We just got home from a trip to Wyoming with our horses. From a non-horse person’s perspective, living in the forest for a week without electricity or running water and hauling hay, water, fencing and two horses, not to mention cleaning up after said 1,000 pound animals may not sound like a vacation. But to me, it was just what I needed.
I had hoped to have some internet service to chronicle the trip, but it was patchy at best. From certain spots, I was able to post pictures on the Horsetrailriders.com Facebook page, but the one-liners to go with the picture just does not tell the whole story. So over the next few days, I’ll share the trip with you here.
As I shared pictures on Facebook, I was asked what I do to get ready for a trip like this. That is a great question. While I upload pictures from various devices to share with you about the trip, today I will mention how I prepared for this trip. I’m not sure I can cover it in one post, but here is a start.
First, if traveling out of state to a terrain/area unfamiliar to you, I would start with finding a facility that caters to horse people, complete with maps and good directions OR travel with friends who have been to this particular area before. The only reason I mention this is because getting ready to travel with horses is stressful enough. Not knowing what you are getting into once you are there will only complicate matters. Start small and work your way up to a trip such as we just took. It will help you get better prepared.
A few years ago, we went to Medicine Bow – Routt National Forests near Laramie. As I mentioned in the prior post, it wasn’t a spectacular trip for a lot of reasons, many unrelated to the location at all. But our friends, Jules and Steve, really wanted to ride Wyoming and having it whet my appetite in 2010, I was ready to go back. Having been there before, we knew more about the area which helped set us up for success.
One of our problems during our prior trip was truck related. Our truck at the time was getting up there in miles and hauling a big four-horse steel trailer fully loaded with horses, hay and amenities just continued to take its toll. I swore I would not go back to the mountains until we replaced our truck. We are now driving a 2011 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty and pulling a 2-horse aluminum trailer. We have more than enough truck for the job. I would also not go where we went without 4 wheel drive or a jumper cable, for that matter. And it goes without saying that you should have your truck and trailer serviced prior to the trip.
To get the horses ready for out of state travel, you must have your vet draw blood for a Coggin’s test to determine that your horse is negative for Equine Infectious Anemia. In most of Nebraska’s neighboring states, that test is valid for one year, although you should check with the state you are traveling to just to make sure. After the results of the Coggin’s test (allow 3 to 10 days) is provided to your veterinarian, he or she must examine the horse within 15-30 days of travel (again depending on state requirements) to deem it healthy. This is called a Health Certificate. Your vet will need to know where you are traveling to and why. Be sure and have addresses handy for his paperwork. (See resource for horse transportation requirements.) The negative Coggins report and Health Certificate will need to travel with you. Keep it safe.
I would not go to the mountains without shoeing our horses. I decided to try a new shoe that I thought might make traction a little better in the mountains. I ordered them online and my farrier was a good enough sport to put them on Windy. Fancy was shod in traditional metal shoes, only because I didn’t get the right size of plastic shoe for her. Both horses got along just fine with their shoes. If you are anti-shoe, I would suggest you fit your horse with a good pair of hoof boots. Even if you practice “barefoot trimming”, I would not attempt mountain riding without hoof protection. A lame horse would ruin a good trip.
More importantly, do NOT pull your unconditioned horse out of the pasture and take it to the mountains. That is like pulling a couch potato from the recliner and asking them to run 10k. That is just not fair to the horse. A friend who does Competitive Trail Rides had said she didn’t like to do her first competition until she had at least 100 miles on her horse for the season. That is probably a good rule of thumb. Thanks to the Distance Derby, I have over 500 miles on Windy this year and over 100 miles on Fancy plus what John has put on her. We rode six days in Wyoming and logged over 80 miles. I felt our horses were in good shape but by the last day, I could feel their attitude changing. They had enough. If you don’t have time to condition, know their limitations and do not push them.
Next, you will need to find out if special hay requirements are needed at your destination. All national parks and forest service areas, as well as some state parks and private facilities, require certified weed free hay. It’s not easy to find so don’t go thinking you don’t have to plan for this; you will. And expect to pay more than you would normally pay for a bale of hay. I know of certified hay going for $7 – $10 a bale right now in Nebraska. If you grow your own hay, contact your county to see what it would take to have your own hay certified weed free. We did and I was surprised at how easy it was to have done – but, our field was free of weeds. (Google weed free forage requirements in the state you are traveling for more information and no, I have none for sale. )
How do you plan to stable your horses at the destination? Most areas with corrals are first come first served and don’t plan on being the first one there. We carry portable electric fencing. Not the kind you buy in the tack magazines; we put it together using supplies from an actual farm store. Make sure your horses are familiar with electric fencing before heading out your driveway. And remember, don’t think only about keeping your horses in but also about keeping other animals out of the pen. Where we camped in Wyoming, there were free ranging cattle. I am sure any of those heifers would have liked to munch on my horses’ fresh bale of (weed free) alfalfa. If there was any on the ground before riding out, we would turn on the fencer so that no cattle could get in to our pens.
Many of us who have done Competitive Trail Riding are used to tying our horses to the trailer overnight or for several nights. Although a nice option for a long weekend, I would not recommend it for a trip like this. The horses are already outside their environment. In this case, temps were almost forty degrees cooler every night. They were working hard, pulling steep trails in higher altitudes than they are used to. Having a large pen for stabling allowed them to move at will and roll as needed. And it keeps them fenced in from the outside unknowns. I know in South Dakota, buffalo can be a threat to tied horses; especially if there is hay present. Others may disagree, but I’m just sharing my preference and what has worked best for us and those with whom we most often travel.
Temperatures can vary depending on where you are coming from and where you are going. You might want to consider taking a waterproof stable blanket along for your horse. I didn’t this time and wished I would have. Also a salt block for your horses pens to help keep them hydrated.
Depending on your destination, keep in mind a water source for your horses. Where we just traveled, there was no water. We carried our 55 gallon container and was able to fill up every few days at a nearby location, but we did need to drive for it. You will also need to make sure your horses will drink water from a source other than your own.
I started packing about a week before we were leaving. We have a two horse gooseneck trailer with a weekender package. I needed to find room for eight bales of hay, tack, fencing and all of our people supplies. I put our saddles in the back seat of the truck, I put hay in contractor bags and stored in the tack compartment of the trailer and the back of the truck. I put our lawn chairs on the bed in the gooseneck. You get the picture. You have to get real creative when packing; its like putting together a very delicate puzzle. And other than not having the horse blankets with me – which wasn’t on my list – I was gone for a week and never did without.
There is more to come. But this should give you something to think about as a starting point for getting the horse ready. If you have any questions, post them in comments and I can include my thoughts in future installments.