Natural Horse World

Travelling by boat to Flinders Island

by Cynthia Cooper

Have you ever thought how would your horse cope if it had to be transported by boat….in a ‘bull crate’? A bull crate is something like a single horse box but with big metal bars overhead that are quite low – the average horse would need to keep its head low to get in then cope with standing there for 8 hours on the open deck of a medium size boat.
Well, I got to experience this scenario when asked by friends who live on Flinders Island, to load two horse on the boat for them. I took my friends, Paul and Karen with me as they were keen to see how this went and I’d need an extra hand when dealing with two horses I didn’t know.

We were amazed a the trust these horses put in us – first to go into their paddock and catch them, remove their rugs, load them on a float and drive a few km to the dock.
Although they were both a little sceptical about the whole process, they accepted our leadership and did what we asked. One horse had been educated by a student of natural horsemanship so he was that bit calmer and braver than his standardbred mate who was all too willing to follow.


When we arrived at the dock, the boat they were booked to go on, was leaving early and we were shown the ‘bull crates’ (pictured here) but told we’d have to be quick if they were going to have time to forklift them on. I looked at the space left on deck and the two horses would have been separated and unable to see each other so that would not be a nice experience for them. So far they had travelled several hundred miles together and were therefore quite ‘buddied up. I also took one look at the bull crates and apart from the slippery looking metal floor, I was worried that we’d have trouble asking them to lower their heads and get on in a hurry.

Fortunately, we were given another option in the form of another boat, specially decked out for carrying livestock that was leaving in an hour. A quick inspection of the yards on board showed a much better option as the horses would not be crated and could share a yard together, free to move around, eat and drink.
BoattravelSo, we asked the man that was doing some deck maintenance with a welder to stop for a bit, while we led the horses up a steel ramp onto the deck and then in under the roofed area of the boat. While is felt a bit dark and enclosed, it would offer more protection from the cold wind they could expect on their eight hour voyage.

We stayed with the horses until they had settled and relaxed, tied up a couple of haynets and got a bucket of water for them. Although the floor was metal, it had mesh welded on it to offer some grip and the horses were not shod thank goodness.
The captain and crew came and met the horses, and showed us around so we left them with phone numbers in case needed, knowing they were in good hands.

From this experience I learned that if you’re going to transport a horse on a boat, try to check out the situation first so you can train them to go into a crate if that’s the way they need to travel. Personally, I’d be trying to time the travel when a livestock carrying boat was sailing so they could have a yard instead.
Check the weather forecast – you don’t want to ship them if you can avoid it, when there is rough weather. If you don’t have a choice, make sure your horse is wearing a waterproof blanket and has a haynet to munch on.
Remove their shoes and apply travelling boots if they have to stand in a crate – that will assist them with grip and protection if they did fall. Make sure they are tied to a breakable string in case of a fall. If you had hoof boots like the Old Mac or Easy Boots, these could help with grip and support.

It will be important for your horse to be desensitised to large noisy machines and be accustomed to travelling alone. Loading calmly in different surroundings will also help make the process a lot less stressful. Stay with your horse to reassure them for as long as possible. If you are travelling on board yourself, find out if you can check on your horse and make regular trips to be with them.
Take some Rescue Remedy to administer before and during the voyage, and a bucket to offer water. If your horse is a fussy drinker, get them used to water with molasses or cider vinegar in it to mask the taste of unfamiliar water.

Remember, one of the most important aspects of travelling horses for long periods is they must be able to lower their head, or you risk the horse getting very ill and possible dying from a build up of fluid in the lungs. Travel sickness and colic are two of the most common illnesses suffered by travelling horses – prepare your horse well and their ability to relax will hopefully make the journey safer for them.

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