Packing your horse trailer for a weekend away doesn’t have to be stressful with tips from three road warriors.
You’re hours from home trucking down the road, horses in tow, en route to the next barrel race. You run through your mental checklist one more time, and a sinking feeling hits when you realize your horse’s competition bridle is hanging in the tack room back home. It’s easy to forget important items in the rush of preparing for a trip. Packing for a summer rodeo run or a weekend getaway to a divisional show can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be panic-inducing. Three hauling experts break down their strategies to help ease the stress of packing and ensure nothing gets left behind when you hit the road.
Beginning the packing process early is the best way to reduce stress and lower your chances of forgetting an important item. Accomplished futurity trainer and divisional barrel racer Jamie Hodges frequently hauls with his wife, Erika, and two sons, Austin, 15, and Beck, 6, to large shows as well as alone to futurities. The 2016 Old Fort Days Futurity Champion recommends beginning several days in advance of your departure.
“With the four of us, it’ll take three days to be loaded and ready,” Hodges said. “We go at it early so we don’t work ourselves to death the night before.”
Two-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and 2015 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Rookie of the Year Jackie Ganter advises to never underestimate how much time it takes to get everything together, even if you’re only packing for yourself and a few horses.
“When you’re rushed is when you start forgetting things and panic,” Ganter said. “Start ahead of time steadily packing your trailer, even if it seems like you’re not leaving for a while.”
The night or morning before a trip should be reserved for double-checking what you have packed and gathering last-minute items. Hodges loads feed the night before so it stays fresh for the trip. Both Ganter and Hodges set out their horses’ hauling gear—therapeutic leg wraps and hoof boots, magnetic sheets, halters—outside each stall door for easy access before loading.
2017 Classic Equine Futurity Champion and Greg Olson Futurity Champion Jordan Bassett rides colts up until she leaves, so she takes her tack in use directly to her trailer the morning of departure.
“I always go over and make sure I have everything I need, because I might be using tack that morning before I leave and it would be easy to forget,” Bassett said.
Write It Down
All three experts agree making a list is vital to the packing process. The Hodges family keeps a dry-erase board in their barn to easily update their checklist and keep to-do items in plain view. Hodges cautions against using the notes feature in a smartphone because it puts your list out of sight and out of mind.
“I have one [list] for me when I go to futurities and one for the family. We get better every time we go,” Hodges said. “We’ve tried it on our phones, but you don’t seem to update it and keep it active. It’s easier to write on the board and have it in the barn instead of having to open your phone and look through—if it’s on the board, you know when it’s loaded.”
Ganter prefers to store her checklist electronically but suggests setting reminders on your phone before you leave.
“I’m so forgetful that I forget to look at my list,” Ganter said. “If I know I’m going to leave at 6 a.m., I set an alarm at 5:45 a.m. to alert me to look at my list.”
In addition to checklists, it’s a great idea to organize any paperwork relating to your horses before departure. Keep a binder with registration, brand, health certificates and Coggins papers in case you travel to events where those documents are required. Maps and directions to arenas or places you will be laying over en route to your final destination can be vitally important as well.
Strategize and Organize
No matter how you organize your packing, develop a strategy before you start. Bassett packs for every horse individually and breaks her main list into small lists for each horse she’s hauling. She then uses bags to group similar items together.
“I have lots of bags for different stuff— Back on Track [products], CoolAid wraps, different therapies and stuff to wrap legs,” Bassett said. “That’s how I organize in my trailer. I keep everything together, because I know what each horse gets.”
Ganter also begins with therapy products and says color-coding by horse makes the process simpler. Ganter adds that leaving your tack in the trailer is an easy way to shorten packing time. Personalizing a plan can significantly reduce stress and forgotten items. The Hodges family dedicates one day per group of items the week they leave for a trip. This helps disperse responsibilities among the family and allows them the freedom to keep using certain items, such as bits and saddles, up until the day they leave.
“We’ll load hay one day, then ride the next day and throw the saddles in, and we load feed last,” Hodges said. “When you have a system and plan, it’s easy. A lot of people just try to go and do it, but after leaving things like kids’ boots and spurs and having to buy them on the road, we find out it’s easier to write this stuff down and know what you’ve got to put in there.”
Use Your Horse Sense
Packing for your horses differs according to a number of variables, such as what type of event you’re attending, how long you’ll be gone, the climate and more. It’s important to consider factors unique to each event when developing your checklist.
