A Foal’s Safe Trip Home
By Jonathan Field
The goal: To safely transport my newly-purchased five-month-old colt 1,000 kilometres to his new home.
Recently, I went to Alberta to pick up my next equine partner – a Quarter Horse weanling raised by my friend, Ida Newell, in Innisfail, Alberta.
This colt is a clean slate. Over the years, many of the horses we have acquired were adopted by us, or were simply given to us because they had trouble in life. I’ve always felt fortunate to be able to make my living in the horse industry, and my way of giving back is by taking on challenging horses. But every now and then, a clean slate gives me the opportunity to shape the horse I want and develop a lifelong partner.
I herded the colt into the trailer because he had no halter experience. Without a halter he couldn’t pull back and get into trouble. It’s important to take time and allow for curiosity. Photo: Angie Field
Early on, I asked Ida to handle this colt as little as possible until I could come out to Alberta to bring him home. She agreed and understood my desire to do it myself. I planned the “big move” to bring my colt home by trailer from ten hours away. When he was around five months old, I arrived with my big four-horse trailer. Not only would this be the colt’s first trailer trip, he was also being weaned at the same time and on top of that, he didn’t lead.
In this and two subsequent articles, I will describe what I did to get my guy home safely, and share some tips and considerations to help you prepare your horse for any trip.
Wanting to give my colt the best experience possible, I brought along an “ace in the hole” – a good trailering buddy and one of my old veterans – Quincy.
The best option was to leave the colt loose in the trailer because if he didn’t lead, he surely couldn’t be tied. First, I put Quincy in his slant-load divider stall and left two spaces open for the colt. This was plenty of room for him to turn around and not feel claustrophobic; it was like a mini-box stall on wheels. In addition, the calming influence of Quincy was really helpful to get the colt into the trailer and relaxed once on board.
Saying goodbye. This was the moment he was weaned. He never made a peep until he unloaded at our next stop in Olds, Alberta. Then he called on and off for a day or two before quickly buddying up to Quincy. Photo: Angie Field
The main things I did to prepare were allowing all the time needed to get him inside with Quincy, and planning for just a short trip the first day. I used a flag and some pressure-and-release to “herd” him into the trailer, taking my time and allowing him to think and sniff around. He loaded quietly. After a two-hour drive southwest to Cochrane, Alberta, we arrived at our destination where we stayed for two days while I taught a clinic.
Early on the third morning, I loaded the colt and headed the rest of the way over the Rockies. We arrived home to Abbotsford, BC, having achieved our goal: He didn’t break a sweat once.
This was a wonderfully successful trip. Although he is a quiet colt, he was well set up for a safe trip and now has a good experience under his belt to help him on his way to becoming a quiet, confident horse in the future.
Although you may not be able to set everything up the way I did, I hope this shows that the best plan to move your horse should take into consideration his training, experience, the configuration in the trailer, and the distance to travel.
At this moment he looked ready to go. He was comfortable in his little box stall, with room to turn around and ride facing whichever way he preferred. I allowed him in and out a few times and this time he seemed most settled. He met Quincy and was looking for hay. It was time to close the door and embark on our next adventure. If a horse has never been led I prefer to haul loose because if confined and tied in a stall divider, he could get into serious trouble. Photo: Angie Field
To summarize, here are my tips for a successful trip:
- Do not rush to get the horse into the trailer.
- Divide the trip into two stages with the first being the shortest.
- Bring a safe, quiet traveling mate.
- Give the horse room to turn around.
- Provide rest breaks every few hours to relax, eat, and drink (maximum four hours between breaks).
- Allow for plenty of ventilation.
- Use a thick bed of shavings on the floor.
Under normal circumstances, by this age I would have had the colt leading well by willingly yielding to pressure from the halter and lead rope. In the next article, I’ll show additional exercises like passing between narrow spaces, walking over bridges to learn to step up and resting him near the trailer with no expectation to get in. Hitch up the trailer and load when you don’t need to go somewhere rather than waiting for the day of the trip, so the horse does not feel your anxiety or timeline. I prefer to practice loading when I don’t need to go anywhere, although this was not an option in the situation described in this article.
He has now fully met Quincy and settled in for a few nights. I kept them close to one another, but still with a divider in between because they didn’t know each other well. While Quincy is very kind with young horses there is still only limited space. Eventually the youngster will meet the rest of the herd and live with them in a big pasture. Photos: Angie Field
At a lot on the big outfit ranches, the practice is to haul horses loose in the trailer. When there is sufficient space, similar to a box stall, it can be a great option because it lets the horse turn around, lower his head, and find a comfortable position. Over the years observing colts being moved around on the ranches, I noticed many will ride facing backwards. In most cases those horses were hauled loose without halters because they had never worn a halter. I prefer to haul with a halter should something happen and I need to get ahold of my horse in a hurry or remove him from the trailer. If you use a halter, be certain there is nothing that will snag the halter, like a latch.
In the next installments we will cover:
- To tie or not to tie?
- Exercises and training you can do before hauling.
- Building confidence in the trailer.
- Why horses paw and what to do about it.
- Why the horse won’t load or back out.
- More trailering tips when hauling young horses and first-timers.
Trailer Maintenance and Hitching Skills
The importance of the following cannot be overstated:
- Do yearly maintenance and have the trailer serviced by a professional mechanic.
- Brakes, wheel bearings, lights, batteries, floor boards, latches that stay closed, and the right hitch-and-ball match should all be checked.
- Practice how to hitch up truck and trailer properly until you can do it perfectly.
This is a small but essential list. I could write a book about the number of unfortunate trailer incidents that were completely avoidable yet caused by lack of maintenance and education about horse trailers.
This article was originally posted in the Summer 2018 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo: Angie Field