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By Megan Arszman
Are you good at solving word problems? How about geometry? Can you fit a square peg into a round hole? It seems like you must have earned an “A” in trigonometry in order to fit all of the necessary equipment into your horse trailer when packing for a show. Hopefully, you’ve won a few games of Tetris, because you’re going to need it.
Especially for some of the longer show circuits, trainers must attempt to fit enough grain, hay, tack, horses, and clothing into whatever space is available in their trailers. It’s almost as if you can hear their minds reeling… “If we angle the saddle rack this way, we might be able to squeeze another water bucket in the corner…”
When you’re taking a literal caravan of horse trailers, filled with numerous all-around horses and their various tack for multiple disciplines, you need to know how to pack a ton of supplies in the easiest and most efficient fashion. That’s the challenge Highpoint Performance Horses barn manager Caley Coffey faces before every show.
On average, the group has horses competing in disciplines like Barrel Racing, Western Pleasure, Showmanship, Pleasure Driving, and Jumping at any one horse show. It can take at least 40 saddles (show and work) for at least 25 clients, between their four trailers (two 7-horse trailers and two 6-horse trailers).
“For us, we can’t take a lot of extra stuff because we’d run out of room. We try to take just what we need, that way we don’t have too much waste,” says Coffey. “We do have to pack pretty efficiently.”
For DeDe and Jamie Lanoue of 3D Show Horses in Magnolia, Texas, they pack for Halter and all-around horses between their two horse trailers (a 6-horse and a 4-horse). The APHA trainers average about 10-12 horses per show. For both parties, it’s all about being organized and thinking ahead.
1. Make A List
Before you even start packing, you need to know what to pack. Experts suggest making a list, both for humans and horses, before starting to gather up items. Also, check the extended weather forecast for your destination and take into account the locations you’ll be driving through, if you’re expecting to lay over. This way, you’ll know what to pack in terms of extra slinkies, blankets, and coolers.
While making your packing list, this is the time to check to see if you need to restock any supplies. This is when Coffey makes her Wal-Mart list, where she’ll go for items such as duct tape, black electrical tape, disposable razors, zip ties, and other odds and ends, which are kept in plastic drawers on rollers. She’ll also make a list of supplies needed from her local horse emporium, Paul Taylor’s in Pilot Point, and order grooming items such as banding and braiding supplies.
“We already have an idea of how much we’ll use at each show, because we’ll usually take the same number of horses,” Coffey explains. “We’ll pack the carts full and bring cases of extras with us.”
At Highpoint, they’ve developed a new system to ensure all of their clients’ show items are packed thanks to an organizational cubby setup built in their new tack room, an idea from head trainers Jason Martin and Charlie Cole. Each client has their own wooden cubby which stores their show clothes, hats, and boots, as well as their show pads, wraps, and bridle bags. Show saddles hang on one wall. “It’s pretty easy on us now, because we can just go in and grab all of their gear,” Coffey says.
A similar system can be implemented in your barn as well. With a little organization beforehand, having all of the show equipment in one area, packed and ready to go will be a time and sanity saver when it comes to packing for the show.
For Lanoue, hay and grain is important to pack first, inside the trailer, because she relies on high quality feed for her Halter and performance horses.
“We typically use the first hole of the trailer as a feed stall,” she explains. “We pack all the alfalfa and grass hay that we’ll need for our horses when we get to the show. You’d be amazed at how many bales of hay you can get into one stall!” Dedicating an interior stall spot for hay and grain will mean one less slot for a horse. However, it will eliminate the need to load and unload heavy bales of hay up onto the top rack of a trailer and eliminate the chance of hay getting ruined by rain.
Most of the time, the team at 3D orders their grain at the horse show, but they’d rather bring their own hay. They’ll take enough grain to get them through the haul until someone can get to a feed store upon arrival. Highpoint works with a Purina dealer to get all of their hay and grain at the shows, so they’ll only pack enough for the trip. Also, all of their supplements are packed into containers labeled with each horse’s name, thanks to the folks at SmartPak®.
3. Which Comes First, the Saddles or the Pads?
And All That Tack!
Saddles are among the most difficult items to pack. While most horse trailers do have saddle racks, there’s never enough, and there’s not space for all the extra work saddles needed for multiple horses. Lanoue packs the saddles that won’t fit on the hangers in the tack room on the convertible couch in the living quarters of their 4-horse trailer. Saddle pads are stored in a convenient spot between the tack room and living quarters.
For the Highpoint team, Coffey has learned it’s best to pack the saddle pad bags into tack compartments before stacking the saddles. With all of the expensive show pads competitors have nowadays – often one for every different colored outfit – individual saddle pad bags for each customer are a worthwhile investment. In addition to keeping the pricey pads clean, these bags are flat and can be stacked in the flat bed of a trailer’s dressing room. She points out that a lot of their efficient packing has come from trial and error; so take the time to figure out the best method for you before heading to an event.
