him for signs of illness (such as colic or dehydration) are essential, there’s also plenty of gear you can use to help him travel in comfort and safety. Here, we’ll take a look at some shipping essentials you should have on hand.
Essential Horse Shipping Gear
Stall or Standing Wraps
If his legs are usually wrapped at home, you should probably wrap them for shipping, too. If he’s new to shipping or has never had his legs wrapped before, this is something you should familiarize him with at home first.
Leg wraps will help protect him from knocks in the trailer. They can also help protect his legs if traveling companions kick or step on him (or if he steps on himself). Wraps also protect him during loading and unloading since a misplaced foot on a ramp can result in a nasty injury to an unprotected leg.
Opt for the least-stretchy wrap you have available and use the thickest quilts you can find, especially for shipping. A wrap with too much stretch can cause pressure points and uneven tension, both of which are worse for his legs than no wrap at all. Thick quilts will help protect his leg not just from knocks and bumps but from uneven wrap pressure as well.
However, there are situations in which you may not want to apply leg wraps – for instance, if the temperature is over 85 degrees, you may wish to forego leg wraps to reduce overheating. On multi-day trips, it may be best to forgo the wraps or remove them during breaks, to give his legs a chance to breathe.
One important caveat with leg wraps: if you’re not experienced or confident in applying them, don’t. Unevenly applied wraps that twist or bind can cause a bandage bow, a painful tendon inflammation that can take months to heal. If this is the case, opt for shipping boots instead.
Bell boots on the front legs will help protect the hoof wall and the shoe if he steps on a front foot. Bell boots will also help protect the coronary band from steps or knocks. Injuries to the coronary band can be particularly damaging as they can impact hoof growth or become a source of chronic infections like quittor.
Young, excitable horses or those who aren’t accustomed to shipping are more likely to have difficulty finding their balance and step on themselves and are especially good candidates for bell boots.
If you plan to do a lot of shipping or aren’t familiar with wrapping legs properly, shipping boots are a great option. They also have the added advantage of covering the coronary band and part of the hoof, and many models cover the hocks as well.
Shipping boots are also easy to apply and don’t carry the risk of a bowed tendon if improperly applied as leg wraps might.
Just like standing wraps, he should be given a chance to get acclimatized to shipping boots before he ships in them, especially if he isn’t used to trailering.
A great and much more affordable option is to add a set of halter fuzzies. These slip on over the nose, poll, and cheek pieces of the halter.
If you’re shipping in a nylon halter, opt for one that has a leather breakaway piece (usually the crown) that will break if enough force is applied.
Horses do best when they can lower their heads while shipping, which helps clear the trachea of dirt and debris. While some horses should be tied to avoid turning or getting into trouble in the trailer, the more he can lower his head (without risking putting a leg over the rope), the better.
Opt for adjustable trailer ties with quick-release panic snaps that you can easily release in an emergency. Avoid bungee trailer ties, which can have too much “give”. These can stretch until they snap, injuring a horse.
Depending on the temperature, you may or may not need to blanket your horse.
In most cases, it’s good practice to dress him up as little as necessary, as a horse overheating under a blanket is going to be more uncomfortable than one that’s not blanketed.
If it’s chilly in the morning, avoid the urge to close the trailer windows to “help him stay warm” – airflow and ventilation is much more important and critical to his health. It’s better to throw on a sheet and keep the windows open than lock him inside with the dust and ammonia if he urinates (which, if you’re shipping for more than a few hours or if he’s nervous, he probably will).
If you own your trailer, good quality rubber mats are a must. Just like in a stall, mats will help protect his legs from fatigue. In the trailer, they can help protect the trailer floor from urine damage, wear and tear, and can improve traction.
Yes, he’s probably going to need to use the bathroom on the road. For this reason—and to help cushion his legs from the rocking motion of the trailer—make sure he has a good bed of shavings, straw, or whatever he’s accustomed to.
This isn’t strictly a necessity (unless your horse has a tendency to rear or freak out when trailering), but a head bumper is a great extra that will help protect his sensitive poll area from impact if he rears, spooks, or bumps his head against the ceiling of the trailer.
Essential Horse Shipping Wellness
We know that shipping can be stressful, and a stressed horse is likely to soon become a sick horse. While there’s a lot you can do to keep your horse healthy while at a show, there are also some essential items you’ll need to pack to keep your horse healthy while in the trailer, too.
A steady supply of hay is essential to keep his gut moving to reduce the chances of him colicing. In the case of competitive show horses who travel a lot, ensuring that there’s always food moving through the gut can also help reduce the likelihood of ulcers. As a general rule, a horse should never go 2 hours without forage. After 2 hours, irritation and ulcers will begin to develop, so make sure he has access to a hay net.
A hay net will also help keep him occupied, so he’s less likely to develop bad habits or annoy his shipping neighbors on long drives.
Tie the hay net high enough that there’s no risk of him putting a foot through it when it’s empty but not so high that hay or dust gets into his eyes. Or, use a hay bag that won’t ‘deflate’ when it’s empty. A great option for smaller trailers with cramped corners is Weaver’s 45 Degree Hay bag, which hangs from one point and loads from the side, not the top.
Bring enough hay to last the round trip, as well as at your destination. Even for a single-day show, bring plenty of hay even if grazing is available.
A horse needs to drink between 5 and 10 gallons of water per day to avoid dehydration.
Shipping can be dehydrating. While not only terrible for show performance, it can also cause impaction colic if food gets blocked in the large intestine. Keeping your horse hydrated while shipping is critical, so make sure to pack at least 10 gallons of familiar water (water from home that your horse is accustomed to and will drink) any time you ship.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is essential any time you go anywhere with a horse, so make sure to pack one with horse (and maybe some human) essentials. You can either assemble your own horse first aid kit or buy one ready-made.
Wherever your travels take you and your horse – whether it’s to a schooling show in the next county or a national competition across the country, you’re going to need to be prepared. Shipping safely helps ensure your horse arrives healthy, sound, and ready to impress. Stocking up with all the essentials before you leave home means you’re one step closer to the ribbons.
Do you ship your horse yourself, ship with your barn or trainer, or pay a professional hauler to ship your horse? Let us know below!