THE LONG WAY HOME
Transporting horses in the Philippines isn’t easy. Being an archipelago, there are so many islands to cross onto if we want to bring a horse home. I personally have never transported any of my horses myself, because it’s a grueling non-stop journey. And despite having transported so many in the past, it still leaves me uneasy each and every time.
You cannot just load the horse onto any ship and leave it at that. You have to ensure the ship is an open Ro-Ro Vessel (Roll on-Roll off Vessel) so that they have sufficient air circulation and ventilation. This makes it tricky. To get to our island, there is no direct ship, and you have to traverse three other islands by land.
The moment the horse leaves their stable, I am constantly worrying, praying, and making phone calls asking for updates. So when my husband and I decided to make the trip ourselves, along with our good friend and vet, Doc Dan, my worries were slightly put to ease because our new fur baby was in sight.
The journey begins with the preparation. Securing the shipping permits alone is a painful task. Luckily, Doc Dan helped us through it, with a lot of back and forths and rush documents. Usually, when I ship a horse, I have a massive checklist because I am not around. On this trip, I wasn’t as obsessive with my list. But, the priorities are:
- Dextrose at least twelve bottles
- Dextrose kit
- Syringes in 5cc, 10cc, and 20 cc sizes
- Lead rope
- Lunge ropes
- Travel Boots
- Two days worth of grass
- Five days worth of hay
- Lots of water
- Water bucket
- Ulcer Guard
On team Pietro we were fully supported! We had our driver with us, Jomari, who knows how to drive with a trailer attached, or a truck. My husband and I, Doc Dan, and two grooms and farriers, Mang Carding and his son, Jay. Pietro was in good hands!
Deciding to pick up Pietro from Manila Polo at 3AM was the best decision Doc Dan made. We were at the port by 5AM, were chance passengered on a Ro-Ro that was scheduled to depart at 6AM, and made it! It was a two hour trip to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. From there it took us another three hours to drive to Roxas, Orinetal Mindoro.
The beautiful thing about faith and prayer, is that things get timed so perfectly well. Although my husband thinks it’s just the power of positivity, I do believe it is divine intervention. We reached Roxas by lunchtime, and had just missed the Ro-Ro to Caticlan. It was the luckiest missed ship we could ask for! We soon realized that the front part of the horse trailer was weak, and the trailer itself, that contained the horse, had detached itself from the base. Had we gotten on the ship, we would not have realized this, and it may have been disastrous!
Why the trailer mishap? We had just purchased the trailer and were transporting it to its new home, along with Pietro. The trailer had been parked for seven years. We did our repairs prior to transporting, we changed bolts, did this, did that, and the shop we hired said it was good to go! But, this was a part we never thought would detach itself!
We found a welder, but, all throughout Roxas City was a power outage! We had a four-hour wait to get on the next ship, and the clock kept ticking, without power! Pietro was let out of the trailer, and he quickly became a local celebrity! People took photos with him, he got to stretch his legs, and go to the bathroom. Apparently, he doesn’t like to pee on himself! When he finally peed out of the trailer, he tiptoed his way around his pee. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen!
With the clock still ticking, and the power out, we started thinking of plan B. We cannot get on the ship without fixing the trailer! We spoke to port officials, other shipping liners, trying to figure out what next steps will be. The next best option from making the 4PM ship, is a 12MN open Ro-Ro Vessel. We surrendered to taking that.
At exactly 3PM, the power comes back on! Manong Putol, the welder, got to work! A representative from the shipping liner we had booked at 4PM, came to check on us several times to see if we will make it! 3.40, 3.45, 3.50 and finally!! 4PM, we made it!!! They held the ship for us! By 4.30 we were on the ship, settled in, and ready for the longest Ro-Ro time on our itinerary, a 4.5 hour crossing from Oriental Mindoro to Caticlan.
Despite the lack of amenities on the ship, no running water, a disgusting toilet, no real food (the snack shop only had instant noodles, chips, cookies), this was one of my favorite legs of our journey! The wind blowing into the cabin of the ship was so crisp, so cold, so fresh, that it sank down into my bones. There was no other source of light surrounding us except for that of the ship, you could see all the stars in the sky! I even saw a shooting star! I like to think the sound of the ship lulled Pietro to sleep as well. Although it was long, it was an enjoyable leg.
