On the Road Again, Part Two
In Part One, we discussed the dynamics of loading your horse and making preparations for travel with your horse. In this segment we will take you on the road and show you first hand what to do and what not to do.
For the purposes of this article, we are referring to journeys that take us away from home on overnight excursions. Still, for those of you going on local day trips, there is much you can extract from these paragraphs that you can apply to your travels.
During recent years I have had the good fortune to take some cross-country adventures with my horses. One of the most involved adventures in terms of logistics and planning was a book signing tour which took me through scheduled stops in 20 states throughout the west, northwest and southwest. When you are embarking on travels such as these you need to come prepared. Here are the preparations I have found best suit my needs.
I know this seems obvious, but there's nothing as frustrating as getting on the road and realizing you have forgotten something important. Make a checklist before you load up and make certain all of these items are on board. My checklist is broken down into two sections - horse supplies and supplies for the human.
1. First aid materials, including leg wraps and bandages. Horses often find ways to cut themselves and you'll want something to treat wounds. Also include any medications you give your horse.
2. Fly spray
3. Water. Don't count on there being fresh water for your horses everywhere. Usually water is plentiful, however I had a break-down in a remote area once on a very hot day and was thankful for the backup 50 gallons I have on board.
4. Feed. Even if you're going to places where you feel comfortable that there will be feed, remember two things. First, your horse's digestive system is sensitive and the quality and makeup of hay in different regions changes. Your horses will be more comfortable eating the diet he or she is used to without drastic changes, which could accidentally induce colic. Also, you might pull in somewhere late at night and feed might not be available.
5. Grooming supplies. Remember all of your grooming equipment. Grooming your horse after a long day in the trailer is relaxing for him and more important, it gives you a reason to get your hands on your horse and spot any potential problems such as cuts, swelling or injuries that would otherwise go undetected. It would seem obvious to most that grooming would go without saying, however, many simple practices like this can become delayed during hectic travel schedules. If you're like me, you'll find that after a stressful day on the road, spending a relaxing half-hour with your horse in the solitude of a stall doing basic grooming is the best form of meditation and unwinding. I also find that if I don't do this, I go to bed with that nagging guilt that follows us all when we leave our chores unfinished.
6. Adequate bedding. There are two things that go on the floor of my trailer: good rubber mats and lots of clean shavings. There are three obvious reasons for the shavings. First, you want to keep the area where your horse will be standing clean and slip-free. The less urine and waste left accumulated the less flies you have nagging your horse. Second, the shavings absorb urine that would otherwise puddle or leak into the floor of your trailer. And third, the shavings and the mat absorb some of the constant shock and tension imposed upon your horse during the trip. Road founder, as we call it, is very real and the use of proper mats and shavings can help prevent it.
7. Extra Tack. Halters, lead ropes and blankets. I always carry an extra set for each horse. These things can become lost or damaged on the road and you'll be happy you brought a backup.
Supplies for the Human
1. Itinerary. When I am going on the road I bring the list of horse motels and facilities where I will stay in each town.
2. Phone list. It only takes a few minutes to research the name of the Large Animal Vet in the town(s) you will be staying. Make a list on your computer and print it out. Keep the list in your daytimer so that if there is an accident, injury or illness on the road you can simply pick up your cell phone and make the necessary arrangements for treatment.
3. Documents. While laws may vary from one region to another, you always need to have your horse's Veterinary Certificate of Examination and Brand Inspection papers with you. Many weight stations now require people with livestock to stop and show proof of negative Coggins and other applicable issues.
4. Comforts of home. If you're going on the road for weeks or months at a time, it's nice to have a few creature comforts to ease your stress. I bring a journal, camcorder, TV/VCR, cell phone, stamps/ envelopes, and other extras. Just because you're on the road doesn't mean you need to suffer. My trailer has living quarters with air conditioning, a full shower, kitchen, and queen bed. Staying in hotels and eating fast food are a killer on the body and soul. I can continue to eat right, watch a good movie now and then, and have all the comforts of home without going over budget.
