Traveling can be one of the biggest stressors for a horse. Finding ways to prepare your horse for a long haul and keeping your horse comfortable along the way can be instrumental to their health and well-being. Professional Barrel Racer, Stevi Hillman, spends a large percentage of her time traveling with her equine athletes in tow. Stevi has qualified to the National Finals Rodeo six times and won the 2020 Barrel Racing Championship title at RFD-TV’s The American Rodeo along with a $100,000 check. Hillman believes that keeping her horses happy while hauling helps them perform at their absolute best.
Here are some of her tips you can apply to help your horses travel comfortably:
Tip #1 Hauling Young
“We start hauling them when they are young. Sometimes this just means they go along and get tied up to get the experience. We take a couple young horses to California in April with us to help them get accustomed to the long hauls and staying different places every night. While it creates more work, it is important to me to have young ones on the road learning.”
Stevi recommends making the uncomfortable, more comfortable. To do this, she does things at home like hanging their feed/water buckets and tying horses to the trailer like she would away from home. Introducing travel in short trips can help prepare your horse for a long trip or heavy travel in the future.
Tip #2 Solid Foundation
Horses that are desensitized and worked with when they are young will be more likely to handle new sights and situations better. “I think teaching them at a very young age to handle some pressure is good. We don’t push beyond what they can handle, but we do push them to learn how to handle new circumstances.” By doing this Stevi believes it will help her horse think their way through situations rather than just react from fear.
“I believe a very solid foundation as a two-year-old helps with things like traveling, later down the road. If you never teach them how to handle fear and pressure, how do you ever expect them to handle rodeo and everything that comes with it?”
Tip #3 Making The Experience Easier:
With well above 100,000 miles of traveling with horses, Stevi has learned it is the small things that make the biggest difference. Hillman recommends keeping roughage (hay) in-front of horses in the trailer at all times, offering water as much as possible to help prevent gastric upset and dehydration as well using a PHT magnetic therapy blanket to help keep muscles more relaxed. “Stomach issues and dehydration can start causing issues right off the bat. There are many things you can do to help your horse be more comfortable, but you’ve got to know them and what each one needs.” Stevi explains.
Horses undergoing the stress of hauling can be at risk for stomach upset. MVP’s Gastro-Plex can be added into a horses feed program prior to a long haul or used during periods of frequent hauling to help reduce the risk of stomach discomfort and colic. Stevi uses Gastro-Plex on all her horses traveling, “We keep them on MVP’s Gastro-Plex pellets, to make the hauling process as nice as possible for them.” In addition to Gastro-Plex pellets, Gastro-plex paste can be used prior to loading to help reduce discomfort from stomach acid that may splash around in the moving trailer.
Electro-Cell electrolyte paste can be administered prior to and after a long haul can help encourage a horse to drink and stay hydrated. MVP’s Apple-Lyte powder can also be added to a horses daily feed during extended periods of travel.
Tip #4 Finding the Right Balance
Accept the simple fact that not every horse will be completely comfortable on the road. “Allow them the opportunity to work through things, and if that doesn’t work, try something else,” says Stevi. You may try hauling a horse alone only to find no matter what you do they will not soothe themselves. Stevi has found her main horses key to happiness on the road is to have a buddy. “Truck, has to stay happy and we don’t make him stress just to make him get over it, we tried in the beginning and quickly learned how to keep him happy so he can win. I believe there is a fine line and a balance to this. They have to self soothe, but you also have to learn your horse.” Knowing what you horse can and cannot take is very important.
Remember, not all horses are the same and each horse may need something a little different. Taking water from home, finding their favorite spot in the trailer, and knowing how many hours each horse will tolerate in the trailer can help make the trip the best possible for your horse(s). Pre-planning your route with lay overs in quiet areas with pens or stalls you know your horse will be comfortable in can help alleviate some stress which is the ultimate goal.
Keeping horses happy on the road is a very important part of being a professional barrel racer like Stevi, “It can honestly be a ‘deal breaker’ on if they’ll make a rodeo horse or not, on how well they travel. People think it’s the same but it’s definitely not. It’s exhausting long drives and many different places and set ups they have to stay in.” While you may not be on the road full time, these travel tips can still be applied to make the travel process for any horse the best possible.