If you want to compete, you will most likely need some form of transport, unless you keep your horse at a yard where regular dressage events are held.
In this post, we’ll cover the transport options available and some tips to help you transport your horse safely and with the minimum of stress to both parties.
(Please note that this post was written with a view of transporting a horse in the UK. If you plan on traveling your horse in a different country, please check the license, insurance, and transport policies for that country.)
Horsebox or trailer?
You can transport your horse in a horsebox or a trailer. But which is the best option? Here are the pros and cons of both.
Trailer – Pros:
- Easier to store when not in use
- Cheaper to insure than a lorry
- Cheaper to buy and maintain than a lorry
- Many horses load more easily into a trailer than a lorry
Trailer – Cons:
- Lightweight and can be unstable in windy weather
- Offers less protection to the horse in the event of an accident
- Maneuvering a trailer can be more difficult than a horsebox
- Larger horses can feel unbalanced and stressed in a trailer
Horsebox – Pros:
- Gives the horse a more comfortable ride than a trailer
- Safer for the horse in case of an accident
- Can have a living area, allowing overnight stays and greater comfort for the rider
- Smaller model horseboxes are easier to drive and handle compared to a car and trailer combo
Horsebox – Cons:
- More expensive to buy and maintain than a trailer
- More expensive to insure than a trailer
Whether to choose a horsebox or a towing vehicle and trailer combo is often dictated by the horse’s preference and the rider’s budget. Whichever option you go for, you’ll need to have the appropriate license and legal documentation in place.
License requirements for horse transport
In the UK, you must have the right driving license in place to drive a horsebox or to tow a trailer:
- To drive a towing vehicle and trailer combo, you’ll need to have a Category B driving license. That covers you to drive a tow vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes with a trailer in excess of 750 kg. (NB: Drivers who passed a standard driving test prior to 1 January 1997 do not need a Category B license to tow a trailer)
- Category C1+E license entitles you to drive a tow vehicle heavier than 7.5 tonnes with a trailer in excess of 750 kg, so long as both together don’t exceed 12 tonnes.
- Category C license entitles you to drive an HGV horsebox.
To obtain the license you want, you’ll need to take a special test involving both driving skills and practical demonstration.
When choosing a vehicle with which to tow a trailer, note that it’s a legal requirement that the gross weight of the trailer its cargo must not exceed the towing vehicle’s capabilities.
The general rule is that the trailer must not exceed 85 percent of your towing vehicle’s kerb weight, which is the total weight of the vehicle, including the driver, vehicle contents, and a full fuel tank.
If you opt for a trailer, you’ll need to insure it for theft and damage. Your towing vehicle will also need to be insured. Note that some car insurance policies don’t automatically cover you for towing, so be sure to check the details in your policy document.
A horsebox requires a specific insurance policy. Some horsebox insurance policies include specialist relay recovery, which is well worth having in the event that you break down with your horse on board.
You should make sure that you have recovery insurance for whatever mode of horse transport you choose. The last thing you want is to find yourself stranded somewhere with no way of getting your horse home!
Check your horse’s insurance policy to make sure that he’s insured to travel.
Horse documentation while in transit
When transporting your horse, you must have his passport with you in your car or in your lorry. It’s a legal requirement! Keep a copy of your horse’s passport somewhere on your lorry or in your car so that you don’t forget it on show days.
Whatever mode of transport you’ve chosen, you’ll need to keep it well-maintained to safely transport your horse.
Your tires are the only thing keeping the trailer or horsebox and its precious cargo in contact with the road surface, so it’s essential they’re well-maintained.
Even if your mileage is limited, tires do perish over time, especially if you keep your box or trailer on grass. Check the tires for bald patches, lumps, and uneven wear on the sidewalls and the treads. Don’t forget to check your spare tire too.
Check the tire pressures using a pressure gauge. The manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure is usually displayed on a badge attached to the trailer frame or in the owner’s handbook if you have lorry.
Trailer hitch connection
Check the electrical connection socket on your trailer and the safety breakaway cable.
Lightly oil the tow-ball.
When you connect the trailer to your towing vehicle, make sure that the locking handle clicks, indicating that the coupling head is locked on properly.
Before you set off, ensure that the breakaway cable is securely attached; this applies the handbrake should the trailer become detached while you’re towing.
Check that all the lights work on both the trailer and towing vehicle.
The trailer number plate must also match that of the towing vehicle.
The most important part of your vehicle, aside from the tires, is the floor.
Take up rubber floor coverings to check that the wood beneath is sound and not wet or rotten. You should also check underneath your horsebox to make sure that the steel plates that support the floor are solid and in good condition.
Plating and servicing
Horseboxes will need “plating” every year. Plating is the equivalent of an MOT and includes basic safety checks.
Although trailers don’t legally require an MOT, it’s a good idea to have your trailer checked over and serviced annually by a qualified mechanic.
Tips for safely transporting your horse
Some horses travel best in a trailer with the partition removed, preferring to stand diagonally across the trailer. It can be a case of trial and error to see what your horse prefers.
Large horseboxes typically travel horses on a slight diagonal angle with their hindquarters to the offside to counteract the camber of the road and distribute the cargo’s weight evenly for better stability.
Smaller boxes often position the horse facing straight forwards.
Here are some useful tips on safely transporting your horse:
- Make sure that you have a fully-charged mobile phone with you before you set off on any journey with your horse.
- Put your emergency recovery company’s phone number into your mobile phone so that you’re not scrabbling around for it in the event of an emergency.
- On a long journey, pull over after three hours and untie your horse so that he can lower his head. That can prevent shipping fever or pneumonia. Also, offer your horse a drink.
- Make a note of vet practices along your route, together with their telephone numbers. If your horse begins to colic or is injured during the journey, you’ll be able to get hold of a vet quickly.
- Get your horse accustomed to wearing travel boots or bandages to protect his legs from damage during transit.
- Use an old leather headcollar for transporting your horse, and always tie the lead rope to a piece of baler twine, rather than directly to the metal tie ring. If your horse slips and goes down during the journey, the baler twine or headcollar will break, preventing serious injury to the horse.
- If you’re traveling two horses, make sure they’re tied up short so that they can’t pester each other during the journey.
- Horses don’t feel the cold as much as people do, so don’t over-clothe your horse. In summer, remember to open a few windows in a horsebox to provide good ventilation.
- Always carry extra water and haylage for your horse, just in case you break down.
- Providing your horse with a haynet can alleviate boredom and prevent your horse from fidgeting during the journey. Use a haylage net with small holes so that the net lasts your horse longer. Make sure you tie the net to a piece of baler twine with a quick-release knot, and be careful that the empty net won’t hang so low down that your horse could get his foot caught in it.
- Avoid using dusty hay or bedding in your trailer or horsebox, as this can cause respiratory problems.
Knowing that your mode of transport is safe and in good order is one way of relieving the stress of traveling to a competition.
Follow the tips given above to be sure that you and your horse arrive at your destination safe, happy, and ready to win!
- How is Dressage Scored?
- How to Prepare for a Competition
- How to Ride the (Nearly) Perfect Dressage Test
- How to Manage Competition Nerves