1. Your safety. OK, so I'm a man and I should feel safe on the road, right? No! I take precautions at every level, day and night. You each have your own personal feelings about weapons so that is a personal choice. I'm not paranoid and I don't go around being afraid, but I do take certain precautions so that I can relax. Like olden day pirates on the high seas, there are actually men and women that travel the open road preying on unsuspecting men and women. In order to become a victim there is usually some point at which you let your safety slip. Park your rig where you know you're safe. Travel with a companion if possible. Nothing beats a good watchdog sitting by the door.
2. Your horse's safety. Know where you are boarding; check the place out ahead of time and request references. I have stayed at many horse (we'll cover this more later) motels around the country and I check them out before I get there. Never leave your horse somewhere unsecured and yes, lock your trailer. Horse theft is a growing problem in the US .
3. Trailer. I preflight my trailer just like an airplane. Before I leave each day, I do a full walk around. I make certain all safety chains are attached. I check the air pressure in all tires. I look under the trailer and check the floorboards. I check the electric breaks. I make certain all doors, side and rear, are tightly secured. I can tell you stories about people driving down the road with the rear trailer door wide open. When you're tired or travel-weary, you are more prone to forget things.
4. Truck. Make certain the truck you are driving is equipped to pull the rig you are towing. This should be most obvious, but there isn't a more deadly combination than an oversized or overweight trailer hooked to an undersized truck.
Choosing where to stay: Horse Motels and Fairgrounds
During recent years, horse motels have become an increasingly popular option for those of us who travel with horses. Horse motels come in two different classes. The first is a place that offers boarding for your horses only. The second is a bed and breakfast for you and a barn for your horse. Since my trailer has living quarters built in, I have found that most people who offer boarding for horses only are happy to allow me to plug in to their electricity so that I can live comfortably in my trailer while keeping an eye on the horses.
Like anything else in life, you need to choose a horse motel to suit your needs. The facilities range in level of service from simply providing a dry place for your horse to spend the night on up to the elaborate.
I have my own personal best and worst horse motels in several states. Naturally, I like to go back to the best ones. The people at the horse motel are as important to me as the facilities. When you're on the road and it's late and you're tired and ready to bunk down, there's nothing like pulling into a horse motel where the people make you feel at home.
Before I leave on a trip, I log onto my computer and look on the Internet for a list of horse motels along the route I will be traveling. In the old days, I used to call and reserve the horse motels in advance. Of course, this is the ideal scenario, however I have learned by experience that it is almost impossible to keep on schedule when traveling with your horses. Having a list of facilities along my route gives me added flexibility. I have found that 99.9% of the time, horse motels usually have an open stall even when you call from a couple of hours out on the same day.
During a recent trip through Colorado , Wyoming , Utah , Idaho and Montana I found several pleasant surprises in the way of excellent horse motels and new friends. Driving through Laramie I noticed that it was later in the day than I had planned. I decided that rather than making it all the way to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake that night, I would shoot for Rock Springs Wyoming . I pulled over and simply looked at my print-out of horse motels. One facility jumped out at me because the owner is a doctor. I pulled off of interstate 80 and drove on down a dirt road past several mobile homes. I came to the facility and paused. From the outside, things looked a bit run down and I began to question my decision. However, once on the inside I found a pleasant old fellow named Dr. John Rodosevich. He was more than happy to let me plug in my living facilities and placed my horses in three different stalls. John offered to show me what he had done inside the bunkhouse. Again, from the outside it didn't look like much, but neither does my favorite cantina over in Douglas AZ. Once inside, I found cowboy paradise, literally! Two spacious rooms with huge king beds and a hot tub beckoning me in. I soon found myself unwinding in the hot tub while the horses were in a secure and comfortable environment, all surrounded by a twelve-foot stockade fence for extra security and privacy.
A couple of days later, after finishing my business at hand in Salt Lake , I found myself needing a place to unwind once again with my horses. I don't like to stay in town with all the traffic and lights, but it was late in the day and I wanted to get the horses bedded down. My pleasant surprise came in the form of a little ranch sitting on a bluff overlooking the Salt Lake Valley in Kaysville Utah . Located conveniently close to the interstate, yet far enough away that there is no noise or light pollution, is Shaw Stables, my kind of place. The owner, Susan Shaw, is a happy and cheerful horsewoman with teenage kids that seem to have endless manners. You can tell a lot about a person by the way their kids act, and these kids seemed like the kind that knew their way around horses. Once again, I unhooked my gooseneck trailer and was entirely comfortable knowing my horses and my belongings were well taken care of. At $15.00 per night, which included feed, I highly recommend Shaw Stables to anyone traveling through northern Utah with their horses.
Fairgrounds have long been a trusted standby in terms of backup lodging for horses. While I like the privacy of the horse motel, nearly every community seems to have fairgrounds and nearly all of them have horse stalls. As a rule, if you arrive late, you're on your own. Bed down with your own hay and bedding and contact a caretaker or manager in the morning to pay the usual $10-$15 nightly fee. I always strip any fairground stall and put my own shavings in the stall for purposes of environmental health. I have stayed at fairgrounds in Ontario Oregon , Durango Colorado , Twin Falls Idaho , Moab Utah , Amarillo Texas , and a countless list of others.
During one trip last year from Fort Worth to Montana I encountered some pretty rough weather in terms of high winds coming into Amarillo . I bedded my horses down at the Tri State Arena and was able to stop in at the AQHA Museum and Offices the next day. A few days later I found myself stopping at the Red Rock Arena in Moab Utah. The summer air was warm and the nighttime sky awash in millions of stars. I slept on the ground in front of the horse stalls and counted shooting stars until I fell asleep. You see, traveling doesn't have to be stressful on you or your horse, as some people seem to make it. Two days later I found myself at the fairgrounds in Twin Falls Idaho , which had horse stalls and RV hookups on the property. They also have showers for campers much the way a KOA does. I really enjoyed the Twin Falls Fairgrounds and the surrounding sights. I was able to unhook from my trailer and drive the relatively short 20 miles to the Miracle Hot Springs in Haggerman where I soaked my aches and pains away.
When a day of long driving is over and your horses are tucked away in their stalls, keep a couple of things in mind. It's not a foot race to get to the local bar or the bunk. Give to your horses first, for all they have given you. Take a few extra minutes to rub them down with your hands. You do not need to be a professional horse masseuse to know how to relax an equine. I take my hands and work six key points on my horse: behind the shoulders, the tailhead, below the withers, around the flank, along the spine from tailhead to withers, and along the withers up to the poll. I do what would be to a person the equivalent of a deep tissue massage. The reaction from my horse is immediate and visible as he stretches out and cranes his neck skyward in pleasure. As I said earlier on, this form of close contact keeps your hands on your horse allowing you to spot any potential changes or problems. It also allows both of you quiet time to unwind.
Before you turn in or drive away, do one last look around. Check the water source. Look for debris or hazards such as protruding nails, boards etc. Remember, this is a 'new horse situation', albeit temporary, and your horse has to feel his way around the same, whether he is spending one night or ten years in that area. There is no replacement for prevention. Regardless of who owns the facilities, I check the fence, gates etc. I don't want my horse getting loose and onto the road at home - imagine this happening in strange surroundings.
It doesn't matter if you don't have a horse trailer with living quarters. Traveling on the road with your horses can be inexpensive and stress free.
If you have any questions or want referrals for facilities in an area where you are traveling, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll give you pointers, directions, and even website referrals.
Safe Travels and Happy Trails.
Copyright Kimball Lewis; not for reprint without permission.
About the author:
Kimball Lewis is an Idaho Cowboy, writer and public speaker. Lewis travels throughout the US combining his wit, humor and knowledge to deliver motivational and inspiring addresses sprinkled with cowboy poetry to audiences of all sizes. Kimball lives on the Snake River at his home in Eastern Idaho , The Lewis Lookout Ranch. You can email questions or requests for speaking appearances to email@example.com. Visit http://cascadeteam.addr.com for more information.