Relocating Your Horse

Relocating, or moving, is considered to be one of life’s most stressful activities.  If you are moving your family, and that family includes a horse, you have just intensified the experience exponentially.  This article is written to hopefully alleviate some of that stress by explaining how a horse travels, how to select a shipper, what to expect from your shipper and some suggestions on how to help you and your horse settle into your new home after arrival.

PART I:  Arranging Transportation for Your Horse

Obviously, you won’ be shipping a horse before you have found him a place to live, so if you need suggestions on finding a boarding facility, please see the article entitled:  “Considerations for Selecting a Boarding Facility” found elsewhere on this website. This article covers information on how to locate boarding facilities in your new location, how to perform due diligence on the facilities that have made your “short list” and some tips on how to settle your horse into his new home,

Once you have completed your due diligence from the stabling choices available and have made the decision on where you will be moving your horse, the next task is actually getting your horse there.  Transporting your horse any significant distance will be very physically and mentally stressful for him.  Minimizing the amount of time that your horse has to be on a trailer is one of the most important factors you should consider.  Any trip over 10 hours is considered to be a long term trip and there are a number of factors to consider that will assure that your horse remains healthy for the duration.

PART II – Shipping Options – Commercial Shipping vs. an Independent Shipper

If you plan to trailer your horse yourself to your new location and you are not an experienced hauler, you might find the book The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer by Neva Kittrell Scheve to be helpful.  You might also want to check out The Hawkins Guide:  Horse Trailering on the Road and The Hawkins Guide:  Equine Emergencies on the Road.  Both books are authored by Neva K. Scheve and James Hamilton, D.V.M.

If you are not transporting your horse yourself you have the choice of selecting a commercial shipper or an independent shipper.  Both have advantages and disadvantages.

A commercial shipper will typically be a company that transports horses as its primary business.  A commercial shipper will be properly insured, have trained drivers and typically will employ larger rigs.  Commercial shippers may offer several transport options such as a full stall, stall-and-a-half or a full box stall.  They may be limited, however, to frequent travel routes particularly to major horse shows or race tracks.  They may only transport horse within specific territories such as the east coast or the west coast and they may only embark on a trip if they have a “full load” so your actual travel date(s) may not be flexible.  Depending upon what a “full load” consists of and the destination of each horse on the trailer, your horse could be on the trailer literally for days going on a week.  Once your horse is on the trailer, a commercial shipper usually will not unload him until he has arrived at his destination.

You will usually need to contract with a commercial shipper significantly in advance of your trip and once contracted your reservation will not be complete without a deposit (normally 50% of the total cost to ship).  Depending upon the circumstances none, or only some, of your deposit will be refundable.  The remainder of the fee will be due either at the time of pick-up or at the time of delivery and you should make sure you ask about what forms of payment are acceptable.

The cost is usually mileage based, but may be adjusted downward for a “full load”.  You will usually only pay for the miles that your horse is transported.  Commercial shippers may or may not ship anything but your horse.  If they do agree to transport additional items such as blankets, tack or tack trunks, you will need to let them know that you want to ship extra items when you contract for the trip.  There may or may not be an additional charge for shipping such items, but if you have not contracted for them beforehand it is unlikely that the shipper will take these items at the last minute.

An independent shipper, on the other hand, is typically someone who owns his own truck and trailer and ships horses on an individual basis or they are people who will drive your truck and trailer while hauling your horse to its destination.  They should be insured and they should know how to handle emergencies both involving the horse as well as the transport equipment.  The advantages to using an independent shipper are that you can get your horse and your equipment to the final destination in the shortest amount of time.  The driver is only delivering your horse to your destination without any side trips along the way.  If they use your rig you will know exactly what the shipping conditions will be.  If it makes sense to layover during the trip an independent shipper can do this and take the horse off the trailer for the night and reload in the morning.

