Traveling down the freeway, the road stretches out far before us in the desert Southwest, appearing as a mirage in the distance. One of us drives, while the other works the laptop. We take turns. Horse trailers pass by in the next lane. We wave. Some folks see us; others don't.
A sign warns, ?Beware of high winds.? Wind turbines line a distant hill. We shudder at the remembrance of driving our topheavy camper and bumper-pull trailer in such areas. Campers and large trucks have been hurled off road by powerful winds in this region.
Although we still have the camper, we're glad to be pulling a low-profile horse trailer with living quarters. Back in the trailer are our two Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, Cowboy and Nate. Even though they?re not quite 5 years old, they have hundreds of trail-riding miles under their cinches.
We've just completed five months on the road. Five months is a long time to spend with horses and a long time to be away from home. We've traveled a large circle of the American West, starting from near the Canadian border to within a few miles of Mexico and back home to the northern Rockies.
People ask how we do it. I give my wife, Charlene, a wink and say, ?That trailer is a threehorse trailer, but we only bring two horses. The third stall is my dog house in case I get in trouble!?
Seriously, it takes planning and forethought to travel with horses for a long period of time. Here, we'll share with you three valuable lessons we?ve learned through trial and error.
Travel Tip #1: Book Overnight Stabling If you're going on a long-distance, multiday trip, figure how many hours per day you?d like to drive. Then look at the map, and decide where you'll spend each night.
On longer trips, we like to locate corrals for the horses rather than stalls. After being cooped up in the trailer all day, a corral offers more room for them to stretch their legs.
If a large arena is available, we'll sometimes give the horses an opportunity to play. Nate and Cowboy go racing across the arena, heads held high and proud, eyes sparkling in the sun, tails up, backs straight. They run together like two cruise missiles competing for a target.
They'll come screeching to a sliding halt in front of us, twist their heads, and seem to say, ?Look at me, look at me!? Then they?ll turn and propel themselves away, showering us with dirt.
To find overnight boarding locations, check the Where-to-Ride Guide in every issue of The Trail Rider. You can also go online. Recommended websites include: www.horsemotel.com; www.horsetrip. com; www.horseandmuletrails. com; www.horsetravels.com; and www.travelinghorse.com.
Also, check with trail associations, such as the Back Country Horsemen of America (www. backcountryhorse.com), which has local chapters. Look up the local chambers of commerce. Even many Cabelas (www.cabelas.com) across the country offer a free camping spot and corral for traveling horsemen. Local fairgrounds also make very good overnight boarding spots.
When you reach your overnight destination, check out the corral in which your horse will be staying. Look for any nails or wires, and remove old and moldy hay. Use your own water bucket with fresh water to cut the risk of your horse catching a communicable disease in the existing corral water.
Travel Tip #2: Trailer Wisely Before loading your horse, check his hooves for any compact material that might create uncomfortable pressure over a long period of time.
We try not to drive longer than eight hours a day. After four hours of driving, we get the horses out for a ?potty? break, then continue the other four hours. Unloading our horses is probably unnecessary, but we?ve found that they?ve become trained to this routine. They learn to hold it for their break, thus eliminating trailer mess.
To save time, we look for breaks where we can fuel up, get the horses out, and have lunch all in one spot. If possible, we'll remove solid waste from the trailer. This way, we can see if the horses defecate during the second half of the trip, thus decreasing colic concerns.
If the horses drink water at their break, we offer more hay in the feeders. If not, we give very little hay for the second half, once again, to decrease colic concerns. To further help prevent colic, give your horse the same feed when you travel as you do at home, and offer plenty of water.
Also, provide a salt block in your horse's temporary quarters, along with grain and whatever other supplements he?d normally receive at home.
Travel Tip #3: Enjoy the Bennies A great benefit of traveling with your horse is that it makes him safer and more reliable for trail riding than he?d be if you stuck to home trails. He sees and experiences so many different stimuli that he becomes desensitized, which helps him to be less spooky and more stable on the trail.
When we get our horses out for breaks, we never know what they?ll see ? large trucks, trailers, huge equipment, kids on bicycles.
Our horses have also become desensitized to all kinds of creatures that have been corralled next to them during our travels, such as cattle, Brahma bulls, llamas, and a noisy dog kennel. One time, our horses even spent a couple days corralled next to buffalo.
Our next trip included riding through buffalo herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We didn't need to worry about our horses, because they?d lived with buffalo!
Another benefit to traveling extensively with your horse is that you're able to create a greater bond with him.
At home, we may not see our horses for two or three weeks at a time while they?re on pasture between trail rides. While traveling, we deal with our horses on a daily basis. On the road, everything changes except for one constant; that constant is you, the horse owner. A greater bond is built.
Wherever your destination may be, you'll be able to spend quality time with your horse on the trail and in horse camps. So get out there, and start traveling with your horses. Enjoy their company!
TTR Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They?ve sold photographs to magazines, books, calendars, postcards, and video producers for more than 20 years. (For a sampling, visit www.superstock.com, and type ?Kent and Charlene Krone? in the search box.) They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.