Easy Rider

As one of the more specialised and niche branches of the incredibly diverse road transport sphere, boutique horse transport operations tend to be small one, two or three truck concerns that work on a high degree of trust between operator and clients.

The reasons for this are obvious, given the precious nature of the cargo. Put another way, these operators are entrusted with the safe and low-stress carriage of often prize-winning show jumpers and harness racing horses, frequently over long distances, so ensuring they arrive at their destination in pristine condition is an absolute imperative.

As such, it’s a must that operators are fair dinkum horse people who have an affinity with the animals in their care and an unequivocal understanding that their wellbeing is the highest priority.

Tim Shute is one such person. Tim, along with his wife Rebecca, owns and operates Hann’s Horse Transport from their home base at Lethbridge near Geelong and cater for clients in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. They also have a long-standing arrangement with a similarly reputable transporter who handles the Queensland work.

The business was first started in Adelaide in the early 1970s by a harness racing aficionado who built it up based on the patronage of fellow harness racers in the southern state. However, by the time Tim started working for him in 2009 the Adelaide harness racing scene was on the wane.

Sensing an opportunity to broaden their horizons, Tim and Rebecca decided to buy the business in 2014, proceeding to expand operations and branching out into the eastern states and across a number of disciplines including show jumping.

“We don’t really operate on the back of the thoroughbred industry like the bigger operators,” Tim says.

“Our client base is mostly the private owners in the performance horse and hobbyist markets including show jumping, endurance riding and show horses. Both my wife and I have been around horses forever – which is what you need to be able to effectively run a business like this.”

As a successful show jumper in his youth, Tim believes he was destined to work in the horse transport industry because he enjoyed taking the horses to events just as much as competing. 

Interestingly, and perhaps somewhat unusually, he has an equal passion for both horses and horsepower, which is probably close to a perfect synergy considering the business he operates. As such, when it came time to upgrade from the previous 4×2 to a larger 6×2 truck, he knew exactly what he wanted, and, most importantly, needed.

“I’ve always loved trucks and a nice European cab-over is pretty much as good as it gets for this line of work,” Tim says. “After Mercedes-Benz launched the new Actros prime mover I straight away liked the look of them so I started reading up all about them and eagerly awaited the release of the rigid version.”

After speaking with Tim Blackstock, one of the sales executives at Daimler Trucks Huntingwood (western Sydney), Tim better understood the cost savings over the life of the vehicle due to various factors including the free scheduled servicing for the first 500,000km being offered at the time.

“As we average around 200,000km annually, we were able to bank on free servicing for the first two and a half years of ownership,” he recalls.

“Tim Blackstock also emphasised the superior fuel economy of the Actros which we have verified over the first year of its operation. So due to the lower cost of ownership we’re actually in front compared to the previous truck even though it was smaller and much cheaper to buy.”    

He mentions that when the truck is loaded to a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 18 to 19 tonnes when leaving Geelong it averages 4.4km/litre (12.4mpg) – an impressive figure for that amount of weight – over the trip from Geelong to Sydney via Canberra with multiple deliveries along the way.

“It’s better on fuel than the single drive truck we owned previously which had the same power but obviously carried less weight,” he explains.

Tim ended up buying the Actros 2635 L 6×2 through Daimler Trucks Huntingwood which might seem a little odd given his base near Geelong; however, he explains the decision was based on sound and logical reasoning.

“Since I do one trip to Sydney every week I organise to have the bulk of the servicing done while I’m there and I figured if the truck is going to be mostly serviced there I might as well buy it there as well,” he says. 

In addition to a trip to Sydney once a week, Tim also does a single trip to Adelaide per week, with both journeys usually completed on the same days each week.
“We have a large casual base as well as a lot of regular clients – in any one week we are generally dealing with 40 to 50 owners,” Tim says.

Working closely with Tim Blackstock to ensure the specifications were spot-on for his needs Tim says the chassis was lengthened to accommodate the premium 10-horse body built and neatly integrated with the truck by Premier Floats at Geelong.

One of the challenges with chassis extensions, particularly with European trucks, is that it throws more weight onto the steer axle. Mindful of this, Tim says he specified a 355hp rated engine mated with an eight-speed PowerShift automated manual transmission (AMT) which he finds sensationally smooth-shifting – a hugely important factor when transporting horses.

He says while the horsepower rating is adequate for his operation, he would have preferred a higher output, however this was not possible because it would have put the steer axle weight too close to the 6.5-tonne limit. Tim agrees that a rise in the Australian steer axle limit to seven tonnes would be a sensible development, enabling him to have a welcome boost in power in his future trucks.

Seeking the ultimate in comfort for both his precious cargo and himself, Tim specified air suspension on all three axles, with the rear suspension including a pressure differential system that is driver selected when extra traction is required. An imperative for 6×2 vehicles, this increases the pressure in the drive axle airbags while proportionally reducing pressure in the tag axle bags, thus imposing considerably more weight on the drive for improved traction in slippery conditions or on soft ground.

“This function gets used all the time, without it we simply couldn’t get by,” Tim says, adding that the reduced fuel consumption and lower maintenance requirements make the 6×2 arrangement a good option for the business.

As for other features he likes about the truck, Tim reckons the driver’s seat is among the best in the business.

“While I haven’t driven every Euro truck, I’m led to believe the Benz has the best driver’s seat in the market and I tend to agree,” he says. “Comfort all round is high, particularly with the large degree of adjustment on the steering wheel – it’s easy to find exactly the right position to suit your individual needs.”

Tim also likes the all-round visibility from the driver’s seat and the large rear-view mirrors, although he says he will be keen to have the Mirror Cam setup – which eliminates the forward blind spots caused by the external mirror heads – on the next Benz he buys.

Meanwhile, a new Fuso Fighter 12-tonne truck has just joined the Mercedes to take care of the local work while its big brother does the highway hauls. According to Tim, a newly employed driver will swap between the two trucks to enable him to spend a bit less time on the road.

The new driver has extensive experience in horse transportation which Tim emphasises is vital with this line of work.

“It’s something you need to grow up with to really understand the various nuances that always need to be kept front-of-mind in this type of operation,” he says.

“We aim to keep the business at a manageable size and employ only the best equipment and suitably experienced people so we can keep providing an absolutely top-class service to our valued clients.”

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