If the independent shipper is using your equipment you will basically pay a fee for their labor/time (usually based upon some type of mileage calculation) and you will be responsible for any other direct costs that are involved to drive the rig and be responsible for your horse.  You will be responsible for paying for the actual amount of fuel used rather than a set per mileage charge.  You may be responsible for any return travel costs or costs incurred by the independent shipper to get back to the origination point.  The combined amount of fees may be lower than the rate that the commercial shipping company would have charged.  If the independent shipper is using his own vehicle and trailer, they typically have a per-mileage charge but you will generally pay for round trip mileage rather than for the actual miles your horse traveled.  In this case, an independent shipper may be more expensive than going the commercial route.

You will typically hire the shipper from the location you are shipping from.  Depending upon the shipping company they will either pick the horse up at your current location or you may be required to transport the horse to their facility for transport onto the final destination.  You should be aware that whether you are using a commercial or independent shipper that you could incur additional costs if:

1. There are veterinary bills resulting from the need for treatment en-route 2. You change the location of pick-up or delivery 3. The horse is difficult to load 4. The horse is not ready for pick-up when the driver arrives at your facility 5. The access road at either the origination or destination point is difficult to negotiate and the driver was not forewarned when the contract was negotiated

Shippers are required to carry $1,000 limited accidental mortality for each horse.  This isn’t very much and it will only cover mortality due to a collision, therefore it is highly recommended that the owner of the horse carry adequate insurance on the horse relative to its value.  You can get full coverage insurance policies for 30 days which will cover the horse during transport and most equine insurance agents can easily help you with this. If you are transporting a horse that has been recently purchased, it is strongly recommended that the buyer and seller come to an understanding before the horse is shipped as to who will be responsible for insurance during the shipment and who is assuming the risk.

PART III – How to Find a Shipper

If you are with a trainer they should have a list of both commercial and independent shippers that they would recommend.  Shippers advertise both locally and in national publications and has listings for both national and international shippers that include the name, phone number and website address if the shipper has one.  Listings are sorted by state.

A better site for locating shippers is This site allows you two ways to locate a shipper.  From their “Free Quotes” tab you can enter the origination, destination and the dates you would like to ship your horse.  This message is then broadcasted to the shippers that are associated with the website and their quotes are sent directly to you.  Your second option for finding a shipper on this website is to go to the “Transporters” tab and select the state that you are interested in.  You can then contact the shippers directly for a quote or information.  The site has a short description about the shipping company, the area they service, their phone number and website or email address.

PART IV – What to Ask and Expect When Shipping Your Horse

Whether you are using a commercial or an independent shipper you want to know exactly how long they anticipate that your horse will be on the trailer.  Shipping delays can, and do occur, but all parties involved should be informed as to when the horse will be leaving and what the anticipated arrival date will be.  The driver should have a cell phone with all of your contact information as well as the contact information for the person at the farm where the shipping company will pick up the horse up as well as the contact information at the farm you are shipping your horse to.  Drivers will typically keep all parties informed as to the expected pick-up and final arrival date and time.

You want to know that the trailer is big enough for your horse as well as whether the shipper has a truck large enough to safely pull the trailer.  Ask if there are options for different sized stalls on their rig.  A larger stall will allow the horse to spread its feet and achieve better balance.  Ask if the horses are cross-tied.  It is preferable if the horse is able to lower its head and stretch its neck to cough.  Being able to drop their neck and cough is important for a horse as trailers are dusty from the hay and the shavings or straw used to bed them.  The air quality is poor under the best of circumstance as it is contaminated by noxious gases from urine and manure.

You should ask the shipper, or shipping company, if they carry any medications with them and what they are, such as flunixin meglumine (banamine, in IV or paste form) or acepromazine (ace, can be injected either IV or IM).  If they do carry certain drugs, ask how the driver is qualified to make a diagnosis and if the particular driver is comfortable using them.  Can they safely administer an IV (intravenous) or IM (intramuscular) injection, especially if the horse is under significant stress?  Are you comfortable having the driver give your horse an injection if they determine it is necessary?  You may want to discuss this with your veterinarian prior to transporting your horse and if you are not comfortable with the driver medicating your horse, assuming they even carry such medications with them, make sure you make your objection known before shipping.

