Horse Travel: There Are More Options Than You Think

Chatwin’s chariot back home to California. Photo by Frankie Thieriot Stutes.

I will never forget the look on Phillip Dutton’s face in 2013 when he realized I would be driving alone from Pennsylvania to Montana (not counting my trusty dog of course). He must have asked me four times where I was heading to get whoever was driving with us.

I was taking Phillip’s horse for him to Rebecca Farm along with the mare I was riding at the time, Uphoria. I had not found someone to go with me on the way there, but for me, a girl from California who drives the 11 hours south to Galway Downs several times a year alone from my home in Northern California, a couple of 12-hour days with nice layovers at night for myself and the horses along the way did not seem like too big of a deal.

I think Phillip was equally shocked when he arrived in Montana to find the horses had not lost any weight along the way and looked great and ready to compete. I remember him saying, “Wow, they look so good I would send them along with you on the drive any time.” Again, to me it was just a fairly normal thing we had done, but out east these long drives are few and far between.

To me these drives allow you to get to know your horse in an entirely different way, which can be important for your partnership together. Do they travel well? Do they drink when you stop? Is it normal for them to not pass manure for 10 hours while on the rig? How do they eat in the trailer? Are they easy travelers or do they get claustrophobic and want to take the walls down like my old horse, Fric Frac Berence, would if he did not have enough room?

These things all help you to know them and I think strengthen your relationship with them. Yes, it is ideal to have all of your events right in your backyard, but I strongly disagree with the fact that if they are not, it should prevent you from going to an event or experiencing something as amazing as The Event at Rebecca Farm for example.

Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Recently, my eyes were opened to another option for transporting my horses as well. In April, my current horse Chatwin left for an East Coast adventure in which he would truly be a traveling gypsy before returning home. Chatwin has traveled a great deal for only being nine years old. Originally from Germany and imported by Clayton Fredericks, Chatwin flew over to the United States.

When I, with the help of my cousin Elizabeth Thieriot, purchased Chatwin in 2014, he flew to California since I had fortunately won a one-way flight in the USEA Convention auction that year. Since arriving in California, he has driven east and back with my good friend Tamie Smith last year to go to Jersey Fresh and he has traveled up and down the coast countless times, logging many hours on the road. He is what I would call a great traveler, yet of course as his partner, I still worry about him when I am not the one hauling him myself. Due to my work schedule and having to care for my son, I was not able to take Chatwin east on my own this year, and as a result had to find him rides to make the trip possible.

Fortunately, I had many amazing friends headed east, some to Kentucky for Rolex whom Chat tagged along with and then others continuing on to the East Coast. After Chatwin unexpectedly overreached prior to dressage at Jersey Fresh and had to be scratched before the jumping phases of competition due to an infection in his foot, our time on the East Coast was extended much longer than expected.

He was able to get rides back to Pennsylvania from Jersey again thanks to wonderful friends, another ride for me to compete him at Virginia Horse Trials and yet another to Bromont. When the time came for me to decide how he would get back to California, I had the option of sending him back to the southern end of the state with my good friend Tamie Smith, but this would still leave him about 12 hours from home.

Building Chatwin’s box stall around him. Photo by Frankie Thieriot Stutes.

I decided at the urging of a friend to look into some commercial transport options and was surprised at how many people I really trusted were recommending the same company to me: Brook Ledge Horse Transportation. A surgeon vet friend from Kentucky, my cousin who takes such good care of her horses that I hope to be one in my next life, another coach of mine who is not easily impressed with these sorts of companies … they all had rave reviews so I decided to look into it more.

After exploring my options, I realized how much commercial hauling really has changed since I last used it. Brook Ledge is even used by some for common transport to and from large events. Honestly, I had not even considered that people did this and was very surprised. After speaking with a rep from the company and asking for a box stall/double stall quote, I was pleasantly surprised to learn they only ship cross-country in box stalls in order for the horses to be properly cared for.

My last experience with commercial hauling was in 2004 when I shipped that previously mentioned claustrophobic horse to Colorado with a different large commercial company, paying for two spots for him, only to have him arrive squished into one. As I had told them he would in that situation, he panicked which resulted in his hip being badly torn apart. Since then I have stayed away from any commercial hauler and would not have considered sending Chatwin with one had so many not had rave reviews of their experiences.

This hauling experience has completely blown me away. For a comparable price, Chatwin was able to come home from the East Coast in a huge box stall, complete with fans. The shavings on his rig were literally impeccable, the drivers gave me updates along the way. He had access to water and hay the entire time, I was sent photos of him and I truly felt as if he was in top care.

Almost ready!

I cannot say enough good things about this company. It was incredibly apparent to me that the two drivers who traveled with him were horse people, even able to give him UlcerGard daily. Best of all, this option allowed for me to be home to work and not have to make the trip south to pick him up upon arrival back to California, and it allowed Chatwin to come straight back to my house for his deserved time off rather than logging any extra hours of travel.

I have to admit my view of commercial horse transport has completely changed thanks to my experiences with Brook Ledge. Chatwin arrived looking terrific, all of my things were able to come with him, and I can not say enough good things about the drivers or care he was given on his way home.

My first choice would be to drive my horses myself but even in my trailer, Chatwin does not have a giant box stall with access to water and shavings so clean that if you dropped your lunch in them you would consider still eating it. This experience got me thinking that if trainers felt confident in this option, they could maybe stay behind to coach a few extra days while client’s horses and their own made the journey to shows such as Rebecca Farm.

With the wear and tear on rigs, gas and all the other expenses, maybe commercial hauling with reputable companies such as Brook Lledge is a more appealing option than I had anticipated. If nothing else, it will certainly be an option I always consider heading from coast to coast or on any long journeys and one I hope people will consider rather than missing out on events they dream of attending.