2018-05-19 / Columnists


The Horse Moving Business – Part II

When summer cottagers in the early 1900s transported their horses to Mackinac Island, most of them made arrangements with the railroads. Quite a few lines crisscrossed Michigan in those days. A majority of summer residents lived in Chicago, and the rail system across the western part of our state was quite developed.

The Grand Rapids-Indiana line had many carriers made for livestock. These rails went to the Straits. On the east side of the state, the Detroit Mackinaw and the Michigan Central carried horses, sheep, and cattle. One could also ship carriages and wagons, and even a whole season’s worth of hay and grain, which many cottagers did. It was an efficient way to get them to Mackinac. The cost varied, but in the 1900s the general rule of thumb was $25 per horse, from point to point.

Horses in rail cars had water buckets, bedding, and feed to make their journey easier. Special boxcars also had upper ventilation windows on both sides of the car. Often, a hired groom would stay with the animals and sleep there with them. Horses would end their trip in Mackinaw City and then be loaded onto ferries, quite similar to what we do today.

Today, however, there is no longer any Michigan rail service for horses. In fact, there is no longer any coastto coast rail travel for horses, unless you happen to own your own rail car. If so, travel is feasible, but the arrangements are complicated. Interstate trucking has been the way to go since the 1970s.

The same holds true for shipping horses by water. Great Lakes freighters will not carry horses. If you want to get your horse from Cleveland to Duluth, do not attempt to book it on a freighter.

Water transportation for horses was viable into the 1900s, when it gave way to rail, and then to trucks, but many horses are still moved by ferries in Europe.

If you buy a horse in Ireland and want to take him to the United Kingdom or the Continent, this can be arranged. The animal is trailered to a port and the rest is taken over by the sea transporter. In Australia, a company called Sea Horse Freight moves horses from Auckland to Sydney, Melbourne, and Tauranga, as well as to Fiji, Tahiti, and Indonesia. Horses go into modified shipping containers with plastic-lined walls. Like standard horse trailers, partitions can be moved. Shipping by water can be less stressful than by air, but it does take a much longer time. Horses must undergo the standard quarantine as set by each country before clearance and delivery.

As with international travel, all horses must have passed a veterinarian inspection and carry the necessary paperwork prior to approval upon entry. Show horses, such as the international ones seen in the Olympics, carry what is known as their “equine passport.” These horses travel as “precious cargo” on commercial or private airplanes. The price is steep. Bringing a horse from Europe to the U.S. costs anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. Equine international shipping books flights, ferries, en-route stabling, and road transportation. They will arrange the pre-export testing and health papers with a veterinarian. If isolation or quarantine is required, they will take care of it for you and keep you abreast of the status for the horse. They also provide shipping boots and tail wraps, water containers, hay nets, and hay throughout the trip. This company will also provide attendants registered with the Animal Transportation Association to travel with your animal.

When horses are flown, they are often co-loaded. This means they will share a pallet with another horse. Think of sharing a twin bed, or a narrow standing stall. A pallet in an airplane is roughly eight feet in width, so the space is small. But, of course, the cost is less expensive. If you are having a horse flown, it is best to check into all of these details with your shipper. A good place to start is a free-of-charge Web site called “Move My Horse.”

No matter which way a horse is transported, one of the most important factors to consider is dehydration. To help counteract this, electrolytes are often given in the form of a tube paste before and during the trip. Another way to provide electrolytes is to add them to the drinking water. Horses are reluctant to drink when in transit, however.

One does not want a horse “tying up.” That term means a horse whose muscles begin to stiffen, walking becomes difficult, tremors occur, and the urine is brown. This syndrome often occurs during long trailering or travel.

Moving horses is a huge responsibility. If you are thinking of starting your own domestic equine business, you need first to invest in a good truck and trailer. You need to like to drive. You should figure out how far you would travel for pickups and deliveries. One should consult an insurance specialist and create a business plan, as well as a Web site. You also must have backups for mechanics, as well as handling horses. One also needs to take into account how many miles you would safely drive in a day. Fuel costs would be a real but variable factor.

Yet, if you want to be your own boss, and not spend time as someone’s groom, this could be a parttime to full-time occupation. Once the initial outlay of capital (which could be upwards of $50,000 to $100,000), you could be seeing a profit after four years. If you want experience first, then hire on with a hauler. Hiring salaries with benefits from some established haulers begin at $28,000 and upwards. It is an interesting business, and actually a viable one, as there are more horses now than ever being moved from place to place.

Candice Dunnigan is a resident, writer, and equestrian on Mackinac Island. She belongs to various national and local equine organizations.

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