Be sure to ask how temperature is controlled in the trailer as trailers can heat up extremely fast, especially if there are a number of horses on the rig.  Ask how often the horses are given hay (you will typically be asked to supply your horse with a bale of hay when the horse is picked up at the origination point) and water and how often the driver stops.  You should also ask if there will be more than one driver.  It is always preferable if there is a relief driver if the trip is going to be over several days.

PART V – Shipping Requirements and Paperwork You Will Need

In order to transport a horse across state lines (and in some states more than 75 miles) you will need to make sure that the driver has a current health certificate (no older than 30 days as of the day of delivery) on your horse that includes not only health information on the horse but also states the origination point and the final destination for the horse being transported.  You will need to make sure that the driver has a copy of your horse’s negative Coggins Test that is dated within the last year with the exception of California which requires a Coggins Test to be dated with in the last six months.  The driver will need the originals of these documents if the horse is traveling through Arizona, California or Florida.  If transporting from CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY and portions of OR, SD, or WA your horse will need to travel with a valid brand inspection card.

PART VI – Other Shipping Recommendations

It is strongly recommended that all of your horse’s immunizations be current.  Talk to your veterinarian to see if there are any vaccinations that you would not normally give your horse that are specifically recommended for the area you are moving to.  Any vaccinations that are given should be administered no later than two weeks before transport to insure that if your horse has a negative reaction it is resolved before loading him on the trailer.  Make sure that you advise the driver if your horse has any unusual characteristics that might affect the horse during transport such as blindness, history of colic, extreme age, claustrophobia or soundness problems.

Your horse should be well hydrated before shipment and it is recommended that you not feed grain one feeding before shipment or after delivery.  Ask your veterinarian about recommendations for using shipping boots, bell boots, leg wraps, tail wraps, electrolytes, oil, etc. before shipping.  Generally, leg wraps are not recommended.  Also, keep in mind that if leg wraps or shipping boots come loose during transport the driver will not risk injury to himself or the horse to reapply them.

Finally, always make sure that you have the driver’s cell phone number and that he has all of your contact information.  The driver should have all of the contact information for the farm that the horse is being transported to.  The driver should be able to contact someone at your horse’s new home about an hour prior to delivery to make sure that someone is there to receive the horse.  You should also make sure that the contact at the new farm has the name of the shipping company and the driver’s cell phone number. The new farm needs to be aware of the tentative time of arrival in order to be available to make sure that your horse is safely unloaded and settled into his new stall or pasture upon arrival.

PART VII – Settling In

Once your horse has arrived at his new home, it is always a good idea to give him a few days off to adjust to his new surroundings.  Make sure someone is keeping an eye on him to make sure he is drinking enough water and that he is resting quietly.  Usually, the horses are the easy part.  To ease your transition, good communication will be your best ally.  Make sure that you have given all pertinent information on your horse to the person in charge at the new facility, including feeding instructions, supplements or medications that have been, or need to be, given.  Be sure you have included any information on quirks or special behaviors that might be pertinent in caring properly for your horse.  Make sure you have given the farm all of your contact and insurance information as well as an alternate person to contact if you can not be reached.

If possible, set up an account with the local veterinarian in advance so that there is no question about financial responsibility in case of an emergency.  If the farm doesn’t have a formal Advance Medical Directive with instructions for how to handle a serious emergency with your horse in the event that the farm is unable to contact you, you should make sure that you have told the person managing the facility whether your horse is a surgical candidate, or under what circumstance he might be a surgical candidate, and under what conditions you would choose euthanasia.   If you did not need to have a brand inspection from your former location and your new state requires one, the farm manager or your new trainer should be able to direct you through this process.  Don’t wait on this if your new state requires it because if you go to transport the horse or you go to sell it you will need the Brand Card to do so and sometimes it takes a week or two to get the brand inspection scheduled.

And one final reminder, ongoing open communication with the trainer and the farm manager of any facility is critical for your experience with them to be successful.  They may not always give you the answer you want to hear, but your problem will never be addressed if the only people you complain to are the other boarders at the farm.  Taking your issue or concern to someone that can do something about it is the only way it will be resolved.  Your boarding experience will, in the long run, be a much happier one if you treat your relationship with the farm as a professional one.

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