For the moment, Terry Konkle is home on his 60-acre ranch in Northern California’s Gilroy, catching up with his wife, her training business and their 17 personal horses (one a Westfalen filly acclaimed at her keuring). Just in from the Scottsdale Arabian Show where he picked up returning show horses, Terry next takes the wheel in two days, on a cross-country route typical of his business—Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, and then Florida, before returning via Kentucky and Illinois to California.
“Every year we put at least 100,000 miles on each rig. I drive about 200,000 miles myself,” says Terry, owner of Light Star Horse Transportation, which operates four state-of-the-art custom semitrucks—each with a 15-horse capacity. Terry has personally logged more than two million miles transporting horses without an accident.
An accomplished trainer and former American Horse Shows Association judge, Terry founded Light Star Horse Transportation more by happenstance than design, when business literally came knocking. “Next thing I knew I was probably the largest hauler in Northern California,” adds Terry, whose company is now a member of the elite National Horse Carriers Association, the “Who’s Who” of horse transporters.
Light Star’s gleaming 53-ft. long vans are custom-built by Kentucky Trailer for Terry. (Cost is a quarter million dollars each.) “I’m one who never settles for second best in anything. From my employees to my vans, it’s always first rate,” he mentions. “The air ride system on it is the same system developed for NASA to haul their computers and electronics. It really gives the horses the best trip that is possible.” Interior thermostats that regulate fans, LED lighting, and high-definition onboard cameras are added highlights. “We also have a back-up camera to see what’s behind,” adds Terry. “There’s one place we go in Santa Barbara where we have to back up for a quarter-mile.” The vans’ standard single stall configuration for 15 horses (three across), can change to stall-and-a-half or box stall sizes for more space.
When firestorms hit Northern California last spring, Terry upped van capacity by one horse. On the call list for fire emergencies, Light Star helped reduce the load at the over-capacity Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds by moving horses out to more distant locations. Sixteen horses and ponies from a rescue organization got the royal treatment when Terry delivered them to temporary quarters at a private dressage barn in one of his vans, where the owner left her birthday party to welcome them. “She was dressed to the hilt, but made sure all these unwanted horses had a place to stay,” says Terry, who managed a 16th space onboard for a blind pony, to keep the rescue group together. Using his high-priced vans on the rescue effort never posed a problem. “They are built to withstand the toughest horses. They’re pretty, but they are made of very strong construction.” He comments, “The equipment is only as good as the people using it.”
In Good Hands
Terry staffs each Light Star van with two drivers and hires only experienced horsemen. “It’s so much easier to teach them to drive a truck than to teach a truck driver to handle a horse,” adds Terry, who even teaches the California Commercial Driver’s Test. “I always run a team of two drivers. If something happens, you want somebody else there to help. True professionals can make a potentially tough job go smoothly. Those are the kind of guys that work for me. We don’t get flustered. We know what to do.” Light Star Horse Transportation is also fully licensed and insured—something no horse owner should compromise on when choosing a transporter.
“I have a very strong repeat business,” says Terry, whose clients span all disciplines and breeds, from Warmbloods to Thoroughbreds, Arabians and Saddlebreds. “At several barns we go to, the horses just about load themselves. They even get a funny look on their faces if you put them somewhere that’s not their normal spot.” Catering to both the A-rated show circuit (going 100-plus miles away) and the cross-country business, Light Star doesn’t short on services or attention to detail.
“Whether you’ve got a valuable horse, one that’s a little bit of a tough hauler, or just one that’s important to you, we treat each one like they’re worth a million bucks—checking on them regularly, stopping to water and feed. If we’re carrying babies, we may stop a bit longer so they get the rest they need.”
Sometimes it’s on the toughest jobs where the heart of a company shines most brightly. In 2005, for George Bush’s second inaugural parade, Light Star hauled 13 palominos for the Modesto County Sheriff’s Posse from Central California to Washington, D.C. “The first thing they did before we left was have everybody put their horses in a big circle and then they brought in a priest! This is the first time I’ve ever had a load of horses being blessed,” laughs Terry. “But I might think about doing it again because this was one of the tough trips: freezing temperatures, cold, ice.” Enroute, there was a late night rendezvous in Memphis to pick up the group’s 14th horse, before continuing to Washington, D.C., where the city was on high alert. Snowing and cold when they arrived at the staging area, the riders simply left their horses in the van’s stalls. On the route through downtown Terry drove the semi flanked by a police and military escort. He had orders not to stop for any reason. “It was like Code Red. MPs were running around in what looked like storm trooper outfits from Star Wars and there were snipers on the roofs in plain sight.” The Modesto Posse subsequently arrived via limo, but time by then was in short supply.
“The co-driver and I were furiously tacking up their horses so they could get in line, and an Air Force officer kept coming by telling them, ‘You’re going to lose your spot.’ We tossed the riders up and got them in line,” recalls Terry. After the parade, when the horses were untacked and loaded on the van again, Terry assessed his charges and changed plans. “We were supposed to leave D.C. to come straight back to the West Coast, but I could see the horses were sweaty and tired. It was a recipe for disaster.” He quickly devised Plan B.
“I had another truck in North Carolina, some people had moved. We met at a truck stop on the Virginia/North Carolina border in the middle of a hail storm and changed all the horses over to box stalls, which took two vans instead of one, even though they just rented one. That way we had four drivers, two vans and the horses got a little elbow room in box stalls.” All the horses consequently made the return trip without a single mishap. A month later, Terry got a letter from the Merced County Sheriff’s Posse with an extraordinary surprise inside. He smiles, “I opened it up and here’s a Presidential Commendation for Service Above and Beyond signed by an Air Force general.”
So the next time you’re planning horse travel, be sure to call the industry’s best. While Light Star hasn’t yet debuted equine mileage programs, enroute hay is choice and the water fresh. “I try to put my runs together three weeks in advance,” says Terry. “But two weeks in advance is about perfect for making reservations.” Still, there’s always a chance that fortuitous timing may find Light Star heading your way on short notice.
To contact Terry Konkle and Light Star Horse Transportation call 877-254-5112, 408-839-9709 or visit www.lightstarthorsetransportation.com.