Moving a Horse Across the Country

When I was first looking into shipping Marley across the country last fall, I did a fair amount of research into different haulers. While I have extensive experience trailering horses more locally, the furthest I’d ever really ventured with a large furry mammal in tow was maybe 8 hours. The world of moving horses extremely long distances was more than a little overwhelming.

If you’re not going to do the job yourself, there are three broad options when you’re looking to ship a horse:

Big-name Company

Ex: Brook Ledge, Equine Express, Hubbard

Pros

  • These guys are, well, professionals; the sheer number of horses they ship is staggering, and the level of confidence and expertise that comes with so many miles is significant
  • Huge fleets, equipment generally newer and in good repair
  • Trailers for long-haul always air ride-equipped
  • Box stalls available and, in some cases, required

Cons

  • On the expen$ive side
  • May feel slightly less personal; once the horse is in transit the updates you receive can be limited and tend to run through “dispatch”

Smaller Company

In some ways these shipping companies can be a great middle ground – still big enough to have some infrastructure and big, air-ride trailers but small enough that the experience feels a bit more personal.

Pros

  • Generally have air-ride equipped trailers
  • You get a level of personalized communication that may not be possible with the larger shippers
  • Typically a bit most cost-effective than the big commercial shippers; don’t usually upcharge for things like dosing with electrolytes or gastrogard
  • On long-haul routes they will often layover more often because they don’t have as many drivers; this is a pro for some and a con for others

Cons

  • Because the fleet size is smaller, trip availability can be limited – you may have to wait some time before your desired route is available
  • Related to the above, trips might be quite long depending on how many horses are on the route. If you’re shipping from California to the East Coast, for example – your horse may go drop off several other horses before arriving at your final destination
  • Some smaller haulers are not insured – check this carefully

DIY / Friend of a Friend

There are a lot of wonderful horse people out there with very well-maintained trailers who drive all of the country for a variety of reasons. With the advent of social networking it’s easier than ever to find a ride, often at a significant savings.

Pros

  • Likely the most personalized and cost-effective option
  • Flexible scheduling and excellent communication

Cons

  • Most amateur haulers do not have air-ride equipped trailers; this makes a really big difference on long-haul trips
  • Always check that the shipper is insured
  • Processes around contracts and payments may not be well established

Moving Marley

I explored basically every option and did an embarrassing amount of research before moving Marley from California to the East Coast. I ultimately decided to go with a big name commercial shipper; I’ll detail my experience with Brook Ledge in a separate post, but it was a very good experience. The deciding factors for me in shipping my horse across the country with a large company were:

  • Expertise – I hadn’t done this before, and working with people that move horses all day, every day gave me a level of confidence that was important
  • Speed – I went back and forth as to whether it would be more stressful for Marley to ship over a longer period with lots of layovers and rest, or just rip the band-aid and go fast; based on no facts whatsoever I went with the faster option

In the end things worked well with Marley’s cross-country move and while he was definitely dehydrated and dropped a bit of weight, he has bounced back beautifully.

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Sweaty Mess

I have been woefully slow to update but have approximately 10 draft posts just waiting for me to have an uninterrupted afternoon to finish them. Someday!

Marley is doing great, except for the fact that humidity is not his friend and we are having unseasonably warm weather for October. His winter coat has started to come in and he’s a sweaty beast; I’ve been hoping to hold out until later in the month to clip him, but we may need to get on that sooner rather than later. The crazy temperature swings on the East Coast at this time of year are no joke!

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Fancy pants

On the upside, the warm weather has allowed us to keep riding outside regularly and Marley seems very pleased with his job. We’ve settled into a good routine where I get out to ride a few times per week, one of the girls who lessons at the barn rides a few times per week, and occasionally he gets a tuneup with my trainer. On the flat we’ve been focusing on really stretching down, reaching into the bridle, and getting Marley to use his back more. He’s moving well and I can’t wait to get my dressage saddle out here from California!

 

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Yup, he hates this.

We’ve also been doing a little jumping; I really try not to overdo it on this front and don’t think Marley is cut out to be a competitive jumper, but it’s great strength training for him and he seems to enjoy the challenge and variety. I have to chuckle a bit when I remember that one of the reasons Marley was returned was that his would-be owner thought he “hated” jumping. Is he green? Sure. Does he need continued work on balance and rhythm and adjustability? Yep. Does he hate to jump? Erm, no.

In addition to the above, we’ve been doing lots of hacks up and down the hill that leads to the barn. Marley is still getting his sea legs on “real” trails – we had a near-death experience while navigating a downed sapling the other day – but he loves loves loves hacking out and gets braver each time. I’m so thrilled with this horse!

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LOOK AT THE GREEN STUFF MOM

A Literal Field Trip

Marley and I are a long way from being able to compete at a recognized event, but an opportunity came up this weekend to go cross country schooling with my trainer and a fellow boarder, and I was super nervous but excited to go. It seemed like a relatively low-stress first outing on the East Coast, and Marley has always loved XC so I figured he might actually enjoy our little excursion.

