When you drive towards the rail trail parking in Amenia, NY, you can’t help but notice the Judge Manning horse trailers parked on Mechanic Street. I have always wondered where the horses were coming from or going to. Judge Manning, who founded the business in 1978, shared the history of his 42-year-old business and the specialized world of horse transportation for Main Street’s May transportation issue.
What kinds of horses are your passengers? Where are they going?
About 80% of our business is taking show horses to competitions up and down the East Coast. In the fall we drive them down to Florida and they come back here in the spring. This year is a little different. You can’t ride horses in New York because of the virus, but you can in Florida so the owners and horses haven’t returned yet. This summer won’t be a normal year since the April and May horse shows have already been cancelled. We also take horses to airports – Stewart in Newburgh, Newark or JFK so the horses can compete internationally, including in the Olympics. Sometimes we act as a horse ambulance and deliver injured or sick horses safely to our area’s large animal clinics in Rhinebeck and Patterson. Occasionally we have to pick up a llama or an alpaca.
It takes 25 to 28 hours to get to Florida from Amenia. Every rig has two drivers and the horses stay safe in the trailer, each in their own stall, with hay and water. There’s a monitor in the cab and cameras in the trailer, so the drivers can watch the horses, and there is GPS on the truck so we always know where they are. Our longest drives are to Calgary, Canada, and Idaho.
How did you get involved transporting horses and starting your own business?
I grew up on Long Island, one of four children, and my family owned a stable so I grew up around horses and then started driving horse vans and charter buses.
In the 1970s, I worked for the company that imported all the animals for Jungle Habitat – rhinos, zebras, and lions. I was also a driver for the Moscow Circus and shipped the soccer-playing bears to major cities in the eastern US.
I worked for Morrissey’s Horse Pullman’s in Pawling, which specialized in racehorse transportation, before starting my own company in 1978 in North Salem. I got a small bank loan to come up with the cash for a 1977 horse van. That first year in business I had to supplement my income by driving charter buses.
Why did you move your business to Amenia?
We moved because I wanted to have my drivers be able to afford a place to live and have a family life. Housing in North Salem was just too expensive.
How has the industry changed?
When I first started in 1978 horse transportation was heavily regulated by the federal government with all sorts of licensing requirements. It changed quite a bit under Ronald Reagan when he deregulated the trucking industry and made it possible for smaller carriers to compete.
Today there are a lot more people showing horses and the horse shows are getting bigger and bigger and lasting longer. Special large venues are being built for these events like the one in Saugerties, NY, Manchester, VT, and Wellington, FL. At the same time local shows, like Fitch’s Corners, are declining or ending. When I started this business and took horses to Wellington, FL, for the winter shows, the horses would stay in tents and their owners in motels. Today there are stables and mansions on private airfields.
Over the years the equipment we use has become much better and the comfort and wellbeing of the horses has improved. Drivers are drug tested and electronically monitored. It’s better, safer. and cheaper today than it was 40 years ago.
How many trucks do you have? How much do they cost?
Today, we operate seven trucks. We buy Peterbilt tractors that cost about $170,000 and custom MH Eby trailers, which cost over $200,000 each.
How do you find customers? Where are they? Is there competition?
Usually it is the horse trainer that makes the decision on what horse transport outfit to use. I’ve known some of the trainers since they started out as child riders or grooms. We don’t advertise in print media at all, but clients see our trailers at shows and we’re very active on Facebook. We were very early to build a website.
We rely on happy customers, our record, and even referrals from our competitors. Reputable companies operate as friendly competitors to their mutual benefit. We exchange horses to suit everyone’s schedule and the customer gets better service. All professional operators have well-trained drivers who know horses, and great equipment. If they don’t, they are not around long.
There is plenty of competition. There are at least six legal horse transportation services within 20 miles of here and customers do check prices. Our customers come from a 100-mile radius in Fairfield County, CT, Westchester and Dutchess counties in NY.
How much does it cost to ship a horse?
It all depends on the size of the stall space, the destination, and the number of horses in the van. Each horse has their own stall and we can carry from one to ten horses at a time. The cost from NY to Florida can range from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the circumstances.
What is the National Horse Carriers Association?
We are a group of about 35 independently-owned horse transportation companies in the US and Canada that meet twice a year to improve the standards of the industry. We have educational speakers and demonstrations from specialized equipment manufacturers especially in the security and technology fields. As a group we represent the majority of the licensed professional horse carriers in North America. Members can buy liability insurance at attractive rates through the association – the horses are insured by the owners themselves. Currently I’m a director of the organization.
Are unlicensed truckers a problem?
If the shipment goes well for the horse it’s OK, but if there’s a problem, the owner has little recourse against an unlicensed, uninsured carrier. A federal license is required to transport a horse and violators do get arrested and the fines can be quite heavy. In the past we have been called to pick up a trailer of horses by the side of the road, because the driver has been pulled over.
To learn more about Judge Manning Horse Transportation and all of their services, you can call them at (845) 373-8700 or visit them online at www.judgemanning.com.