Monday, May. 20, 2024

Peggy Hedman Is Driven To Keep Her Charges Safe

On what began as a typical summer day, NYCONN Horse Transport professional driver Peggy Hedman picked up a horse in Florida for the long drive up I-95 back to the Northeast. She knew this trip would be a little different because this particular horse wasn’t a show horse returning home from winter competition. Instead, this was a stolen horse being returned to its owner in Connecticut.

“The horse had a rare medical condition, and I really didn’t think it would make the trip,” Hedman recalled. “It was traveling poorly.”
PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

On what began as a typical summer day, NYCONN Horse Transport professional driver Peggy Hedman picked up a horse in Florida for the long drive up I-95 back to the Northeast. She knew this trip would be a little different because this particular horse wasn’t a show horse returning home from winter competition. Instead, this was a stolen horse being returned to its owner in Connecticut.

“The horse had a rare medical condition, and I really didn’t think it would make the trip,” Hedman recalled. “It was traveling poorly.”

She worried about the outcome as she crossed the Connecticut state line and eventually approached the owner’s barn. “Then, when I turned a corner and onto the street, I heard horses outside starting to scream,” Hedman said. “And the horse in the truck started to scream too. That horse knew he was home and couldn’t wait to get off the truck.

“It’s beyond me that the horses all knew, even the ones in the field,” she continued, shaking her head. “They knew something special was going on. Everyone there was ecstatic, from the people to the horses. It was a very emotional reunion. It’s amazing the power of communication between horses.”

Hedman, 53, New Fairfield, Conn., has experienced many wonderful and literally moving adventures over the course of her 12-year career working for NYCONN as a professional driver. And although she said there are no typical days in this job, some are more memorable than others as her jobs range from local jaunts to and from one-day horse shows to cross-country excursions to the West Coast and Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alta.

They’re All Mine

Like many lifelong horse lovers, Hedman grew up wanting to be with horses. Her early years in New Jersey included working at a nearby farm in exchange for lessons and the opportunity to ride other people’s horses.

She attended Sullins College (Va.) and after graduation started working as a groom for Hunterdon in New Jersey. When Hunterdon and Beacon Hill split, Hedman moved on to Beacon Hill with Frank Madden. She eventually rubbed horses for Old Salem Farm (N.Y.), where she worked with international grand prix rider Katharine Burdsall and renowned hunter rider Charlie Weaver.

Throughout her grooming career, Hed-man regularly transported her charges from show to show so it was a natural next step for her to move into driving full-time in 1995.

“I had been a groom my whole life. And, honestly, I grew tired of longeing horses,” she admitted. “I love the horses and the showing, but I knew it was time for me to do something else. I’d always taken care of other people’s horses, but in the horse transportation industry it’s different. They’re mine when they’re on the truck. I feel totally responsible for them.”

Geoff Teall of Montoga Inc., in Wellington, Fla., regularly employs Hedman to transport his show horses. He’s known Hedman since her days working as a groom and has trusted her to ship his hunters, jumpers and equitation horses for more than 10 years.

“The best thing about Peggy is that you don’t have to worry about a thing,” he said. “The horses are taken care of, she shows up on time, and if there are any questions she calls you right away. Unless you hear something, it’s all going smoothly.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Each day Hedman receives instructions from NYCONN owner Tony Baxendale from the company’s home base in Wilton, Conn. She’s told where to go, when to go and which type of truck she needs to take—from six-horse van to tractor-trailer. On long-distance trips two drivers are employed and one drives while the other rests. Hedman said one of her greatest challenges has been to learn to sleep in five- to 10-hour shifts at all times of the day or night.

When traveling long distances, Hedman stops every five hours to check the horses, stuff haynets, water the horses, change sheets if needed and open or close windows as the weather dictates.

“Much of what I do is really common sense,” said Hedman. “But I’m very careful to monitor each horse. For instance, as we drive back up from Florida and we stop in the Carolinas, I close the windows and put sheets on. The horses have been in Florida for months, and even the mild changes in temperatures as we travel north really affect them.”

As a busy trainer, clinician and industry leader, Teall is particularly grateful to have his horses under the care of a true horseman when they make the stressful long-distance relocations from Florida to the Northeast and back again. It’s one less responsibility he has to take on while coordinating his own business demands.

