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Hauling Horses: How to Prepare Your Horse for a Long Trip

Last updated: December 7, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

We often haul our horses to trail rides, rodeos, and race tracks. Most of the time, our travels are short, but sometimes we take our horses on extended trips, so I thought it would be a good idea to share how we prepare our horses for a long journey.

When hauling a horse for long distances, ensure your animal is fit for traveling and is current on all necessary vaccinations. Wrap your horses’ legs, plan your route, and schedule stops. Always have suitable bedding in your trailer and plenty of hay and water for the trip.

It’s normal for horse owners to get excited before leaving on a long trip with their horses. But it’s essential to take some time and plan for your trip to avoid problems on the road. Since there isn’t much information available covering how to get a horse prepared to travel long distances, I created this checklist from my experience hauling horses to help you.

Ensure Your Horse is Fit and Ready to Travel.

Standing in a moving trailer for hours takes a toll on a horse, both mentally and physically. Horses’ trailers are typically too hot or too cold, depending on the season.

Picture of a horse trailer and horse walking away.
Unloading our horse.

Long trips can be hard on horses.

Horses are, by nature, free-roaming prey animals that we secure in the confined space of a horse trailer with reduced visibility, unfamiliar sounds, and motions the horse can’t anticipate. So you need to consider these factors when planning to haul horses.

A horse is working and expending energy when traveling in a trailer, and the physical stress they endure is multiplied exponentially for extended trips. These massive animals must work hard to maintain their balance during unanticipated changes in speed and turns.

Horses hauled for extended trips need to be fit for travel; this means different things for different horses. But typically, I consider a horse fit for a long haul if it can trot for at least forty minutes, then gallop for ten minutes and recover to its regular heart rate and breathing in approximately ten minutes.

Get your horse in shape before your trip.

Most of our performance horses stay fit and are ready for travel with a little tune-up; however, some of our trail-riding horses need to get in better shape before hauling. In those cases, we often start working with them five weeks before our trip. For the first week, we ride them for thirty minutes and up to an hour daily, mostly at a walk.

In the second week, we ride for an hour with forty-five minutes of walking and 15 minutes at a slow trot. In the third week, we increase the trotting time to thirty minutes; in the fourth week, we continue riding for an hour but introduce five minutes of galloping.

In the fifth and final week of getting our horses fit, we gallop our horses for forty minutes and follow that up with ten minutes of trotting; we do this three times a week but ride five to six days a week.

Be sure to keep an eye on your horse’s recovery time after a workout, and pay special attention to their hydration. Horses lose a lot of water and electrolytes during training, especially in hot climates.

If your horse’s heart rate or breathing is elevated for an extended period, it may have a respiratory disease or be unfit for travel. This short fitness program works great and usually has our horses ready for the long haul and trail rides.

Picture of a horse drinking water from a pond.
A horse getting a drink from a pond.

Hydrate Your Horse Before the Trip.

Because trailer stalls are unfamiliar to a horse, stifling hot, and surrounded by loud noises and new smells, horses are prone to sweat excessively and dehydrate.

Dehydration is a dangerous condition that requires immediate attention; if left untreated, it can lead to colic and even death. Some signs of equine dehydration are high heart rates, red mucous membranes, and labored breathing.

Horses often refuse to drink in transit, at least for the first few hours, so starting the trip with a well-hydrated horse is essential.

Start hydrating your horse the week before your trip.

To prevent your horse from dehydrating on the road, start a hydration program before your planned trip. Animals like humans need time to hydrate efficiently.

When runners prepare for a marathon, they start hydrating in the days and weeks ahead of the race; the same must be done for a horse. At least seven days before your trip, increase your horse’s water and electrolyte intake.

Add salt to your horse’s diet to increase water consumption.

You can add additives to your horse’s feed that make them thirty and consume more water. You can also add water and a teaspoon of salt to their daily feed rations; this increases their desire to drink and increases hydration.

During your scheduled stops, offer your horse fresh water to drink. Take your time and allow plenty of time for it to drink as much water as it wants. Ensuring your horse is well-hydrated during the trip is critical to your horse’s health.

Check your horse for signs of dehydration.

There are a couple of simple ways I check our horses to determine if it is dehydrated. I first look at its gums; well-hydrated horses’ gums are pink; if they are pale, then I perform a “skin tent” test.

Typically a horse’s skin is very elastic; if you pull up the portion near the withers and it stays elevated like a tent, your horse is likely dehydrated and needs water and possibly electrolytes.

If your horse is dehydrated, it needs to be removed from the trailer, brought to a shaded area, and given water and electrolytes as soon as possible. If there is an available water horse, rinse your horse and scrape off the excess water.

Picture of us loading a horse for a long trip.
Loading up for a long trip.

Familiarize Your Horse With the Trailer.

The first time your horse rides in the trailer shouldn’t be a long trip. The animal should be familiar with the trailer you intend to use and load and unload easily. Horses should be taught to load and unload before hauling to reduce the stress associated with transporting.

Loading a horse not accustomed to getting in a trailer is stressful and can lead to adverse health conditions such as ulcers. So spend sufficient time before your trip getting your horse as comfortable loading and hauling as possible. Positive reinforcements with treats often produce positive results.

In addition to loading, your horse should be accustomed to the style of trailer you’re using for the trip. If it hasn’t been hauled in this trailer, take your horse on short trips before subjecting it to a long journey. Short hauls familiarize the horse with its surroundings and reduce stress. Your horse must be comfortable for a long trip.

Picture of a horse getting checked out by a vet.
A horse getting checked out by a vet.

Ensure Your Horse is Sound Before a Long Trip.

In the weeks before a long trip, have your horse thoroughly examined by your veterinarian. He may catch a problem you haven’t noticed and can address it in advance of your trip. When traveling across state lines, veterinarian certificates and Coggins tests are likely required. These documents are needed in almost all states and are checked at most equine events.

Wrapping Your Horse’s Legs is Optional.

Leg wraps and bell boots provide support and protection for horses when traveling. However, be careful when using them for long trips; they can hinder blood circulation and also cause sores.

Check your horses’ legs during each rest stop if you decide to use wraps. We wrap all of our horse’s legs when we haul them, but they are used to wearing leg wraps. If I owned a horse that never wore leg wraps, I would not wrap the horse’s legs for the first time and then load it in a trailer.

Use a leather halter when hauling horses.

We like to haul our horses with a leather halter because they will break under the pressure of a horse’s strength. You don’t want a strong nylon halter on your horse when hauling. If you are a fan of nylon halters, use one with a breakaway feature.

Here is an article about the pros and cons of tying horses in a trailer. Also, the following buttons link to halters Amazon sells.

Have a Folder With Your Horse’s Paperwork.

Having a travel folder containing documents for each horse you take on your trip is essential. The folder should include a current Coggins test, certificate of veterinary inspection, and documents to establish ownership of your animal. Here is a horse records kit you may find useful.

A “negative Coggins” test is necessary to travel with a horse.

Coggins certificates prove that the horse has tested negative for equine infectious anemia (EIA) within a specific time. EIA is a fatal viral infectious disease that is highly contagious. A negative Coggins test means the horse’s blood is free of EIA antibodies.

A Coggins test documents the horse’s age, breed, name, and registration number of the veterinarian who submitted the blood sample. When traveling, confirm the Coggin requirements for each state you expect to board your horse.

Many states require a negative Coggins test within 12 months, but some states have much shorter time restraints.

A veterinarian certificate indicates your horse is healthy for travel.

For each animal you haul, most states require a certificate of veterinarian inspection (CVI). The CVI examination confirms the horse had no apparent signs of illness, is in good overall condition, and has not been exposed recently to unhealthy animals. Most states require a CVI within 60 days of travel.

Check the Regulations of Each State Your Horse Travels.

Each state has its own set of regulations regarding the transportation of horses, so it’s imperative to visit their website and know what documentation is required.

Any state law enforcement agency has the authority to examine your horses’ paperwork for compliance. If a state trooper stops you for speeding, he can ask to see your animal’s documentation and ticket or even quarantine your horse; each state has its own penalties.

Plan the Route with Your Horse in Mind.

The route you take determines how hard the ride affects your horse. Choose the smoothest, straightest possible path, and always try to schedule your trip at the best temperature for your animal.

During cold winter days, travel during the day, and in the summer, spend most of your time on the road at night.

Pictur e of a horse getting a break from a long haul.
Getting a break after a long haul.

Your horse needs breaks during a long trip.

Check the internet and plan a route that has areas with shade to park your rig and give your horses a break. Stopping allows your horse to unwind in the trailer.

The location we stop dictates if we take the horses out of the trailer. Removing them from the trailer is not recommended because of the dangers roadways present and the possibility your horse will bolt.

However, on our routes, we have a few locations we stop that are safe and have plenty of room away from the busy highway. But we only unload horses we are comfortable will not spook.

We like to stop and give the horses a break at least every four hours. We check them for dehydration, colic, and stress during this time. The stop also allows us to inspect the trailer with particular attention to the tires and adjust ventilation if the weather dictates.

We always give them fresh water and refill their hay bag. We typically stop for 45 minutes, but no less than 30 minutes. If I have an unruly horse, I make accommodations with someone to put the horse in a stall or paddock.

Ensure you have Plenty of Hay and Water for the Trip.

During long trips, provide ample hay in the trailer for your horse. Using a hanging hay net at chest height or higher is best. Be sure only to provide hay the horse is accustomed to eating.

Some people advise only feeding moist hay during trips, but we supply our horses with the forage they are used to in its typical form and haven’t experienced any issues.

The theory behind feeding moist hay is sound; it provides extra hydration, reduces gas, and possibly softens their stools. We do not supply any sweet feed during transportation to our horses in the trailer because sweet feed increases their metabolism and makes them anxious.

On the other hand, Hay keeps a horse’s mind occupied while traveling, plus it’s good for the animals’ digestion. I emphasize feeding them hay in the same way they typically eat and have enough to supply them for the trip.

Don’t rely on a source of water during your trip.

There are two reasons to bring your own water: 1) you can’t rely on a water source, and 2) some water sources have chemicals and odors that are alien to a horse, and they refuse to drink.

We hauled our horses on the same route for years with a perfect resting point for our horses with an available water supply. We typically unloaded our horses, gave them a drink, and pulled out our water hose, and cooled them with a quick bath.

The stop fell halfway through our trip and gave the horses and us a nice break. However, the last time we stopped, the park was shuttered entirely, and no water was available.

Luckily, we always carry a water drum for our trips; you have to plan for the unexpected. Another problem is in some areas of the United States, the water simply stinks, usually caused by the mixture of chemicals used to treat it. If the water is really foul, some horses will refuse to drink.

When this happens, you better have your own water or a method to mask the smell. Some people add Kool-Aid or a flavored electrolyte to treat the scent; this seems to work. I haven’t ever had a horse refuse stinky water when thirsty.

Bring your horse’s feed on a long trip.

During a trip away from home, bring the feed your horse is used to eating. When making changes to a horse’s diet, you should do it gradually so as not to upset its sensitive digestive system. It’s never a good idea to change diets while on a trip.

Picture of a 5 horse gooseneck trailer.
Flat bed truck pulling a large gooseneck trailer.

Check Your Trailer Before Hauling Your Horse.

For long trips, only haul your horses in a suitable trailer. A proper trailer has ample space on all sides and is tall enough for a horse to raise its head normally without bumping the roof. Horses need space to maintain their balance when moving.

There are two basic styles of horse trailers: slant load and straight load. For bumper pull trailers, I prefer a straight load; however, most gooseneck trailers are slant loads. There are pros and cons to each. Click this link to read more about slant load vs. straight load trailers.

The primary considerations are that the horses stand facing the direction in which they are being pulled and have adequate ventilation. A study performed indicated that horses facing the direction they are traveling are less stressed. (Click here to read the review.)

Inspect the horse trailer before leaving.

If you’re not mechanically inclined and uncomfortable checking the safety equipment of your horse trailer, have it thoroughly inspected at least seven days before your trip.

During the inspection, you want to ensure the lights and brakes are in good working order and that the doors are secure correctly when closed. You need to check for the proper action of the vents that all the windows are open and closed, and nothing is protruding in the stall area that could injure your horse.

You want to ensure your tires have adequate tread and the right amount of air pressure. Be sure to check the integrity of the trailer floor and ensure your emergency brake is tested.

Carry a roadside emergency kit in your horse trailer.

Ensure you have all necessary roadside emergency equipment, a spare tire, jack, road flares, tire chocks, and working flashlights. Having a fire extinguisher in your truck or horse trailer is also essential.

Pack your horse trailer before loading your horses.

You need to pack a lot when traveling with a horse, so to avoid forgetting anything, I have a list and check off each item as I load it. Most of the things are essential, and I’m too forgetful to rely on my memory.

Pack water, bring enough to sustain your horses while traveling, and if your horses are finicky pack something to flavor the water, like powdered Kool-Aid, Gatorade, or electrolytes.

Load all your horse feed, supplements, and hay. You should pack enough for your entire trip. You don’t want to change your horse’s diet while traveling.

Keep an equine first aid kit in your trailer.

Have a human and equine first aid kit. Click here to read our suggestions on the items we recommend a first aid kit should include. Preparation for the unexpected is paramount, especially when traveling with horses.

Include all necessary tack, blankets, halters, and extra lead ropes. You also need to confirm you have extra bedding, buckets, and your fire extinguisher loaded.

Always pack clothing appropriate for the temperature, even though you may be going to an indoor arena; if you’re stuck on the side of the road on a cold night, you need to have a jacket packed.

Pack your trailer safely when hauling horses.

It is critical to be able to quickly access your horses, emergency equipment, and lead ropes. Think about what items are essential to be able to get to in an emergency and pack appropriately.

Also, secure all items so they don’t move during transport. Things falling and making noise will scare a trailered horse, so keeping your trailer and truck well organized is a good practice.

Picture of wrapped pine shavings
Wrapped pine shavings

Provide Sufficient Bedding in the Trailer for a Long Trip.

We cover the trailer floor with pine shavings when we haul our horses. They provide cushion, absorb urine, and prevent it from spreading around the trailer.

Pine shavings are the bedding we also use in our barn stalls, so our animals are familiar with them. I suggest you use the bedding material your horse is accustomed to so long as it provides cushion and absorption.

Do not use dusty bedding material in a horse trailer; this could cause respiratory illness. Remember, these animals are standing in one spot for an extended time, and we need to make them as comfortable as possible.


Drive Carefully When Pulling a Horse Trailer.

When pulling a horse trailer, be conscious of the animals, and don’t make quick stops, sharp turns, or accelerate quickly. You’re driving to cause the least amount of stress on your animals as humanly possible.

When you are pulling a trailer with horses, you need to ensure they have adequate ventilation to provide plenty of fresh air. Some trailers have drop windows with bars to keep a horse’s head inside while traveling with the window down.

If your trailer doesn’t have window bars, keep them closed; horses traveling with their heads outside the trailer is dangerous and can make them sick. Also, if your trailer has dividers, always use them.

The dividers prevent horses from bumping and aggravating each other. They also have more freedom in their own space. Don’t tie a horse in a position that doesn’t allow it to drop its head. Horses need to be able to clear their airways, and frequently, this requires them to drop their head and cough.

Horses unable to clear their airways are susceptible to developing shipping fever. Shipping fever is a respiratory infection caused by a horse’s failure to clear its airway. Shipping fever is exhibited by a strong cough and fever occurring shortly after traveling.

Picture of a truck and gooseneck horse trailer.
Truck and gooseneck horse trailer.

Tow Your Trailer with the Correct Sized Vehicles.

You must have a proper tow vehicle to pull your horse trailer. Check the rating on your truck against the weight of the loaded trailer. An overloaded tow vehicle does not handle well on the road and is a danger to you, your horse, and other travelers on the highway.

When you finally reach your destination, give your horse time to rest and recuperate before asking it to do any strenuous work.

Horse Hauling Checklist

  1. Verify that the horse is healthy and fit for travel.
  2. Confirm that the horse is current on all necessary vaccinations.
  3. Wrap the horse’s legs to protect them during the trip.
  4. Plan your route.
  5. Provide suitable bedding in the trailer for the horse’s comfort.
  6. Ensure that you have enough hay and water for the horse during the trip.
  7. Ensure you have enough lead ropes and halters and they are easily assessable.
  8. Check the trailer for any damages or maintenance issues before loading the horse.
  9. Check the horse’s vital signs and behavior during the trip and make frequent stops as needed.
  10. Check the horse for injuries or issues after the trip and take appropriate action.
  11. Clean and maintain the trailer after the trip.