Long distance, multiple horses, mare and foal—when you can’t haul a horse yourself, it makes sense to hire a commercial shipper. Contracting for the services of a reputable company pays off, by saving your time and engaging the resources of an expert.
Your goal is to have the horse transported as safely as you would, with care and consideration for equine welfare. Most often, you want a fast solution—to move the horse to his destination as soon as possible at an affordable cost.
Hiring a shipper is a wise business decision, but how do you pick the best company? To help you sort through the choices, we’ve prepared two checklists: (1) eight questions you should ask, and (2) requirements from commercial haulers. The lists help you balance your needs with the company’s policies and procedures.
Questions You Should Ask
To screen through candidates, inquire about these discriminators.
1) Is the transporter licensed and insured? Ask for the carrier’s DOT number, and check up on it. “To cross over an interstate line and not to meet federal highway and safety regulations, or not have your DOT number or liability insurance—then you are an illegal transporter,” explains Joe McGee of Equine Express N.A., based in Pilot Point, Texas. The Department of Transportation (DOT) governs vehicles and drivers, and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) handles licensing and insurance.
Jack Williams of Beacon Hill Horse Transportation, Wingdale, N.Y., says, “People don’t find out if the carrier is legally licensed to transport horses. Just because they advertise doesn’t mean they meet the required governmental rules and regulations.” So check up on that DOT number.
2) What kind of equipment will the transporter use for your shipment? Usually, the distance of the haul determines the type of trailer. “For long distance we recommend air ride,” says Williams. An air-ride van—standard in a tractor-trailer rig—reduces bumps and vibration, so the trip isn’t as stressful on your horse. For travel to a local destination, the shipper may use a smaller van (also called a horse box).
Realize that a gooseneck trailer will not offer the comfortable ride of an air-ride van. Most likely it’s a slant load, and your horse could be in the middle stall of a three-horse trailer.
Regardless, always ask what type of trailer your horse will be traveling in. Williams says, “I think many people have seen big rigs out there hauling horses and just assume that if they need to send a horse from coast to coast, that’s what they will get. I have had customers call when a stock trailer has shown up in New York to take their two babies to California—they couldn’t believe it.” (They didn’t go with them.)
3) What are the stall sizes? The typical tractor-trailer has stall dividers that can be arranged for as many as 9, 12, or 15 horses. A row of single stalls is three horses side-by-side, crosstied in the stalls. For more legroom, a double setup places two horses in the same space, called a “stall and a half.” In a box stall, the horse travels first class, with the straight stall dividers removed so he is loose in a stall the width of the van.
Equine Express describes their options: “Our trailers can be configured as singles, or stall and a half, or box stalls. Long-distance shipments normally require 1.5 stall for normal sized horses.”
“When you get a price quote, find out what size stall the price is for,” advises Williams.
Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, for Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Lexington, Ky., says, “More long-haul horse haulers do more box hauling than they do in stalls.” He explains that research shows that “horses tend to want to be at a slant or turned around backwards. In studies in turning the horse loose, most will stand on the diagonal or turn around. They will do nicely if they have the ability to do what they want.”
McGee describes how the box is ideal for a young horse. “For the weanling or yearling, we don’t ship them any other way. It’s a 9 by 7 stall. And for mares and their babies, you won’t believe how well they ship in the box stall.”
4) What type of ventilation is in the trailer? A tractor-trailer usually has six sliding windows on each side of the van. Inside, the trailer is airy with a tall ceiling, typically 12 feet high, and windows are placed above the horses. Drivers may open or close windows and roof vents to help control the interior temperature. A vanload of horses increases the temperature and condensation—both in winter and humid summers.
Ventilation is an extremely important consideration. “You should never have a direct breeze into the horse’s nose,” explains Peters. “Horses with their heads tied up, or with a direct breeze in the face—the wind pushes hay or straw particles down into the lungs.” The horse shipped in the wider stall and a half will be tied, but not as short as one in a single stall. A looser tie allows the horse to stretch his head down.
And stretching down is important for your horse. Robert Holland, Jr., DVM, PhD, Lexington, Ky., notes, “If the head is tied up for more than 12 hours, the horse has 20 to 30 percent more bacteria in the back of his throat. He has to lower his head to have much clearance. If you go for more than 12 hours, make sure he can lower his head at some point.”
Holland also notes that a van can be dusty. “If a horse has any allergies, putting him in a truck with hay and straw flying around can be really bad.” He recommends dampening the horse’s hay.
5) What’s the route and schedule? “Door-to-door” shipping is convenient, but the route should accommodate expectations of all customers. Williams advises asking, “How many stops are involved?” You should find out how the shipper arranges pickup and delivery times and locations. Does a three-day trip actually stretch into six or seven days—meaning your horse remains on the van while the driver makes different stops along the extended route?