My husband met a truck driver on the ship who proved to be an integral part of our journey. He was curious about Pietro, so they started talking about our destination and our route. He showed us the right way to go to avoid the mountainous zigzag roads. We headed down towards Pandan, Antique, then made our way up to Caticlan. A nice surprise, the truck driver stayed behind us the whole time, ensuring we got to Caticlan safely! What a blessing he was. There really are good people in this world!
By the time we hit Caticlan it was close to midnight. The happiest sight we saw on this trip, a sign that said Mc Donald’s 24 hours 1 km ahead! I didn’t realize how hungry and desperate for a bathroom I was until we hit Mc Donald’s, who, perfectly, was right beside a big gas station, big enough for us to maneuver the trailer into, and check on the tires.
I devoured my Chicken Burger in less than three minutes I think. And munched happily on a large tub of fries for the next five minutes. We refilled Pietro’s bucket with lots of grass, and poured water over it to make sure he stayed hydrated. This boy loved to eat, and eat, and eat, and was just happy munching on hay and grass.
The road trip from Caticlan to Dumangas, Iloilo was the trickiest one. Having to stay awake throughout this overnight drive, we took turns talking to Jomari, our driver. He said if we weren’t talking to him, he would probably have fallen asleep!
Before sunrise we made it to Dumangas! The last leg! We booked the 7.30AM ship, and waited. By 9.30AM, we were in Bacolod and en route to HHF. I was more excited for Pietro to see his new home than I was to take a shower and have a good, hot meal. Not to mention the coffee! I went for two days without coffee, I desperately needed a cup, or five.
First thing’s first. Check on Pietro’s welfare and get him to stretch out his legs, go for a walk, give him lots of water with electrolytes, and a couple of bottles of dextrose. Before the humans get to settle in and freshen up, we have to make sure our horse is in tip top shape.
Once that was done, we finally sat down, had breakfast, and just enjoyed my cup of hot coffee!
IN THE END
Thirty-two hours on the road and would I do it again? In a heartbeat! Despite the lack of comfort, it was an exciting journey. What I loved the most was the helpfulness of the people we met! The amazed look on their faces when they saw this gargantuan horse in the trailer, and how much people actually do care about animal welfare if they are given the chance.
In Roxas, the security guards, the port officials, the shipping staff, the welder, they all helped us make things work! They cheered us on, and helped us find Plan B. I even had the chance to introduce a few kids to Pietro, and show them how gentle and sweet horses are! This trip was definitely one for the books!
TIPS FOR HUMANS
- Check the Ro-Ro schedules online. Here are some links to the better shipping lines:
- Bring enough cash. Roughly, you will need about PhP.25,000.00 to make it across. And make sure you have it broken down with small bills, not just PhP.1,000.00 bills.
- Bring lots of drinking water.
- Bring your favorite snacks, and fruits!
- I struggled with the coffee because I cannot take the 3-in-1 since I find it too sweet, and this is the only thing available anywhere. So if you’re anything like me, bring your own coffee and electric kettle.
- Bring a warm jacket and a scarf.
- Bring soap, toilet paper, alcohol, mosquito repellant.
- Bring small pillows.
- Ensure you have everything you need for your vehicle, spare tires, jack, etc.
- And bring a sense of humour! You’ll need it!
TIPS FOR HORSES
While in transit, we remove all forms of grain to prevent colic. Pietro consumed two-days worth of grass, and a bale of hay, on our 32 hours journey. With every feeding of fresh grass, we would serve this to him with fresh water to ensure he stayed hydrated. This is a good tip since some horses would refuse to drink. In between his grass and water, he would continuously munch on his hay. This kept him preoccupied as well.
Always, always make sure you have more than enough forage for your horse. I recall a time when I transported a horse along with other owners, and I over-prepared grass and hay – luckily! They got stranded, and the other horses had no grass because they didn’t prepare. While my horse was well-stocked.
Our rule of thumb is to prepare for the worst, and pray for the best. It’s better to be over prepared.