WE all know Valentine’s Day to be the day where garage forecourts have no flowers and men drive around in desperation trying to appease their nearest and dearest. For the stud season, however, it marks the start of another year when tradition states our mares travel to see the stallions.
As a transporter, it is our favourite time of year as the next harvest is seeded. The trust clients place in their transporter is huge, travelling their precious cargo often hundreds of miles.
Having good modern vehicles and well-trained staff is key. You can have the best lorry in existence, but the reality is that without knowledgeable drivers you are creating a very risky situation.
Personally, I’m a great believer in mother nature. Often interfering and over-handling youngstock can cause risk to both horse and handler.
When it comes to loading and unloading, the key is lorry design and ramp facilities. When dealing with a mare and foal, let the mother do the work.
If in a safe surrounding with a secure ramp, just let the foal follow. If in perhaps a less secure yard, use a simple slip rope to guide, but never control. So often I see lorries want to unload on concrete when there is a perfectly good lawn nearby. If you don’t have a loading ramp then place the ramp on the grass, it’s all about reducing the risk from all angles. What I tend to find is the quickest way of calming the gardener is to show them a cute foal and then help push in any divots!
Once on board, vehicle design is paramount. Full-height partitions, plenty of light, air and ventilation. Use dust-free shavings and be generous! The difference between half a bag is around €3, so give them a full bag, it will make all the difference.
With a mare and foal, if you’re in a two-horse make sure the mare is tied and facing backwards, simply for the safety of the van. A mare walking around the back of a double-stalled van will cause an accident.
However, when on a lorry - and especially going long distance - keep it simple. Take the headcollar off both and let good old mother nature kick in. I don’t think any mother would want to be tied while their hungry baby continues to feed. When the mare has had enough she will say.
If she is tied all that happens is that when they arrive the mare is tired and the foal is full.
The final piece of advice is to enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you will take pride. If you’re taking pride, you will drive better and if you’re ever unsure you will ask for advice. Advice in this industry is often best found at 2am in Holyhead where the very best in the industry prepare for another crossing of the Irish Sea.