It all begins with the equine(s). Your horse, pony, donkey or mule must be properly trained, perfectly conditioned and absolutely sound to attempt any part of this journey. It is cruel to attempt long-distance driving with anything less. It takes a minimum of 120 days (four months) to condition your animal(s) for the trek. Make sure your driving companion (and you!) are prepared for the challenge of completing a walk-trot pace averaging five miles an hour for 20-25 miles per day. Then, please remember, no resting on the laurels of that achievement. You will do it again the next day (and the next!) before a days rest. You must also remember the considerable daily nutritional and caloric needs of your high-performance athlete. Learn what it takes to keep your driving friend fit and happy to continue each day before setting out on this journey.
Your vehicle and everything you will carry horsedrawn must be an appropriate weight for your animal(s). Do not over-estimate their long-term draft capacity for at least four to six hours of driving each day, over varying terrain. Make certain your vehicle is sound for the demands of the journey and that you carry all appropriate spares and repairs. If you cannot keep up, your support vehicle must be adequate to carry you, your horse(s) and all equipment to the next stop. Practice, and seek the guidance of experienced mentors, to determine the ongoing daily capacity of your driving partner(s).
Shoeing, or any alternative of hoof protection considered, must be tested to meet the mileage demands and exceptional wear that long-distance driving entails. The caravan will travel with a resident farrier. Begin with your animal(s) well-shod and carry needed spares of an appropriate size. Keg shoes will require hard-facing (borium, drill-tek or studs) to withstand the rigors of wear. I have “burned-through” an unprotected shoe in a single day of hard driving on the road. Anyone considering shoeing alternatives must carefully test them for fit and wear prior to the journey.
The harness, collar, bridle and bit must fit each animal perfectly and be sound to withstand the rigors of long-distance travel. Carry all appropriate spares. Test your harness and be alert for the early signs of harness galls before they happen and incapacitate your animal(s). You cannot keep driving and heal the sores caused by ill-fitting equipment. Good horsemanship prevents sores from happening.
You will also need to have all your equine vaccinations updated, a negative coggins test and a current health certificate for traveling across state lines. De-worming on a regular basis is highly recommended.
Don’t forget all the items needed to keep your equine happy and comfortable when he is not working. Consider blankets, sheets and appropriate pest control for the expected climate and conditions. Plan and carry all appropriate tack, grooming tools, buckets, feed tubs, salt, electrolytes and supplements. Carry and know how to use standing wraps and appropriate leg protection.
It is of the utmost importance to start and finish your part of the journey with your animals in healthy and happy condition, sound to go on. Careful attention to detail and thorough preparation will lead to success in your efforts to accomplish long distance driving.
Best of luck and stay safe!
(submitted by Michael Muir, a veteran of thousands of miles of long-distance driving, and a member of The Caravan)