Our destination was a lovely facility about 45 minutes from our barn in Northern New Jersey. They have a conditioning track and large field with tons of XC jumps – and a super reasonable schooling fee. Win all around!

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Credit Photos by Devon Keeley
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Hi friend! My pony is the cutest.

Marley was a little nervous when he first got on the trailer at our barn; I’m not sure how much of that was him being nervous and how much of it was my nerves transferring to him. It’s been nearly two years since I put him on a trailer to go anywhere except for rehab or a new barn, so I was definitely keyed up.

 

After an uneventful trip, we pulled up to the facility and set about tacking up next to the trailer. Major takeaway from the weekend: I need to work on Marley’s ground manners in new places. Everywhere we’ve gone in the past, we’ve had either a stall or cross-ties to tack up in, so this was an adjustment. To say he was googly-eyed would be an understatement – he kept himself under control very well, and overall I was so proud of him, but there was a lot of big-eyed, giraffe-necked prancing.

I contemplated lunging him before hopping on, but there were a bunch of people in the outdoor arena who seemed annoyed at the prospect of us taking up space to shake the sillies out – I also know from previous experience that while Marley can be tense and bouncy he doesn’t generally explode.

After a few warm-up laps we made our way up the conditioning track to the XC field. It was quite a climb and the view was gorgeous – kind of a nice reminder of what the East Coast has to offer. Marley was AMPED in a positive way – just marching along and so thrilled to be out in the world. Hilariously, he was the Big Bold Leader until we walked off the track and into the rather tall grass, at which point I could see his ears spinning and almost hear his little mind whirring – “WHAT IS THIS GREEN STUFF THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT”. Such a derp.

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Trot trot trot

Before we started any real schooling, my trainer had the three of us do a full lap of the field, just getting a sense of the terrain and the environment. Marley was a total rockstar – still power-walking a bit and definitely turning his head to take it all in – but overall such a good pony.

Once we’d done a full circuit of the field, we schooled the water (nbd, according to Marley), and flatted for a bit. It was great practice to ride on more uneven ground and just practice keeping the horses forward and attentive.

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Baby jumps!

Toward the end of our session we decided it was time to pop over a few small jumps. Marley was seriously perfect – I need to relax a bit and let him really move forward to the jumps, but the experience was very positive. I loved how happy Marley got as we started jumping – he just loves this and I hope we’re able to do a LOT more of it. If anything, my nerves were the limiting factor on this little adventure – I think our next outing should be even better.

 

 

First Rides

Marley has been on the East Coast now for over a month, and honestly I couldn’t be more pleased with how well he’s settled in. I was optimistic – part of the reason I decided to try bringing him out here was because I felt the environment at our new barn made for happy, content horses – but of course I still spun up and worried about everything from them humidity, to flies, to new turnout… the list goes on.

There’s also been that niggle about whether Marley would settle enough for me to find a half-leaser or have my trainer use him for lessons on days I can’t get out to the barn. He was of course a nightmare when I was rehabbing him, but otherwise I’d always found him to be reliable, steady, and just a lovely horse to ride. Since being returned to Davis he’d reportedly been a super solid citizen, so we had that in our favor – but I’d gotten some feedback from the girl who “bought” him that made me wonder if his personality had changed.

Spoiler alert: he’s been foot-perfect. His personality has not changed. Everybody loves him. I’m so proud of how well he’s doing.

Marley arrived on a Friday and we had our first ride on Saturday. I’d planned to give him a few more days to settle in given the length of his journey, but he was so calm and seemed so curious and happy that I figured just walking around couldn’t hurt. We rode in the indoor since there was a lesson going on outside, and he was a little tense and looky but honestly so good.

He had Sunday off and I came back out on Monday morning before work to ride again. We rode outside and I threw him on the lunge just to see if he had any sillies. Zero sillies, even when one of the horses was bouncing around in turnout not too far from the outdoor arena. I hopped on and Marley just went straight to work, seemingly delighted to be out and about.

I had been a little curious as to whether Marley would be as fun to ride as I remembered. Honestly, he wasn’t super fun through much of his rehab and it had been so long since I’d ridden him properly that I figured there as a good chance I’d get on him and think “oh… he’s fine.” Happily, he’s every bit as fun as I remembered and it is SO NICE to have him back. We have plenty to work on, of course, but he’s the most honest, willing partner. I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to keep working and growing with my red monster again!

FedEx for Horses

Did you know that you can, like, FedEx a horse across the country?

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To say that things moved quickly once I decided to pull the trigger on bringing Marley East would be an understatement. I have a longer post queued up reviewing in detail my experience with selecting and then working with a long-distance shipper, but for this post we’re going to focus on the insanely fast process that had Marley leaving California on a Tuesday morning and rolling into his new digs almost exactly 72 hours later.

I reached out to Brook Ledge on a Sunday to officially inquire about getting Marley on a truck. They responded quickly, and by mid-day Monday I was at an airport, en route to a work conference in Texas, calling in my credit card. I was originally told to expect that he’d ship in perhaps one or two weeks, which seemed perfect.

