My biggest supporter when it comes to my love of horses is my dad. Despite have no interest in horses himself and a profound dislike for early mornings throughout my childhood and leading up to my early twenties he was the one who took me out every month to competitions, lessons and clinics up and down the country. When it came to travelling we had both got it down to a tee. To avoid having to get up a minute earlier than was absolutely necessary we had a little routine that so long as my horse would load first time within 20 minutes of arriving at the yard we would be back on the road again, horse in tow.
When I relocated down to the new forest the day I dreaded finally arrived. With my dad located 150 miles away and having not yet established a network of equestrian friends that I could rely on. I knew If I wished to still take my horse out competing I would have to bite the bullet and go it alone solo. Despite my initial apprehension and trying to come up with countless excuses on how I could put it off. I soon realize that I knew plenty of riders who routinely trailered their horses to shows, clinics and other destinations on their own. Why couldn’t I? After all, I wasn’t a complete novice at travelling horses, and I knew I could put to use the collective wisdom I had accumulated over the years travelling with my dad. So, after careful consideration, I decided that I was ready to go it alone.
For my fist solo trip I decided to take the pressure off a little and instead of signing up for a show where I knew I would be filled with show nerves, and panicking about getting there in time, I decided to hire out a local x-country course (my favourite thing) for a little end of season schooling. I must say Cous Cous was a little mega star. Not only did give me a super ride over the fences which helps make the trip completely worth it. She travelled like a dream, filling me with so much confidence that as soon as I returned home I was sat down planning out our next trip out. Still, even for veteran travellers, the prospect of trailering your horse on your own can sometimes be daunting, and it’s easy to lose track of basic trip-planning imperatives, amid all the usual horse show preparations. So, I’ve compiled a list of a few measures that gave me peace of mind on my first solo outing and that I still mentally review each time I’m traveling with my horse alone.
Like most horse owners, I do my best to keep up with regular maintenance for my truck and trailer. And on the day of an event, I make sure to start out with a full tank of fuel even if it’s just a short trip down the road. These are priority items for any outing, but when you’re going it alone they assume even greater importance. Before my solo trip, I took some time learning how to change a tire and ensured I packed extra equipment such as jumper cables, tools and trailer emergency kits so that I knew that I had done all that I could to prevent a breakdown---and I was prepared if one occurred anyway.
Go over your checklist for tack and equipment well in advance and if possible pack the night before. We’ve all had that sinking feeling that comes when you discover you left an important item at home. On trips with my dad, most minor items were readily replaced, either because I could borrow from someone or run out to buy an item while my dad took care of my horse. But because I would be on my own, I didn’t want to worry or faff about finding a replacement for a forgotten item. I had always made a checklist before events, but this time I reviewed it a few days earlier than I had before; this not only ensured that nothing would be left out, but also gave me time to inspect my tack and equipment and gather spares, where possible such as an extra bridle. I even packed up the car the day before so that I had one less thing to worry about in the morning. By the time I was ready to leave, I had the satisfaction of knowing I had carefully worked through my list and the confidence that not even broken equipment could put a damper on my day
Become familiar with the route and alternatives. Having moved to a new area I didn’t know any of the roads that I would be driving on so for peace of mind as the X-Country course was only a 20-minute drive away I pre planned my route and did a test run the weekend before. Now this option isn’t always possible or practical especially for events or shows further away so for me pre planning the route you are going to take is vital. We all know how wonderful GPS navigation systems, whether in your vehicle or on a smartphone are, but they are not infallible. Getting lost while traveling to your event is almost as bad as having a breakdown. So I have found it a confidence booster to carry hard copies of maps. I also suggest if you are travelling to a new venue is talking to someone whether it’s a friend or someone in a group on social media who has been before what route they took and how easy was the access to the venue. Simply knowing that I had a plan for navigating detours while still arriving by check-in time, allowed me to feel more comfortable while driving.
Assemble first aid-kits for your horse and yourself. Although both of these are necessary for any outing, when you are traveling alone they become even more important. Make certain all items in both of the kits are up-to-date and ready to use should you need them. Especially important for your horse: Make certain that you can competently administer or apply any of the items in the kit on your own. If you are unsure spend some time practicing in advance so that you have the confidence and skills to handle most emergencies should they arise.
Bring a mobile charger for your cell phone. When traveling alone with your horse, a cell phone is more than a matter of convenience; it can mean the difference between a quick response to an emergency or being stuck on your own for hours. Before going anywhere make certain that your cell phone battery has plenty of charge. And remember that using your phone’s GPS app can be a drain on its battery. Even if you plan to be away for only a day, bring along the charger just in case. Knowing that help was only a phone call away made my trip more enjoyable.Establish a reasonable timetable. Allow yourself plenty of time. Without the help of my dad, I quickly discovered, most of the items on my to-do list took longer to accomplish. You’ll want to allow for extra time for things like setting up your stall space, grooming your horse and preparing yourself for the day ahead. If you’ll be memorizing patterns, courses or tests and you are accustomed to having a friend along to discuss options or create a plan, setting aside some additional time to quietly go over these on your own can help reduce your stress levels.
Try to anticipate driving and towing challenges. Of course you wouldn’t attempt a solo trip if you weren’t competent at towing. But there are other tasks that you may need to do when you’re on the road. Can you change a trailer tire without assistance? Do you know how to correctly apply a set of jumper cables to a dead battery? I felt confident I could handle each of these based on my experiences traveling with my dad, but if I hadn’t I would have brushed up on those skills before my trip. For added peace of mind, consider signing up with a company that specializes in providing roadside-assistance for towing.
Designate a contact at your home base. I found it helpful to share my schedule and check in with someone at my home base from time to time. If they know when you expect to arrive at your destination or return home, they’ll know something might be amiss if you fail to check in at pre-designated times. Be sure to let them know the route you plan to travel as well as your schedule. I soon determined that preparedness led to confidence.
Scale back your schedule. As already explained for my first outing I decided to avoid the stress of a show and hired a venue instead for my first trip. That meant if I was late it didn’t matter and because I booked an afternoon slot it gave me ample time in the morning to work out realistically how long it will take you to get ready on your own. When you are attending a show however, it is important when travelling solo is not to overextend yourself. If, for example, you will be competing at a horse show, think about reducing your number of classes you enter. Pick the classes you enjoy the most and where you know that you are more likely to have greater success. Without a person on the ground checking that you are in the right ring at the right time can be stressful especially if you are trying to warm up. It is also important to consider that after a busy day competing you still have the trip home to contend with. When my dad was driving if needs be I could take a quick nap in the car but going solo meant that I had to make sure I had enough energy to drive home safely and unload the other side.
Use the opportunity to make new friends. The socializing opportunities presented by horse shows are part of their appeal for many of us. On my first solo journey, I quickly found that there were others who were traveling alone as well. By offering to lend a hand I was offered help in return. I ended up making several new friends that I will look forward to seeing at many events in the future.
While I was a bit more tired than usual when I returned home from my first solo trip, thanks to following these tips I had a safe, successful and highly enjoyable time. I am determined that although it’s definitely more fun to travel with my dad I now have the confidence to go it alone when necessary.