“Most of the time the drivers are not horse people, and you worry about their loading and unloading and their feeding while on the road,” noted Teall. “Peggy knows horses and knows if they’re not shipping well. And if something goes wrong, she can handle the situation.”

Adding video surveillance cameras to the rigs has been one of Hedman’s favorite new technologies in transportation. She’s now able to observe the horses as she drives and can recognize when a horse is having difficulties, such as fighting with its neighbor or becoming lethargic.

“You can feel when they’re fighting in the back; the truck rocks,” she said. “In the past, I’d have to shorten up everyone’s crossties. Now I can watch them during transport and know which horse I have to shorten up. You don’t have to punish them all.”

After reaching her destination, Hedman’s work is far from complete. She unloads the horses—sometimes with help from owners or grooms—and then must unload all of the equipment she’s transported with the horses, from tack trunks to feed and show equipment.

“It’s very physically demanding, but I’m proud to say I can hold my own,” she said smiling.

A Smooth Trip
Because there’s more to Hedman’s job than just sitting behind the wheel, she said that the relationships she’s developed with the horse owners, trainers, barn managers and grooms makes a huge difference in whether her day runs smoothly or with bumps in the road.

ADVERTISEMENT

“One thing that really makes my job nice is the customers. I really try to take care of the grooms too, to make sure they have enough to eat and drink. And one of the nicest things is when we arrive and everyone is ready to go, all the horses are wrapped and the equipment is waiting to be loaded.”

A gratifying aspect of Hedman’s job is when she transports young children or novice adults to the local one-day horse shows. After arriving, she helps unload the horses and assists as they’re groomed and tacked up for their classes.

“We try to encourage the kids, and even the adult amateurs, to learn about safety in loading and unloading the horses,” she said. “For example, you load the passenger side horses first and then the driver’s side. That way no horse is putting its backside in front of another horse.”

During the show, Hedman usually remains at the truck (sometimes reading a book), where she can monitor the horses remaining on the rig and can assist in getting horses on and off.

She’s also especially patient with the difficult loaders. While many men can manhandle horses onto the rig, through experience she’s learned that that philosophy isn’t likely to work for a woman. Instead, she prefers to spend time working with the horse so he’ll learn to trust the process and can then become a reliable shipper for anyone who loads him.

Another lesson Hedman insists every horse person should learn is how to compassionately drive a horse trailer. “Before you drive a horse, you should have to ride in the back with your hands in your pockets and try to stand up back there,” she said. “People who trailer horses should be especially aware of their stops and starts.

“Before exiting the highway I give the horses a little warning, such as a tap on the brakes, so they know something’s coming up,” she explained. “Then I take everything much slower. If the exit ramp says 35 mph, I slow to 25. I like telling young drivers that you have to throw your watch out the window. You have to let the horses tell you how fast to drive.”

Being a veteran caretaker has also allowed Hedman to better monitor her horses for signs of illness or injury. She’s careful to track the amount of hay each horse consumes, the number of drinks he takes and his overall alertness. One of the first signs a horse is feeling ill is his lack of interest in his surroundings.
 
Making the decision to leave the highway and head for a veterinary clinic is one of the most difficult situations she faces in her career. Perhaps the horse is fine, but then again she could save a horse’s life through taking the more conservative route. “It’s often a judgment call,” she said. “You have to make the decision and stand by it.”

Like many jobs in the horse industry, transporting horses is a seven-day per week job. Hedman doesn’t have a set day off, and because she lives in close proximity to NYCONN’s home base, Hedman is regularly the one called for an emergency trip to the veterinary clinic. “It’s not an easy life and not the life for someone with a family,” she said.

Transporting horses is considered one of the least appreciated jobs in the horse industry, but Hedman is very much appreciated for her commitment and ability. “She’s almost conscientious to a fault, if there’s such a thing,” said Teall smiling. “If there’s any question, Peggy will give too much care than not enough. And that’s truly invaluable.”

Despite the long hours and the challenges the job entails, there’s nowhere else Hedman would rather be than sitting in the cab of the truck with her trusted co-driver Cindy-Lou, her Jack Russell terrier, by her side. “I truly love my job,” she said. “It’s the horses and the people who make it what it is. And it’s great.”

Tricia Booker

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

No Articles Found

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse