‘The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can’ – J.R.R. Tolkien
Airbnb backyard in Iowa
Tornado warnings, hailstorms, camping out in backyards across America - traveling across country can be a challenging endeavor. Add horses into the mix and you could be in for a pretty wild ride!
There is a lot of thought that goes into undertaking any kind of long trip with horses. In 2018 Rachael, my friend (and the photographer for our journey) Liselle, and I loaded our pony, two barn cats, and two jack Russell terriers into our trailer and traveled nearly 3600 miles from Virginia to Oregon.
Preparing for this epic journey involved a lot of planning and logistics. Our first step was to break down the distance we had to cover into manageable chunks (400 miles a day) so that we could figure out where we were going to stop each of the 8 nights we would be on the road. We then divided each day into three 2 hour stretches with a 30-minute break between each stretch. It’s important to give your horse a 20-to-30-minute break at regular intervals if you are going to be trailering for multiple days. It provides them with the opportunity to stay hydrated (offer water at every stop) and to relax their muscles from the constant stress of bracing against the motion of the trailer. We also used these pit stops to fill up with gas, use the bathroom, switch drivers, and allow the dogs time to stretch their legs.
Once we had figured out our route, we began to look for lodging that could also accommodate our animals. We were lucky to find several farms listed on Airbnb, and where we couldn’t find a farm, we were able to reserve stabling at the local agricultural show grounds with a hotel nearby.
One of our most memorable stays was in a small town in Iowa. We hadn’t been able to find any stabling close to our overnight destination but were fortunate enough to find a VERY accommodating Airbnb host who allowed us to put Lucky in her backyard. We made quite a spectacle for all the neighborhood kids as we unloaded in their quiet cul-de-sac. Fortunately, it was a very rural town and cornfields stretched out behind the house as Lucky grazed behind a white picket fence, and fascinated kids peered over from neighboring yards.
We drove through some spectacular countryside and one of our favorite stays was in a small cabin on a ranch bordering Castle Rocks State Park in Idaho. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and Lucky had a great time befriending the local horses while the three of us drove to a tiny nearby town to soak in their hot springs.
When traveling an extended distance, probably the hardest challenge is keeping your horse hydrated. Horses do not like to drink strange tasting water, especially when stressed. Some horses will do well with Gatorade added to the water to disguise the taste (if you start introducing it a few weeks ahead of time). Unfortunately, Lucky didn’t like the taste, so aside for administering electrolyte paste every day, we bought as much water from home as we could carry, and offered alfalfa pellets soaked in water at every rest stop.
After arriving at our destination each night - after very long days - we had to walk fence lines and check enclosures to make sure that there was nothing Lucky could hurt himself on. Only once he was settled in, blanked, fed, and watered could we finally relax and see to our own needs. Later, in the night we would go down for a last check to make sure he was drinking and not showing any signs of stress induced colic.
As part of your preparation, I would highly recommend having your car and trailer serviced before undertaking any trip. The last thing you need when trailering horses is to deal with issues on the road. As a precaution I also bought Equine roadside assistance insurance. Fortunately, we never had to use it, but it gave me peace of mind to know that help was just a call away if things did go sideways.
No matter how well prepared you are there will always be challenges outside of your control. We had a couple of hair-raising moments on our trip. The first happened as we were driving through Wyoming. A tornado alert suddenly came through on the radio and vehicles were warned off the road or to seek cover under bridges. We were out in the middle of nowhere, with no cover in sight, and had no recourse but to keep driving. Fortunately, the tornado veered out of our path at the last moment, and we caught just the tail edge of the storm (a deluge of rain), but it was terrifying watching it pass so close by.
The second incident happened when we were driving through Idaho. One moment it was a hot, clear day, the next we suddenly saw our temperature gauge drop to below freezing and we were being pounded by hail stones. Once again, there was no cover in sight and all we could do was ride it out. After about 20 minutes it passed over and the temps returned to normal as if nothing had happened – quite bizarre!
The final incident was right at the end of our journey. At our last gas stop there was a fairly steep entrance to the gas station that caused a bit of a jolt on my trailer hitch. I checked the hitch before we set off again and everything looked fine. What I didn’t realize is that the jolt had loosened the bolt attaching the hitch which then worked itself loose at some point en route. After we arrived in Oregon, we off loaded Lucky at his new boarding barn and drove to our house. When I pulled up to park, the whole trailer pitched backward and lifted off the hitch. The only thing that must have been holding it on was the weight of the horse. Clearly, our prayers for a safe journey were answered and our guardian angels worked over time each day!