6) Does the company assign a team of drivers? On a long trip, a pair of drivers makes the job more efficient. “If the trip is over 800 or 1,000 miles,” asks McGee, “does the company have two drivers?”
7) Is the shipper a member of the National Horse Carriers Association, or the American Horse Carriers Association? These organizations limit membership to companies that meet certain requirements. See the “Info” box for contact information.
8) When will your horse arrive at the destination? You want to know about any delays en route, and how a van driver or dispatcher will let you know. If you want to track your horse’s progress after leaving the barn, can you contact the driver directly?
McGee says, “We provide our customers with the telephone number of the rig. The customer can call and ask about the horse—and, yes, they do.” Many haulers are similarly equipped.
Understand Company Requirements
Health. When you book a horse for shipment, you’ll receive a price quote for the trip. You’re also expected to have documents in order, with proof of health required. Most carriers want a health certificate, signed by a veterinarian and good for 30 days, along with a current Coggins certificate. Some states also require a brand inspection or travel card. Like you, the shipper wants the horse to step off the van in good health.
Pickup and Loading. The driver needs specific pickup and delivery addresses. Companies use GPS to locate stops on the route, but not every private road is listed.
When you’re shipping in a tractor-trailer, be sure that your barn has enough space for the driver to pull in and turn around. If not, arrange to load at another site.
Feed and water. You may need to supply your own hay, or the company may feed all horses the same hay. Of course, sending the horse with the hay it has been eating on a regular basis is best, as inconsistent feed can cause colic. Companies discourage feeding grain, but you can request that drivers feed the horse its regular supplements.
Drivers typically stop every four or five hours to offer horses water. A horse traveling in a box stall will probably have his own water bucket at all times.Bedding. Van floors are covered with rubber mats, and then with straw. Shavings tend to fly around inside the van, unless they’re dampened.
Clothing and Tack. Horses can wear a sheet or blanket, depending on the weather. Shippers discourage leg wraps and shipping boots. If a wrap becomes unraveled, the driver will remove it and not rewrap the horse. Some drivers may adjust or refasten a shipping boot.
However, bell boots are always a good precaution, as overreaching and cutting open a front heel is easy for a horse who has lost its balance and struggled to regain it. And despite shippers’ preferences, many owners want their horses wrapped. The solution: wrap the horse’s legs and duct-tape the closure system so it can’t come loose. Use at least two full wraps with the tape to secure it.
Also, most shippers will allow a certain amount of tack to be shipped in the van with the horse, but not all. Ask about it.
Itinerary. Some shippers follow regular schedules for interstate transport. McGee explains, “We have a map on our Website, and our normal scheduled routes. We don’t vary from that over 100 to 150 miles.”
Some haulers include layovers on a cross-country trip, where horses are unloaded and stabled overnight. Find out details of a layover, which adds extra time to the trip but can be much easier on the horse.
Williams says, “Customers are told by some haulers that they stop with the horses every night. People assume they mean at a barn where the horse is unloaded—many times, they don’t get unloaded.”
Peters cites a recent Texas A&M study that indicates horses don’t rest during short stops. Horses were under video surveillance during transport.
“Horses were loose in a semi trailer for eight hours, and then during one-hour rest stops. They were watered at the rest stops, and also rested one hour prior to unloading. The video showed they did not rest. And they were not tired being loose. There was a slight rise in activity, at rest stops, and at water troughs—and more activity prior to rest stop and prior to unloading. So after standing there a little bit, maybe the horses got agitated because they weren’t moving. So stopping solely to rest horses isn’t necessary.” Remember, horses can rest while in motion if the roads are smooth.
If you’re extra-concerned about problems en route, consider asking these additional questions.
1. How are stalls cleaned or disinfected? Holland says, “I ask the big carriers, ‘Have you disinfected the trailer?’ They say, ‘Are you nuts, doc?’ I start looking at the common bucket areas, hay areas, and the divider poles where the horses are standing.” Horses touch all these surfaces.
Holland adds a precaution: “Preload the horse with immuno modulators a week or two before you ship. Also I make sure the vaccinations are okay.”
2. How do they monitor horse’s health en route? For a long trip, you might want to know how the drivers manage horses in the van.
Peters explains, “Long trailering episodes can be stressful, and horses are prone to shipping fever. This incidence jumps from 6 to 20 percent if you travel over 12 hours. Also, colic, fatigue, and wounds are common problems.”
3. If a horse shows signs of illness, can you expect a driver to take the animal’s temperature? Does the company maintain a list of nearby veterinary clinics? What condition would make the driver decide to consult a veterinarian, and how quickly does the company alert you?
When you’re ready to choose a shipper, research the company’s record. Look for testimonials on Websites, and ask other horsemen about the carriers they’ve used. In particular, inquire about the horse’s condition coming off the trailer.
Checklists help you avoid making mistakes when you’re outsourcing your horse hauling. By asking the eight basic questions, you’ll learn more details about the shipper you’ll hire for you and your clients.