MONTREAL, Que. – Meet Rick Bodi – part trucker, part horse whisperer.
“Everybody can learn how to drive a truck, but not everyone can handle a horse,” Bodi says in a near drawl.
He’s been around both for a long time. The president of Rick Bodi Horse Transport has combined the two professionally for almost 20 years and now boasts being “pretty much it” in Quebec when it comes to moving mostly racehorses and show jumpers within and out of the province. A horse-lover since he was a child, Bodi was inspired to get into the business by an incident he witnessed in 1986 at America’s biggest annual standard-bred horse show in Harrisburg, Penn.
“I saw guys trying to shove six horses into a four-horse trailer with a piece of plywood between them,” Bodi recalls.
Knowing he could do a better and more humane job, Bodi started out running bandit for about four years “with a pickup and little two-horse trailer.”
The affable Bodi bought his first tractor-trailer in 1991, one year after going legitimate and commercial. Then after five years as a one-man operation, Bodi hired his first employee and was literally off to the races – the horse type – held across Quebec, Ontario, the U.S. northeast, Kentucky and as far as Florida.
There’s also transporting horses to and from show competitions, farm sales and training centers.
It was a natural fit for the now 48-year-old Bodi, a tall man easily recognizable in his trademark black Stetson and cowboy boots.
His parents bought him a pony when he was 10 and he would hang out with his dad at the Blue Bonnets (now known as the Hippodrome de Montral) harness-racing track, where he eventually got a job as a groom. He got an early taste of his future career when he was asked to take a horse at the track to an out-of-town veterinarian, who then sent him back with a different horse “so I got paid twice.”
Now he has a fleet consisting of two 15-horse vans and a 135-foot trailer that can accommodate seven horses. All the trailers are equipped with video-surveillance cameras linked to monitors inside the tractor cabs so the drivers can keep an eye on the horses during transit. Bodi normally has five drivers, but was down to three when he spoke with Truck News in May.
“It’s tough to get good guys because they have to have soft hands (for handling horses),” Bodi explained. “Guys have to have it in their heads that the horses come first.”
He is quick to point out that none of his trucks have whips or cattle prods for helping load and unload the four-legged cargo. Instead, there is feed and treats. If a horse is too nervous to travel, a vet will medicate it for the trip. Bodi’s drivers usually work in tandem although he acknowledges one driver can handle the job alone if the horses are good.
“I’ve had lots of success with wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend teams,” Bodi said. He’s part of one himself.
Bodi taught his lady love Diane Lapointe – whom he affectionately refers to instead as Diane “Le Patron” – French for “The Boss” – to drive a truck (her father was also a trucker) so she could join him on the road. His biggest competition in Quebec, BL Transport Inc. (the company involved in the Harrisburg horse stuffing incident in ’86) is no longer in business.
Of course there is Gary Morin Horse Transport, just off the western end of Montreal Island, but he does strictly specialty trips rather than scheduled routes.
“I pick up things Rick Bodi can’t do,” Morin said as he awaited last month’s delivery of a new seven-horse trailer to add to his four-horse model.
Unlike Bodi, who operates year-round, Morin does horse hauling for a maximum of five months annually and that is to supplement his farm income. He started about 15 years ago by transporting for fellow stable owners in his area and now serves a 1,500-kilometre radius of Montreal. Bodi’s truck has averaged as much as 200,000 km a year moving horses.
“I have a lot of fun and like what I do,” said Bodi.