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Hauling Horses to Iowa not a Sunday Drive

Published: 5/31/2012
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By Maddy Butcher

Before the sun touched my dear Brunswick barn, we were off and away. A caravan of sorts: Dad pulled a U-haul tagalong behind his pickup. My dogs rode shotgun with him.

Click for Trip Prep article

The four horses had loaded easily and shuffled for position in the gooseneck. I sat behind the wheel while my friend, Michelle, organized maps, snacks, and sipped on coffee. The cat, wedged between foodstuffs, backpacks, and suitcases, meowed and settled in her crate.

Riding in tandem, we made an early and wise decision: let’s NOT stay in visual contact.
We all had different needs regarding eats, bathroom breaks, and animals. Stopping for all of them in unison would waste time. Dad tended to drive a bit more slowly and we coffee-guzzling gals needed to stop more often. Cell phones allowed us to remain in close contact. Indeed, the separation of a few miles proved helpful as we warned each other of scares, accidents, and jams.

By rough estimate, I’ve driven cross-country and back more than a dozen times.
At age 20, I drove non-stop, alone, in my little Subaru, drinking Big Gulps full of Tab and Mello Yello and stopping in rest areas and truck stops for catnaps.
For nearly 10 summers, I traveled with my young sons to and from Montana. Once, we were six in a Toyota station wagon. In the summer heat without air conditioning. And lived to tell about it. CLICK HERE to read more.
So, my confidence was backed by these hearty experiences. Heck, if I can do 500-mile days full of whining, backseat toddler wrestling matches, and crowded, cheap motel rooms, what’s two days to Iowa?
Turns out I’m older and more tired. Turns out hauling 4,000 pounds of precious cargo adds a new element of fatigue and stress to a road trip.
Transporting horses means you look at every angle of the drive with a new, more serious level of risk management.
Will this brisk wind on the open road jostle us?
Will this traffic jam combined with the hot weather mean the horses overheat?
Every acceleration or braking is made knowing four animals would be bracing for and leaning into the changes.
Every car or truck, until proven otherwise, is considered a potential threat or hazard.
To pass or be passed used to be a simple, routine gesture. Now, it was loaded with exit strategy and safety concerns.
Don’t get me wrong. We had fun. But it was a serious drive; I held the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock and felt like a 16 year-old with a learner’s permit.
Somewhere in Ohio, we shook our heads as a rusty pickup truck pulled onto the highway. The guys were hauling a rickety flatbed trailer with wood and metal side panels. The four-foot panels were flapping back and forth. Michelle, who has years of hauling experience and a commercial driver’s license, was at the wheel. We laughed that we should take a picture and send it to Drs. Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez who run TLAER and keep a photo library of unsafe trailer rigs.
Suddenly, one of those panels whipped out of its anchors and sailed in our general direction. You can’t swerve when hauling a load like ours. I held my breath as Michelle narrowly avoided what could have been a disastrous flying object encounter.  
The driver looked back, shrugged his shoulders and chuckled with his buddy. We decided to pass these clowns as quickly as possible, but not before calling my dad and letting him know about his upcoming road hazard.
It was after 9pm, after getting the dogs walked and horses settled in their overnight quarters (a friend’s small arena with plenty of hay and water), when we stumbled into the Maple City Tap for dinner.
Food. Any kind of food would do. A drink would be good, too.
We ordered something and relished the success of 600 miles behind us. We listened as a few bar patrons sang along to the jukebox’s Johnny Cash song. Really.
It was as comfortably casual as the day was not.

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6/7/2012 Carole
Maddy, This story has been fascinating, dredging up all my greatest fears of trailering, but with none of my real or imagined disasters. I have met people all over the world who have moved all over the world, but I never met anyone who moved to Iowa! re: missing grunt work: you are welcome to come to our place to load hay (sadly, less hay this year). You are also welcome to come and stop over on any visit. We have an extra pasture and run-in shelter and are "on the way" to Acadia.
6/13/2012 Dr, Rebecca Gimenez
What a great article about your trip - and of course I had to check in with Michelle a couple of times to ensure you guys were getting enough COFFEE and that the horses were traveling well. You are right - even with the right preparation, a trip of this length and potential stress on the horses and humans has to be planned very well and follow strict guidelines to increase your chances of success. Amazing how as we get older - we get so much more aware of what can go wrong. Experience is a cruel teacher. Glad you are enjoying your new home!

"My horses are my friends, not my slaves" - Dr. Reiner Klimke