Here’s an old horse trainer’s trick for easy packing of those numerous bridles and hackamores. Use a martingale to string all of the bridles together. This method creates one big bundle that can be unloaded at the show without having to fuss over tangled reins and missing curb straps.
4. Horse Clothing
Items like leg wraps, sheets, hoods, etc., should be washed and put in individual bags marked for each horse which are then hung in front of their stalls for easy access. Lanoue and her husband also bring neck sweats for their halter horses, and those are kept together with a piece of baling twine and hung from a bridle hanger to keep them clean and organized. At the end of the show, wraps are generally thrown either back into the individual stall bags or into a laundry bag to be taken home and washed immediately upon return. Lanoue likes using the pop-up, mesh trashcans from Professional’s Choice that stay flat in the trailer and expand to carry dirty leg wraps and rags after use.
5. Human Clothing
Next to saddles, perhaps one of the most complicated items to pack is the hat can. Unfortunately, there has not yet been a magic tool invented to help make the bulky cans easier to stack and pack. The most common place for storing show hats is in the living quarters or dressing room of a horse trailer. However, Shorty’s Caboy Hattery points out that hats should not be stored in horse trailers all the time. Humidity can cause a hat to lose its shape, so when you’re not heading to a show, bring your hat inside a climate controlled environment where it can be kept clean and dry.
Since the Lanoue family sleeps in the living quarters of their trailer, they came up with a system of using plastic cabinets and one of the unused bunk beds. Socks, underwear, shirts, and other items are kept in these drawers (one set for each member of the family), which eliminate the need for duffle bags that tend to pile up on the floor and take up more space. Another tip for packing your non-horse show clothes is to first fold the item in half, then roll tightly, thus lessening the likelihood of wrinkling while taking up less space.
When it comes to packing show clothing, many swear by using individual garment bags to hold clothing items like chaps, shirts, breeches, and pants for each rider. While they can be a bit bulky, this process helps to keep clothing items for each client located in one place, which helps if you travel with a lot of people. Also useful are flat-top, clear Rubbermaid® containers for keeping smaller items – buckles, belts, ties, spurs, makeup, and hair supplies – in one location. They’re easy to stack and can be labeled with each rider’s name.
It always seems like the smaller items are the hardest ones to keep organized. Doodads like latch hooks, scissors, and seam rippers tend to get misplaced and baggies of rubber bands don’t close easily, which causes them to scatter all over the tack room floor.
Using small compartmental boxes can allow you to keep everything in its place. If the box is clear, you know exactly which drawer to go to in order to grab what you need. You can also reuse food containers such as butter or yogurt tubs as a way of storing small items in bulk; items like Chicago screws and rubber bands. Also, clear, plastic cosmetic bags can help keep smaller, related things together for easy identification within drawers.
For a heavy duty and portable organization tool, Lanoue recommends a Stanley toolbox with multiple compartments and wheels.
“We put first-aid stuff in the bottom of one, Chicago screws, a screw driver, and other tools in the center, and the top has ear plugs and extra bits, yarn, and bands,” she explains. “Another toolbox has all of our horse medication. The third has all of our grooming supplies. Then, we have a wire rolling cart that’s used to carry grooming supplies for the Halter horses,” she concludes.
7. Awkward Items
Large, awkward items like Pleasure Driving carts and wheelbarrows tend to get tied to the top of the horse trailer. Most often, a trailer’s hay rack can be used for storage of the larger items for ease of use and security. At a recent show circuit, Lanoue and her husband won a foldable wheelbarrow that can be broken down and stored into just six-inches of space. “They’re the greatest High Point award ever,” she laughs.
Lanoue also likes to use camping wagons that are cloth and fold easily. They can be found at retailers like Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply Company, and even Bed, Bath, and Beyond. “You can set a muck bucket inside and use it as a wheelbarrow, and a bale of hay fits in it perfectly,” she says. “We keep one in every horse trailer because they’re great to move stuff from the parking lot to the stalls and back again.”
Patience and Practice
Figuring out how everything fits in the right place takes time and practice. “I’ve worked on trying to get us even more organized so everyone isn’t coming up and asking where certain items are,” Coffey says. Figure out what works best for your trailer and your equipment, and make sure everyone knows how to participate in packing the trailer. Be consistent in how you pack so clients will become accustomed to where items are located instead of going through countless drawers in a scramble. Finally, don’t wait until the night before you leave for an event to prepare. That way, you’re not packing everything in the dark.