Summer is a great time to travel with your large animals to competitions and other events. Short trips can be easy, but sometimes we want to go to events farther from home. In general, travel is stressful for our animals, but planning and practice can help.
Animals need to get used to the moving platform beneath them. It can be scary to load in a vehicle and then all the escape routes shut, making them anxious. Once on the move, it is difficult for the hoofed animals to get their balance and many ‘in-the-trailer’ videos demonstrate just how difficult riding in a closed box can be. Try to make this experience as short term and low stress as possible. Reward them. Practice loading. Improve their comfort including safe footing, adequate space and visibility. Feed them. Talk to them so they hear your familiar voice. These things are important for your animals and the more times they safely travel, the easier it is for them.
Plan to arrive early to get your animals fed and watered, rested and back in top form for your event. The longer the travel time, the more down time is needed to get back to normal. Horses that travel frequently tend to need less recovery time, but other hoofed animals going to the 4-H show or fall fair may need more time. They are not as familiar with the trailer ride.
To make things easier, bring everything that your animals need with you. Feed from home is best. Water is important, and usually tastes better if it came from home. Get them settled in a stall so they can rest up after jostling around in the trailer.
Consider the needs at the new location. Distant travel may require health papers and testing ahead of time, especially if crossing international borders. For horses, this normally involves a Coggins test. The information needs to be all correctly filled out to save time and trouble getting things in order. Check on the official requirements well ahead so there is adequate time to get everything in place. There may also be health risks at a new location that are not a concern at home, so do your research. Insect repellents, special vaccinations and protection from extreme weather may be necessary.
If your final destination is unknown, check ahead about facilities available along the way, and pack appropriately. Check with your veterinarian for recommended health care and to see what supplies you may need. If you spend a little time practicing and preparing, you and your animals will have a much better event. You and your animals are a partnership, and you will get more enjoyment and performance from them if they are well looked after. Summer and fall are the busiest times for travel. Be ready and have fun!
Dr. Perry Spitzer is an owner and director of North Peace Veterinary Clinic Ltd. with his life and veterinary partner, Dr. Corinne Spitzer.