Fast forward about 3 hours to me landing in Austin, firing up my phone, and seeing that I had a voicemail. The connection wasn’t great and I had trouble understanding the message, but I thought the very nice man was saying that they wanted to get Marley on “Tuesday’s trip”. Tuesday, as in, the very next day.

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Source

I immediately texted my friend and fellow CANTER volunteer, Jody, who was helping to coordinate Marley-related thing in Davis.

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lololol

Cue a few hours of scrambling while we tried to confirm that we could get her paperwork, Jody performed miraculous feats of awesomeness to get electrolytes and Gastrogard, and Marley was fed a slightly rushed but delicious bran mash to try and get him extra hydrated.

The next morning, right on time, the van pulled up and Marley was prepped to start his journey.

By 6 or so in the morning California time, he’d pulled out of Davis and was Kentucky-bound. I was a NERVOUS WRECK. In retrospect, I’m so happy that this happened quickly, because otherwise I don’t know if I would have survived the anxiety. I was super confident in the shippers, but nervous that Marley wouldn’t handle the trip, or would colic, or wouldn’t drink water, or would somehow impale himself in the trailer, or would get to the East Coast and break down, or… I have a very active imagination.

Come Friday I was able to head out to the barn to meet my trainer and wait patiently (hah) for the trailer to arrive. As promised, Marley rolled up just after 9am and I was so nervous that I totally failed to take any pictures of him on the trailer. He was clearly ready to get off, and the driver asked that I unload him. In classic Marley fashion he marched off the trailer without any fuss, looked around, spotted some grass, and started pulling me in the direction of the green stuff.

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WTF just happened?

My trainer had prepped a small paddock right near the driveway for Marley, so I got him in there pretty quickly and made sure he had food and water in front of him immediately.

He was definitely sweaty but overall seemed to be in very good condition. Within a few minutes of going into the paddock he had sucked down half a bucket of water and tucked right into his hay. I let him hang out for a while, pulled him into the crossties for a quick grooming session a bit later in the day, and generally just stood around feeling a little stunned that my Red Monster had found his way to the East Coast.

It’s going to be an interesting adventure figuring out how to make Horse Life coexist with City Life, but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to try it.

 

 

Horse Person Logic

In January I wrote at some length about the decision to sell Marley. It wasn’t an easy one, but I believed I’d found a wonderful home and given the amount of upheaval in my life post-relocation it was definitely the right move. I kept riding and becoming more a part of the community at my new barn, and kept up to date on Marley’s activities via social media. All seemed good.

However, I got a somewhat out-of-the-blue text message in late May from the girl who’d purchased Marley – we’ll call her J – saying that she needed to sell him. I won’t go into the details here, but J had decided it just wasn’t a good match. I was sad to hear this, of course, but suggested she try to sell him since by all accounts he was doing well in training and should have been quite marketable. A few days later I get another message from J, this one saying that nobody at her barn wants Marley, and she is planning to drop him off back at Davis as soon as she can find a ride.

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Um, ok. CANTER graduates do have a lifetime conditional bill of sale, which means if at any point the owner of a previously CANTER-owned horse cannot keep or sell them, we will take them back. I’m glad that J decided to bring Marley back vs. dumping him somewhere, but it was definitely a scramble to make sure the barn at Davis was ready for him.

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I was out of the country while all of this was happening, and thankfully my friends and fellow CANTER volunteers in Davis could help make sure that Marley got re-settled. We were all a little concerned that maybe he’d had a personality transplant during his time away, or perhaps he’d come up lame and J just didn’t want to deal with it. It became clear pretty quickly, however, that he was totally fine – steady as ever under saddle, sound, and happy to be ridden.

The question was now – what to do with Marley? Given that he was in California and I was 2800 miles and three time zones away in NYC, my options were to:

(1) Maintain ownership and then try to sell him in California, relying heavily on friends or a trainer in Davis to help with the marketing, endless test rides, and general awesomeness that is involved with selling a large, expensive mammal

(2) Donate him back to CANTER, sponsor his care for as long as he was in the program, and re-home him that way

(3) Bring him to New York and find a half lease or other situation that keeps him in work but doesn’t require me to go out to the barn more than twice a week.

I may live to regret it, but as you’ve probably guessed I picked Door #3 because Horse Person Logic. In large part this is due to the fact that I’ve found a barn community full of really wonderful people, and run by a trainer that I trust. I know that Marley will be well cared for even if I cannot be there daily, and there are definite, promising possibilities to find a lease situation on-site with one of my trainer’s students, or as part of her lesson program.

Soooooo… stay tuned for the next post, in which Marley makes the journey from Davis to the East Coast!

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Subway Fun

PSA: You haven’t lived until you’ve ridden the subway on a steamy summer day carrying a bag of damp saddle pads and wearing boots that are caked in mud and manure.

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Me, trying to disappear into the space between the subway cars as everybody around me wonders wtf smells like a barnyard.

On the upside, I’m pretty sure I have smelled FAR worse things while on the train. I’ll take horse-y sweat and hay over human… things…. any and every day of the week.