Going the Distance

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It can be a huge leap of faith to put a valuable horse on a trailer for a long-distance trip. You are trusting the shipper to take excellent care of the animal, and to get it to its final destination in good health.

So how do you find a long-distance shipper worthy of taking on this kind of responsibility? How do you know if a transport company can be trusted with your precious cargo?

A substantial number of long-distance horse transportation companies are operating in North America today, giving horse professionals considerable choice. Some shippers specialize in cross-country trips, while others concentrate in a particular area of the country. Some shippers have large horse vans and operate many runs at the same time, while others are small shippers with only one trailer and towing vehicle. The type of shipper you ultimately choose depends on your needs and personal preferences.

Policy & Equipment

Before you even consider hiring a shipper to transport your horse, you should look for a number of basic qualifications in the company.

Technical qualifications like proper licensing and insurance are very important and should be determined up front before you consider a shipper. First, find out if the company is licensed by the Department of Transportation. This agency has requirements for safety that apply to both drivers and transportation rigs. Specific guidelines for inspection, repair and maintenance of vehicles, along with qualifications for drivers and driving requirements, must be met by a shipper before the Department of Transportation will issue a license.

Once you know a shipper is licensed, ask if the company has insurance (in the event the horse is injured or killed on the road). Also, get a sense of the company’s longevity and experience, as well as its expertise with horses. “You need to look at the length of time in business, and whether the company seems horse-oriented,” says Marilyn Ann Willette, office manager and trip coordinator for All Points Horse Transportation in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada. “Check out the company’s web page on the Internet. Is there a horse on it? It’s easy to be a truck driver, but you have to like horses to be able to transport them kindly.”

The kind of equipment used by the shipper is also important, as well as the company’s dedication to treating your horse right. “You want to look for reliability, and good, well-kept equipment,” says Clark Schweigert, owner and operator of BSR Horse Transportation in Arlington, Wash. “You want an enclosed trailer, and a truck and trailer that are newer. You don’t want someone taking your horse across the country in a stock trailer pulled by a junky truck.

“Also, some companies will run your horse straight through, while others stop nightly and give the horse a rest in an overnight boarding facility. Find out which scenario you’ll be getting.”

In order to determine if a shipper fits these qualifications and is right for your situation, you need to ask smart questions.

“Whether or not you want your horse to be offloaded overnight or run straight through to its destination seems to be a matter of personal preference.”

“Ask things like, ‘What type of equipment do you have?’ and ‘How often do you stop?’” says Willette. Also, ‘Will you require a deposit? How much of a deposit do you require and is it refundable? What are the refundable conditions? May I contact you on a cell phone while my horse is in transit?’”

When inquiring about the type of equipment used by a shipper, look not only for newer equipment, but also trailers designed for the horse’s comfort. “The trailer you go with depends on the horse’s history in traveling,” says Shon Murphy, vice president of 4M Horse Transportation LLC in Sisters, Ore. “A young horse should be in a box stall. This gives the horse more room to move. If a horse has never been on crossties, he could get a neck injury if he starts to struggle.”

Offloading—Or Not

Willette also recommends asking the shipper you are considering if the company unloads the horses while in transit. “This is a tricky one,” she says. “If they say yes, they unload, your next questions are, ‘Where do you unload? Parking lots? Fairgrounds? Accredited stables?’ It’s very important for the safety of the horse that the transporter does not unload too often, as this can delay the schedule and add stress to the already stressed horse.”

If the transporter does offload the horse, it’s important that this be done in a safe environment, and that the transporter not use force to load the horses back onto the trailer. “Some people will disagree about the offloading, but we have found through experience that the horses are just as comfortable on our trailer as if they were in their own stall, and do not need to be offloaded,” says Willette.

Whether or not you want your horse to be offloaded overnight or run straight through seems to be a matter of personal preference. Some horse professionals believe that driving straight through without stopping is the least stressful method of traveling for horses, while others find that overnight stops are best.

“We give the horses rest by putting them in a stable environment each night,” says Schweigert. “When we do this, they travel nicer, and seem to think of the trailering as more of an everyday routine. Some horses become a problem if they are kept in the trailer too long. Also, when we stop overnight, the horses don’t get swelling in their legs. Stopping also gives us a chance to clean out the trailer every night so the horses are not standing in manure. It helps the driver, too, by ensuring he is getting a good night’s rest.”

Locating a Shipper

When searching for a shipper, the best method of discovery is undoubtedly word of mouth. “A lot of our customers come through referrals,” says Murphy. “Someone who shows or races will often go with a shipper who is trusted by a friend or a colleague.”

Another way to find a shipper is to look at advertisements in horse publications, or on the Internet, since many shippers now have their own websites.

Whether you use a small shipper or a larger shipper is a matter of personal preference. Smaller shippers are often a one-man show, with the owner of the transportation company also being the driver. Smaller shippers usually boast lower prices and more one-on-one interaction with the horse.

Larger shippers, on the other hand, provide bigger rigs for horses (often air-ride trailers, which are very comfortable) and usually offer more frequent runs than their smaller competitors.

Whether you opt for a smaller shipper or a larger one, be sure to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the company before you turn a horse over for transport. “You want a transporter who is horse-oriented, experienced, punctual, has safe and dependable equipment, and has references,” says Willette. Remember: the shipper you ultimately choose can mean the difference between a good trip or a bad trip for the horse.