Everyone knows a shipping horror story, whether it’s personal or a friend’s, but many problems could have been prevented if the horse owner asked the right questions and prepared the horse right.
Start in your own barn. Long-distance travel is hard on a horse, and an unconditioned horse will arrive at his destination in a state of extreme physical exhaustion. If you know your horse will face a long-distance haul in the future, begin a conditioning program now.
Be certain you check with your veterinarian so that all paperwork is up to date and, if you have any concerns, have the vet examine the horse. If your horse is physically out of shape let the shipper know. They can be more alert to signs of crisis, although there’s a minimum they can do while on the road.
Next, talk about shippers with people you know. If you find a company’s name from an ad, ask for local references. Be specific when talking to the references, and ask what services they used:
• Did your horse use a box stall'
• How far did he travel'
• Did he need any veterinary help on the trip'
• Did the horse get to his destination when promised'
• What shape was the horse in'
• Were you able to contact the shipper when you needed to'
A competent driver will be able to recognize the early stages of common problems that come up during shipping, like dehydration and colic.
Ask how the company educates and maintains their drivers’ equine education. Brook Ledge, for example, holds quarterly meetings to discuss equine health problems and questions. Beware of shippers who dodge your questions or offer vague replies.
Drivers are bound by company policy, so be sure those policies allow drivers to care for horses properly. Frequent stops help drivers see potential problems. Shippers should stop at least every three to four hours so that they can check on the horses and offer them water.
Some shippers use closed-circuit television to monitor their charges as the trip progresses. Other technological assistants include mobile phones and pagers. Some shippers, like Bob Hubbard, also employ GPS technology, which means that you can call the office and find out where your horse is at any given moment.
Check with your shipper about leg wraps, boots, halter wraps, sheets, shoes and so on. The company may have policies regarding the use of these items. If your horse needs a particular hay or water source, again, ask about the company’s policy and handling of these situations before you write out that deposit check.
Like airlines, your horse may have a forced “layover” or be required to change carriers. While most reputable companies only use other reputable companies whom they trust, your horse is still in the hands of another company. Find out which.
Some companies ship horses to layover facilities, where the horses are then picked up and taken to their final destination. If you’re comfortable with your horse being transferred, ask which company will pick him up and ask to be notified when the change occurs. It doesn’t hurt to follow the same procedures to ensure the pickup company is as reliable as the company you hired.
Like prices, shipping stalls vary in terms of both size and availability. Some shippers offer single stalls, stall-and-a-half, and box stalls, with prices increasing by size, but always ask the stall dimensions to be sure. And don’t forget height. A good rule of thumb is 10 inches of room over your horse’s head.
Box stalls are ideal for horse comfort, as they allow a horse to lower his head, but they are the most expensive. However, if you’re shipping a stallion, mare and foal or weanling, you’ll probably need a box stall.
Rates And Fees
Prices for shipping varies widely, so get quotes. Exercise caution, however: If a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The shipper in question may not have DOT registration, adequate insurance or solid experience with horses.
Often shippers will charge extra if they have to wait, are given faulty directions, or are told a road will accommodate their truck that turns out to be impassable. Horses that are difficult, extra equipment or feed and canceled reservations can also incur extra charges.
Changes in trip planning can invoke charges as well. If the shipper has to stop at a layover barn, you may be charged for board for the night. Usually these stops are planned, but if horses aren’t tolerating the trip well or the weather changes, unexpected rest stops may be added.
Also, if your horse needs medical help, you will be charged. Often the shipper will use local veterinarians with whom his company has worked before and should have a list of veterinarians who practice along her or his routes. The shipper should let you know of these changes by phone, so be sure he or she has all your contact information. Make yourself easily accessible throughout your horse’s entire journey.
The National Horse Carriers Association (NCHA) maintains a website at www.nationalhorsecarriers.com. The website has a list of members organized by state and looks for high quality. Not all reliable carriers are members, but the NCHA is a good starting place.
Shippers often carry insurance, but check your own policy before shipping. Inquire whether your horse is covered for injuries and mortality when traveling with a commercial shipper. Many shippers carry a small amount of mortality insurance and, in a worst-case scenario, you could end up owing them if the coverage didn’t cover the shipping costs.
Your shipper choice can affect your insurance coverage as well, since some insurance companies may not pay if the carrier you selected was not properly registered in the first place. And don’t take the hauler’s word for it. Call or e-mail the Department of Transportation to check on the company’s registration.
Read the entire shipping contract before you sign. Too many horse owners quickly “sign at the X” without reading what they’re signing only to find out later that they agreed to something they were unaware of.
In conclusion, we echo the advice from Jerry Woolery, who owns and drives for J & D: “You’re paying for it. You tell them what you want.” If you don’t get what you want, find another shipper.
Contacts: Blue Chip 800/826-4636; American Equine Services 610/459-1555; Circle L 888/465-6979; Sallee 800/967-8267; Bob Hubbard 909/369-3770; Crystal Creek 866/971-3282; H.H. Hudson 800/624-7741; J & D 909/677-6093; Brook Ledge 800/523-8143.