Their early experiences can have a huge impact on how they travel in the future, therefore, it is vitally important that they have a pleasant journey, so as to arrive at the destination in the best possible condition. A stressed horse will not perform at its full potential nor will it settle easily in a new environment. Older competition horses who associate travelling with going to a party will often load themselves, but should they have a bad journey may not be so keen next time!
My golden rule for travelling is always to allow sufficient time for preparation. If there is to be an early start then to have everything ready the night before and to keep the horses into their routine as much as possible. With a young horse or one that has not travelled much previously I would advocate practising loading and then a few trial runs around the block before departing for real for its first away lesson, schooling session or show. That way the horse is used to the lorry or trailer, wearing travel boots or bandages on their legs and you, the owner will have a good idea as to what rugs, if any to use. My two older horses were both highly suspicious of their brand new shiny lorry after 4 years in the old beaten up one and took some persuasion to go in until they were used to it!
Obviously, the comfort of the horse is the first priority and the aim is that the horse should not sustain any injuries on the journey. Most people use travel boots to avoid tread injuries, but some horses are better with bandages providing they are well applied and do not come undone. It important that the horse is used to its leg protection- In my experience, there is nearly always dramatics when new ones are put on, but you don’t want your horse worrying about how its legs feel during the journey. Regarding the tail, most people would use both a bandage and a guard as routine, but after experiencing several damaged tail heads I would use just a guard on its own if the horse is going on a long journey. (I have witnessed both hair and skin come off the tail head after bandages, put on by experienced people, had been in place for several hours.) A well-fitting head collar is important both for loading and securing the horse once on board. Many horses will get hot when travelling, either through excitement and anticipation of what is to come or though worry about travelling. Many will sweat in all but the lightest of rugs. With these I would advise a wicking lightweight fleece if it is freezing cold in winter, otherwise, a sweat rug or nothing at all whilst the vehicle is moving. On reaching the destination a fleece or similar can be put on to ensure that the horse does not get cold.
When young, unbroken or unhandled horses are to be travelled; if possible they are best left loose in a lorry with bedding in order that they can lie down. Foals travelling with their mothers are best loose too but mum must be able to see and nuzzle her baby. There will always be the emergency situation when a horse has to be rushed into hospital etc. yet it is not used to being transported. In these cases, the attending veterinary surgeon will almost always sedate the horse to relieve stress as well as to assist in loading. If transporting a nervous traveller for reasons other than competition it is probably worth a small amount of mild sedation to ensure that the whole experience is as stress-free as possible. The most commonly used sedatives in equine practice have a 72 hour detection time as reported on the BHB (British Horse Racing Board) website. The withdrawal time should be longer than the detection time, so this option is not suitable for competition horses. Many people will use a calmer, but remember that some of the “natural” ones will contain prohibited substances. If in doubt as to the legality of a preparation ask the manufacturer or your veterinary surgeon for advice.