Shipping Your Horse – My Story
So, looking back on it, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to buy a horse when I knew I would be moving 3,000 miles away. But, I mean, look at that face! How could anyone resist that? So in the middle of my senior year of college I pulled the trigger and bought Leo! An athletic and kind OTTB, the source of my constant worry, and the greatest decision I ever made.
My first year of horse ownership was a complete adventure. We faced everything from stall rest, to leasers, lameness and colic, to falling off. We checked off a lot of boxes on the “horse owner bucket list,” but our biggest adventure came in February 2016.
I moved from New York to Seattle just before Thanksgiving and thanks to the incredible generosity of my barn family, Leo stayed in NY while I settled into my new home. But, by Christmas it was time for him to come too.
I didn’t know where to begin, planning a trip like that for a 1,000 lb. beast. However, with lots of research, fussy planning, and about 8 scripts of Xanax later (just kidding!), Leo arrived safe and happy in Seattle.
If you’re planning on shipping your horse long distance keep reading! I want to share my ideas, mistakes, and tips for making the trip the best it can be for you and your horse!
Beginning The Process – Finding a Shipper
I spent 1,000,000 hours googling shippers, scouring their websites, reading reviews, and asking for advice from Facebook groups. Ultimately I decided on Brook Ledge Horse Transportation. From their website, to their Facebook page, reviews, and my interaction with them, they were extremely professional and had shipped the likes of California Chrome, Barbaro, and Sapphire. And hey, if Brook Ledge was good enough for McClain Ward, then they were good enough for me!
What I looked for in a shipper:
- A Long History of Business – a company with lots of experience shipping horses.
- Quality Equipment – If the rigs look like scary metal death traps from the 1980’s, then I skipped it.
- Stall Size – Because the trip was so long I opted for a box stall, big enough for Leo to be free and move around. Be sure the company offers the type of shipping stall your horse needs.
- Good Customer Service – I needed a company willing to answer every question. After all Leo was spending 4 days in a 6’ x 8’ box, with a stranger, seeing more of the great U.S.A. than I had.
- Decent Prices – All said and done Leo’s trip was $4075, within my budget and an unbelievable price for the quality of care Leo received on the trip.
- Amenities Offered – For a trip this long (and in the middle of winter) I wanted amenities like blanket and medication services. Your shipper should offer everything your horse needs to make their trip in comfort.
Getting Ready For the Trip
The Anti-Diet (plus Drugs!)
With the shipper booked I focused on getting Leo ready for the trip. I think this was his favorite part. He went on an “Anti-Diet.” When a horse is stressed out (i.e. when shipping!) they can loose up to 0.5% of their body weight/ hour. So my vet wanted Leo to pack on the pounds. He went on extra hay and enjoyed long grazing sessions. Yum!
Leo also got a few other gifts. My vet suggested getting him electrolytes and UlcerGuard to help keep all of his systems moving during the trip. He received the tube of electrolytes paste and one dose of the UlcerGuard the morning of the trip and the remaining UlcerGuard doses throughout the trailer ride. Please speak with your vet about their recommendations for your horse before you try anything when shipping your horse!
Since Leo was shipping across state lines I needed to figure out what sort of health forms he would need. Every state has different paperwork requirements and sorting through them was seriously an absolute chore. The USDA APHIS website (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) gave me the best information. I only needed a Health Certificate (good for 30 days!) and a negative Coggins test (within 6 months) to go to Washington, but some states require a lot more for shipping your horse.
Now this was my favorite part. The shippers gave me a pretty specific list of packing and labeling guidelines (amount, types of containers, etc.). Ask if they haven’t! I picked up two of these bad boys and packed away Leo’s life. I labeled EVERYTHING – blankets, totes, halters, cribbing collar, bell boots, lead rope, anything that moved. Seriously though, when shipping your horse, you don’t want your stuff getting off at the wrong stop.
Time to Go!
After waiting a month, I got the call the shippers were ready. Apparently wintertime in the middle of the New York is not the best time for shipping your horse (who knew?) and the trip kept getting delayed due to weather.
Most companies (at least all the ones I talked to) require someone to be there at pick up to verify the horse, belongings, and to sign paperwork. I had my best friend (the one that was caring for Leo at the time) handle this part of the trip. The morning of she took conformation shots of Leo, an IMPORTANT STEP. You need to be able to prove the pre-shipping condition of your horse. Once the paperwork was signed, the shippers loaded Leo and his things and they were on their way to Seattle.
Brook Ledge was great about keeping me updated on Leo’s trip. The driver called about once a day to confirm addresses, times, and to let me know where and how well Leo was doing. These phone calls helped me to stay calm during the 4 day trip. If your shipper is not contacting you, you absolutely should reach out to them. A shipper who is not communicating well with you once they have your horse is not good!
The Eagle Has Landed
Nothing could ever match my relief seeing Leo step calmly off that trailer (I promise I did not cry until later!). He had made the trip from New York to Washington, seeing Kentucky, Colorado, California, and Oregon in between. I stayed with him for the day watching for signs of colic, taking his temperature (beware of shipping fever) and checking him over for any injuries. Leo was home, happy, and healthy.
Although daunting and a little bit scary, buying Leo and bringing him with me to the West Coast is still one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. He brings so much to my life, it’s hard to imagine where I would be if I didn’t have him. I’m writing this blog to share our stories, mistakes, successes, tips, and tricks as we navigate the unbridled world of horse ownership. I hope to connect with other equestrians and find new ways to keep owning a horse forever interesting.
Have a shipping story of your own? Share below (Leo and I LOVE pictures!). And as always please Facebook, Pin, and share my post!