If the arctic chill has finally gotten to you and you find yourself looking for any excuse to head South, the HITS Dessert Circuit has started, and what would be better right now than Show Jumping in the Sun? If you are one of the lucky few that sent their entry in this January - or if you are hoping to get a last minute stall - the road to Thermal is long, and, although worth it, does present some challenges for your Equine Friend. Make sure they stay comfortable with a few of the following ideas;
- Up to date shots: this may not relate directly to your horses' experience, but it will impact YOU. Horses must have health papers to travel across the state - and, by the way, these don't just show up over night. Make sure you touch base with your veterinarian well in advance so you know when to set up an appointment to get your papers back in time. Conversely, the papers do expire, so make sure you get them done as close to the date as possible in order to have them "last" for your entire trip.
- Know your horse show policy. Some shows (HITS is one of them) now have their own requirements for your horse. Due to illnesses that can be spread - especially during high attendance shows - several horse shows are asking for papers outside of the "norm". You may be required to take temperatures before leaving (a good idea anyway) and be able to testify to your horses' health before they enter the show grounds. Make sure you have everything signed and ready to go to make your transition as smooth as possible.
- Blanketing: some folks don't like their horses to wear clothes while in the trailer, but, if your horse has been recently body clipped and is about to take a ride through the mountains, consider his comfort. The choice to use a blanket - and which blanket - depends greatly on each horse and their own experience. Certainly, if you have a horse who can not tolerate a blanket in his stall, this may not be the time to try it out, but a horse that is accustomed to blanketing may do well to have some extra layers for a long - and cold - trip. Keep in mind a trailer with several horses in it will be warmer than a single traveler, and that changing blankets along the way is a hassle in the very least. Try to find a middle ground for your horses' comfort based on what they are used to, the changes in the weather along the way, and what type of travel situation they have. A nervous hauler may get wet and sweaty, while the seasoned show horse may appreciate a nice cover. It takes practice and experience to get the combination right, so check on your horse as you travel to learn about his behavior.
- Water: Although most horses won't drink along the way, it is always great to offer them some each time you stop. Bring a bucket they are accustomed to - and, if you have a picky one - some water from home in a few jugs - and offer them a chance at it when you stop along the way. Most horses won't drink - some will drink a little - so keep an eye out for dehydration - especially if you have a sweaty hauler. Long term travel is hard on your horse (imagine "walking" all the way to CA - your horse isn't sitting on his rear while you travel, he is constantly swaying back and forth to keep his balance), so keeping an eye open to his stress level is one way to help him arrive happy and healthy.
- Hay: the debate continues to rage about whether or not to feed your horse during the trip - every owner needs to decided for themselves on that one. Horses seem to enjoy having something to munch on - especially for long trips. Make sure your hay is fresh and free of a dust and anything else that may be prone to fly up into your horses' eyes and nose. Having a window open for circulation is great, but keep in mind a big pile of lose hay will just blow all over your steed. Try and adjust so that your horse can enjoy his dinner without is blowing up his nose.
- Plan your trip. You'll have breaks for the gas station and possibly some lunch along the way, which will give your horse some time to rest. Make sure you plan a layover as well if you will be on the road for long periods of time (think 12 hours +). Some states have rules about how long you can travel, so check into those as well before hitting the road. If you are using a lay away, make sure it is clean and has room for your horse to lie down and/or stretch his legs.
- Shipping Boots: Like everything else horse related, everyone has an opinion. If your horse will tolerate them, they add an extra layer of protection. They must fit well - shipping boots that slide down his legs will be more of a nuisance than a help, and wraps that are prone to coming undone can be dangerous. If you are unsure if your horse will tolerate the boots, put them on before the big day and let him hang out with them on for awhile. Most horses will walk a bit funny once you put them on, but once they are used to them they can help protect against rubs and kicks along the way.
- Head Bumpers: Although not used as frequently as the shipping boots, head bumpers - and halters with "fuzzies" on them, help protect your horses' fragile head. Horses like to toss their heads about at times and seem to have a terrible sense of how tall they really are. These items will help keep your horse from scratching his face up and, in the case of the head bumper, provide protection to a very sensitive - and crucial - part of his head. He may look a little silly, but it's the only head he has...
For every traveler, there are secrets - things they do to help keep their horse comfortable along the way. Feel free to ask around and see what items they like the best - pros and cons - before heading out onto the road. And, most importantly, if you'll be driving, make sure you get some non-horse time with the truck and trailer before hitting the road. A smooth ride makes for a positive experience for both you and your horse! Once you and your horse are prepared, hit the road and enjoy that Southern Sun!!
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