Few things are as much fun—or as stressful—as taking a horse to a show for an overnight stay. While it sounds like it should be easy, it never is, according to breeders and trainers who have spent plenty of time hauling their horses to overnight shows.
When transporting a horse to an overnight destination where the animal is expected to perform at its best during its stay, plenty of thought and planning should go into the trip. In fact, without the right amount of advance preparation, the trip can easily turn into a disaster.
Gaye Hixon, a Western trainer in Merit, Texas, has spent the last nine years traveling to multi-day shows in various parts of the country. In that amount of time, she has experienced firsthand the pitfalls of not adequately planning ahead for an overnight show trip.
“We were attending a show approximately 100 miles from home once,” she says. “We arrived the evening before the show, worked the horses and had bathed them. I tied my 15-year-old mare in her stall to dry while I worked on banding my gelding’s mane. The mare started acting funny, then started trying to lie down. We immediately got her out and walked her to the arena. It soon became obvious that she was colicking. It was getting late, and there weren’t many people in the barn—and no one knew of a vet in the area. I called my husband from my cell phone in a panic. He eventually called the local police department to get the name and number of some vets. He finally reached one and that vet had to drive for over 30 minutes to get to us. By that time, I was nearly in hysterics, dragging my mare while two friends pushed her to keep her moving. Finally, the vet arrived and stayed with us until almost 4 a.m. to make sure she was going to be OK. I dozed in my lawn chair inside her stall for the next several hours, not wanting to leave her side. Since that time, I have never forgotten to put Banamine on my show checklist!”
While there is no way to know in advance what might happen when you arrive at a show, those experienced in overnight showing have found that certain problems can be counted on almost every time.
“It seems every time I go to a show, I find nails sticking out of the inside of the stalls at the showgrounds,” says Paddy Korb Warner, a trainer of Peruvian Pasos in Simi Valley, Calif. “I have learned to always bring a hammer with me and first go into the stalls to pull out all of the nails before putting the horses away.”
Accommodations for people can also be a challenge when traveling to a show overnight, as Hixon has found. “I made the mistake once of waiting until I had settled the horses in to find a room for myself,” she says. “Turned out there were none within 50 miles of the show facility. I wound up sleeping in the trailer—without an electrical hook-up. I had no lights, and I froze!”
The secret to having a successful and stress-free trip is creating a good checklist of items to bring and things to do before you leave. “My absolute number one item of advice is to be thoroughly prepared for every contingency,” says Georgia Hickey, a Quarter Horse breeder in New Hartford, Conn. “It takes a lot of time to plan and organize for a show, so start your preparations several weeks ahead of time if possible, especially if it is the first show of the season.”
“It’s important to know that when you are at a show, you are responsible for the full and complete care of your horse,” says Jennifer Hoyles, an eventing trainer in Bell, Fla. “Be sure to pack enough hay and feed for at least two days longer than your trip is planned for. You will also have to clean the stall and dispose of manure in designated areas. Having your own wheelbarrow is handy because some manure piles are distant. When you leave, you are typically expected to strip the stall of all manure and bedding, which can mean 10 trips to the manure pile.”
You can’t rely on bedding being provided when you get to the showgrounds, either, according to DelRay Johnson, an Appaloosa breeder in Staples, Minnesota. “Bedding at shows is handled differently,” he says. “At some showgrounds, you will be expected to purchase it there. Others may expect you to bring your own. You don’t want to get caught without bedding—it’s nice to have lots of clean bedding in the stall after you have spent all day grooming.”
The checklist should include items that might not even occur to you until after you have arrived at your destination. “Most people simply don’t bring the right stuff with them,” says Korb Warner. “You’ll need hoses, water buckets, a rake to clean stalls, a wheelbarrow and shampoo, for example.”
Hickey suggests you also bring a fan for each horse, with the extension cords and ropes or chains to hang them. “Be sure to bring stall ties and set up a straight tie or a cross tie in your stall—don’t forget a tool kit to install these. Also remember to bring some poster board and marking pens for emergency contact stall signs.”
In order to know exactly what to bring along, Warner recommends talking to someone at the fairground or a show official. “Try to talk to someone who has been to this same show,” she says. “Also, go to a local show of the same level to get an idea of what things will be like. Talk to people and take notes before you haul your horse to a similar show. This will also help you get a feel for the timing and when your classes will begin.”
Where to Stay
Once your horse is safely tucked into his stall for the night, you will be anxious to settle in for the evening yourself, say experienced travelers. Where you choose to stay depends on your personal preferences and your budget. “Some people love to camp at the show facility,” says Johnson. “We prefer to find a motel close by. Either way, it is best to check ahead for reservations and costs.”
“If the show program does not have motels listed—and if you do not have a trailer with living quarters,” says Hickey, “the show secretary or the stabling manager are usually local people and are often the best resource for the name of a clean, affordable motel near the show grounds. Call early for your reservation, be sure to guarantee late arrival with your credit card and make a note of the motel name, phone number and directions from the show grounds in your truck’s notebook. If you are delayed, you won’t lose your room and you won't be needing to call for directions in the wee hours after a long trip.”
Despite all the hassle and preparation of going to overnight shows, most veteran exhibitors find it well worth the trouble. “I love the mini vacation feel of being away from the day-to-day schedule and chores at home,” says Hickey. “Much of my showing is with my weanlings and yearlings, and being away from home provides the opportunity to focus all my energy on those youngsters. I also like the opportunity to meet horse people from all over. Many have become long-time friends.”
While experience is the best preparation for having a successful overnight trip, it pays to plan and research carefully no matter how many times you’ve hauled horses on long journeys.
The experts all agree on these essentials for show travel:
- Two buckets per horse with at least one spare
- Feed and hay
- Mucking supplies (rake, wheelbarrow, bucket)
- Feed scoop and carry pails
- Depending on weather, sheets/coolers/anti-sweats/blanket liners
- Portable tack rack/halter hanger/saddle rack
- Extra lead ropes
- Longeline and longe whip
- Medical Supplies