Still Life With Horse Transport

horsetransport_200Once upon a time the horse carried the human, and war and migrations and transport in general became much easier, simpler, and faster. People could travel farther, take more with them, and get there more quickly.

Then came the age of mechanical transport, and the horse collected some of the agelong debt. Now if a horse needs to travel a considerable distance at speed, he travels in a van, and the humans do the work of making sure he gets there.

We experienced that firsthand this weekend. One of our boarders who had been here for rest and rehab was finally ready to go home to his owner.

This was a bit of an undertaking. The owner hired one of many, many interstate horse haulers. These come in all sizes, from the private citizen with a two-horse trailer and a truck that will pull it, to the major international trucking company with fleets of high-end vans. (We won’t talk about air travel here; we weren’t shipping him far enough.) In this case, the rig was on the medium side, with space for six horses, and the hauler was smallish, a family operation with one big rig that traverses the United States.

We had to prepare the horse by having a veterinarian examine him and certify him healthy, including a blood test for equine infectious anemia (referred to in the horse world, for short, as the Coggins). His belongings had to be packed into as compact a space as possible, and a space booked for him on one of the company’s cross-country runs.

Then we waited. Waiting is a given with horse haulers, as with vets, farriers, and mares in foal. First he was due to leave on Thursday. Then it was Friday. Then the truck was delayed in Florida by one horse’s expired paperwork. That moved the estimated arrival to Saturday, late in the day, which makes excellent sense considering that we live in Arizona and it is hot. Did I mention, it’s hot? 111F in Phoenix that day. Not so hot out here, but…

Finally the driver called in. He was almost here, two hours ahead of schedule. Could he stop, he asked, and clean out the trailer and give the horses a break? I said he could.

Driving a rig that size into my small private farm was a marvel of driving skill, involving much backing, turning, and repositioning, until it was lined up along the drive and the horses unloaded to stretch their legs.

Arabians2_200Then they were tied to the trailer while their stalls were cleaned out and rebedded with wood shavings to keep the stall mats dry and provide cushioning for the horses’ legs and feet.

RigandHorses_200Meanwhile, the traveler himself was too busy having an early dinner (and sneering at the rest of the horses who wouldn’t eat until after he was gone) to pay attention.

CiscoWaits_200He was perfectly calm; he’s traveled a bit in his life and since he’s a Space Alien in a horse suit, he knew he was heading home to his person.

Sure enough, once the trailer was cleaned out and the horses reloaded–and his dinner done, because we time things like that around here–he went up the ramp

ramp_200without hesitation and settled into his stall.

readytogo_200There he is, checking out his neighbors and starting to paw impatiently because he wants to get going, going, gone!

He was traveling on a slant in a fairly narrow compartment with supporting walls on either side, which is supposed to be more comfortable for a horse than a straight load with the head up front. He had clean shavings on the floor, a water container freshly filled by hose from a tank in front of the trailer (where were also living quarters for the driver and his backup, and storage for hay and the horses’ belongings), and a bag of hay that had to be removed before he caught his foot in it–but he would be fed at the next stop, two hours up the highway.

Once everyone was loaded and the ramp up and locked and the window bars secured to keep the horses’ heads from popping out at speed (with possibly dire results),

windowsecured_200off they trundled into the night.

drivingoffintothenight_200There would be stops every few hours (and one overnight, unscheduled stop for emergency brake repair), with breaks for the horses to get out, move around, and rest their legs. Our guy arrived Sunday afternoon and settled promptly into his new home. Some of the others went on up the coast to Oregon and Washington, with still others picked up and delivered along the way.

Meanwhile, back at home, the rest of the herd watched with interest but without excessive concern. If he had been part of the main herd, there would have been galloping, leaping, and screaming on both sides. But he was always a guest, and he was going home. Space Aliens understand that.

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Still Life With Horse Transport — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for the lovely piece about Cisco’s start to his journey, Judy. Matt was a wonder driving that rig, wasn’t he? He had just a bit more space than your place to move out of when he left off at Rancho Santa Fe–he backed-up in one swipe and using just his mirrors. He only had to walk it and eyeball it once, hopped in the truck, and did it. Not only could he drive like a master trucker, he was wonderful with the horses. Julian immediately wanted his horse in his hands, but suddenly felt a bit overwhelmed by everything that was going on. Matt took a few minutes to show Julian how to keep Cisco calm on the new grounds and walk him with the utmost safety, all so that I could handle the final business part. Everyone at the new place was actually sad to see the shippers leave. Now off to the barn to check on my boy!!!

  2. That was fascinating. It was also so reassuring to see how good care of his “load” the driver takes.

    Back in the day, I was so pleased to learn that even in ye olden days before internal combustion engines it was considered important on occasion to transport a horse rather than have get from a to be via her/his own four legs. I saw a horse hauler in a Lisbon museum that featured 17th and 18th century coaches (and what HEAVY, massive, clunking things those coaches were too, even as the height of luxury transport back then — these were coaches that transported royals and the nobles).

    These horse haulers were for very valuable animals evidently, particularly brood mares and stallions of particular pedigrees, who were sick, or injured (as in war), yet needed to be moved. I used that in my first novel.

    Love, C.

    • I remember reading Marguerite Henry about the Godolphin Arabian, which was mid-18th century, and how they brought in the champion mare in a horse box.

      Then of course there were medieval horse transport ships, which evolved into the ships that carried the horse (back) into the Americas.