Hauling horses south for the winter

For several years now, we have loaded up our horses and hit the road sometime after Thanksgiving.  The first few trips required a good portion of faith and a spirit of adventure but since then we've streamlined our system.  Below we will share a few ideas that have worked for us.

Our usual route goes from Bergen, Alberta almost straight south to Cottonwood, Arizona. 

Check our detailed route planning.  With horses, we like to plan about 6 hours of travel as a maximum, including time for stops to eat and refuel.  The route shows common stopping spots along the way.  Each map covers approximately 4.5 hours, hopefully showing a full half day of travel.

Finding stalls for horses overnight is not so difficult once you develop a system that works for you.  County fairgrounds in the USA generally have stalls although you need to check availability.  Small municipal campsites are another overnight possibility but few have stalls.  Private individuals offer overnight boarding as well.  Below are a few resources you may want to check.

There are a few essential bits of paperwork that you need to prepare before you go...

  • Health Certificates, Registration and Ownership records for horses, dogs - ask your vet and give them 2 weeks before you plan to leave on your trip.  Your horses need a valid Coggins test - blood is drawn and sent to a lab in Red Deer.  You either pick up your stamped permit in Red Deer or have it couriered to your location.  Call ahead for an appointment to pick it up.
               6503-67th Street
               Red Deer, Alberta, T4P 1A3
               Telephone: 403-340-4204
    The health certificate is valid for 30 days, so request permanent export if you are staying out of the country longer than that.  The Coggins test is valid for 180 days.  If you time it carefully, you won't need to redo it for your return trip.
    Double check that it has a red stamp on an original form when you get it back.  The border folks are very particular about this and will send you back to Canada to get that stamp.  If the stamp is missing, call ahead and meet the CFIA vet in Lethbridge - he will stamp it for you.  

                  CFIA - Lethbridge Office
                  3605-14th Avenue North, Lethbridge, Alberta, T1H 6P7

                  Telephone: 403-382-3121

  • Passports for you, vehicle ownership, license and current insurance for your truck and trailer.

  • Check with Alberta Equestrian Foundation for carriers of Out of Country health insurance

  • Permits - if you will stay overnight in Montana, you need a special permit before you leave.  Your vet can assist with this.




Next, be sure that your truck and trailer are ready for the trip.

  • Vehicles - Check you truck and trailer for any needed repairs.  From experience, we can advise that it may be better to purchase new tires at home rather than at an emergency stop on the way.  Don't forget extra coolant, spare tire, proper jack system, and brake fluid.  A small tool kit with screw drivers, socket wrenches etc is often useful for smaller repairs.  A GPS is handy - don't rely on the one that came with the truck - your phone and google maps will be more helpful. 

  • Feed - Horses do best with a steady diet so try to take their usual feed with you.  Some will refuse unfamiliar water.  You can train them by adding cider vinegar to their water for a week before you leave.  Then take the cider vinegar with you to add to the new water en route.  Don't forget buckets to hang with water and grain in their stalls and make sure they are used to eating from the buckets.

  • Medications - Bring along your usual first aid supplies - vet wrap, salve, fly spray and any medications you might need - PeptoBismol, electrolytes.  Include your favourite horse treats in case you need to bribe them to load on day 3.

  • Often, the stalls you use will be rather bare.  Bring a hammer along to pound in any nails that you find sticking out.  You will want a large water bucket with a twine or chain and carabiner for hanging on the stall door.  I also bring a smaller bucket for grain and supplements, with another chain and carabiner.  A short garden hose can be very handy for refilling buckets.  A flash light is essential for checking dark corners for nails and broken boards.

  • Bedding - You will want fresh bedding in the trailer every morning, so pack that in as well.  Don't forget a manure fork and muck bucket for  clean-outs.

  • Tack - Pack your usual riding gear- saddle & pad, bridle & reins, brushes & blankets.  Don't forget your boots & spurs.

Our travel plan with horses inevitably changes, so flexibility is essential.  You may plan to be in Butte, MT overnight but then get stuck in Helena with a flat tire or a scraped leg.

  • Cell phone plan - Roaming charges can add up quickly if you haven't prearranged with your carrier.  You will need a phone and a charging system in the truck to find your destinations - often in the dark.  

  • Maps - A map book from home to your planned destination is well worth the money.  It provides an easy way to see how far you are from a reasonable lunch stop or potential tourist site.

  • Finances - You won't be able to use your Canadian cheques or cash once you cross the border.  It's a good idea to have American cash on hand for overnight charges.  Generally, you can plan on $20/night for each horse and another $20 for your trailer.  It adds up quickly, so we get $250 or so from the bank before we leave.  It's cheaper to exchange at your bank than it is on the road.

  • Food & drink - Since you can't always plan your stops with accuracy, it's a good idea to have your meals planned ahead and have easy lunch fixings ready to go.  Our little fridge and freezer in our trailer LQ holds a lot more than you would expect.  It's easy to get 3 days worth of meals in there.  Bottled water is handy and a few treats can help break the boredom and keep you alert while driving.

  • Don't forget to plan for your dog, his kennel, leash, food and dishes.

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