Hodges’ process for packing for a futurity is similar to packing for a family trip, but the items he packs such as bits and therapy products vary greatly. To avoid clutter and confusion, take inventory of your trailer before you head out and leave at home what you don’t need for each trip.
“When I go by myself to a futurity, I haul a whole different set of bits just for the colts, that way I don’t have my trailer packed full of bits all the time,” Hodges said. “With the young horses especially, you need your medicine box and stuff for their legs to keep them ready to go.”
As a rodeo competitor gone for weeks at a time, Ganter says one of the biggest problems she runs into on the road is finding a place to purchase quality hay, especially alfalfa. Ganter recommends packing enough of your own hay to last throughout the trip and researching what’s available where you are traveling.
“Because I rodeo in Canada, it’s really hard to find alfalfa up there,” Ganter said. “I have a pretty big hay pod, so my hay goes up in the pod and some stacked in the back of my truck. My trailer isn’t full, so I fill my front stall full of hay as well.”
Don’t Forget About Yourself
Most barrel racers put their horses’ priorities first, but don’t forget a checklist for yourself, too. All three experts suggest packing enough clothes to get you through the entire trip. The Hodges family advises packing a day or two extra, especially if you’re hauling with kids or going somewhere notorious for climate changes.
“You learn every time how to pack for the situations you’re going to. You should have a list stored for those occasions,” Hodges said. “You go to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and every year it’s a different set of packing. It might be 95 degrees or a tornado blows in and it turns 60. [National Barrel Horse Association] Youth World is so hot and the kids have water fights, so you go through so many more clothes.”
Bassett keeps her living quarters trailer fully stocked with clothes and personal products, house and kitchen items so she only has to worry about packing for her horses. The Hodges also keep competition clothes, such as boots and spurs, hats, button-down shirts and jeans dry-cleaned and ready to go in their trailer’s dressing room.
Since Ganter is away from home much longer, she packs several weeks of clothes and visits Laundromats periodically. She adds that it’s a good idea to pack outfits for non-horse excursions as well.
“I keep some outfits that are nicer if I go out and do something fun,” Ganter said. “I try to pack quite a bit—lots of T-shirts and jeans. I can probably pack three weeks worth before I have to wash clothes.”
Prepare for Mechanical Issues
It’s crucial to ensure you’re well prepared for mechanical issues with your truck and trailer, such as flat tires. Both Hodges and Bassett advocate packing an impact wrench to remove lug nuts more easily in case of a flat.
“It gets my lug nuts off without having to use much strength, so that’s a definite must,” Bassett said. “I always make sure to have a drive-on jack too.”
Hodges travels with two spare tires— one under the tongue of his gooseneck trailer and one in the dressing room. He recommends checking fluid levels in your truck and tire pressure on the truck, trailer and spares before pulling out of your drive.
“I keep diesel exhaust fluid for my dually in my trailer, because if you run out you can’t get that real fast,” Hodges said. “We check the air in all the tires before we leave and get the bearings checked twice a year as maintenance of the horse trailer.”
Share the Burden
Utilize the assistance of friends, family or hired help as much as possible when preparing for a big trip, especially with multiple horses. Bassett competed at winter futurities alone and says hiring Abigail Plants for help on the road eased the pressure of competing.
“My tack room at Buckeye, Arizona, was such a disaster,” Bassett said. “If you’re going with a lot of horses, take help—it’s so worth it. It’s such a relief to have somebody there who can help.”
The Hodges family typically hauls four to seven horses and has hired help at the home barn. Hodges says having multiple people look over your checklist and tack room ensures nothing gets missed.
“My wife helps a lot. We own our own business and get home and pack together, which makes it a lot easier,” Hodges said. “If you’ve got two sets of eyes looking at what you put in there, it’s better than one set of eyes.”
The Hodges always make sure their kids play a role in packing the trailer. He suggests assigning packing items to kids based on their abilities and physical strengths.
“My youngest son knows he can’t pick up a bag of feed, so we’ll write his initials next to the supplements,” Hodges said. “We get them involved so they learn how to pack too, but we manage what they can handle. We want them to enjoy barrel racing, but we also want them to know it’s a full-time job.”
He also stresses the importance of dispersing responsibilities and not placing blame on any single member of the family if something goes awry or gets left at home.
“When one person [is in charge of packing] and messes up, it’s all the blame on one person. When you put everybody else in there doing it, we don’t put the blame on one person,” Hodges said. “If you barrel race as a family, everyone needs to be involved.”
This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of BHN.