Trailering a horse should never be taken lightly. Whether you haul your own horse or entrust a friend with your beloved equine, it is important to be aware of safety.
For the Horse
Putting a horse in a "metal cave on wheels" is about as unnatural as it gets. No self-respecting prey animal would willingly put himself in a place where he couldn't run away. Teaching a horse to load with confidence is one of our major responsibilities as stewards of these amazing creatures. Even if you are content to toodle around your own property, there may come a day when you have to load and you owe it to your horse to prepare him.
My Moose was a difficult horse when it came to trailer loading. His fear and intense claustrophobia made him a danger to himself and those around him. In learning to load him, I learned a lot about loading a horse - physically, mentally and emotionally.
Some things to consider . . .
- Can you load and unload your horse into trailers other than the one in which he normally travels? Don't wait until your broken down on the side of the road to find out your horse is terrified of a ramp or that he's afraid of a rattling stock trailer.
- Can someone other than you load your horse?
- Can you ask your horse to calmly unload forwards and backwards?
- Can you ask your horse to load, unload just the hind feet and then reload? Can you load just the front feet?
- Can you send him in without getting in the trailer? Can you lead him in?
- Can you open the door without him trying to bolt out?
For the Tow Vehicle and Trailer
Two years ago we arrived at fall camp only to find the trailer tires were flat. This past weekend a woman nearly lost her horse because her trailer door swung open as she turned a corner. Fortunately, in both cases, none of the horses were hurt. Trailer mishaps don't always have a happy ending. Regular maintenance as well as a thorough inspection before hitting the road might mean the difference between a near miss and a full blown tragedy.
The following list, from an article on EquiSearch, is a great checklist for maintaining your trailer.
- As a matter of course, clean your horse trailer out after every use. Even with rubber mats, the urine and droppings will take their toll on the floorboards if they are left to sit.
- Regularly washing the exterior of the trailer will give you the opportunity to check for rust, leaks in the roof, broken windows etc.
- Check the wooden floorboards, the ramp or tailgate, divider etc. for signs of rot. Also check the hinges, springs and latches to make sure they are secure and in good working order.
- Replace any parts that are rotten, broken or missing.
- The trailer hitch itself should be kept well lubricated and should be checked for missing parts. Make sure the chains are in good repair.
- Without the trailer jack, it would be impossible to lift your horse trailer on to the little ball on the bumper pull of your truck. Keeping it lubricated and cranking it every now and then, when it's not being used, will stop it from seizing up and becoming useless, just when you need it most.
- The brakes should be checked every time the trailer is hitched, to make sure they are working. Regular professional maintenance is recommended.
- Correct tire pressure will make it easier to tow the trailer and will save wear and tear on the tires. Replace any worn tires.
- Each time you hook your horse trailer up, you should make sure the lights and turn signals work. Check the wiring and replace any bulbs that need replacing.
TIRES: check pressure and look for signs of wear in truck, trailer and spare tires
WHEELS: make sure lug nuts are tight on all wheels
HITCH: look for loose bolts, hairline cracks and other signs of wear; check for proper hookup (in conventional trailers, the socket should be seated on the ball and locked in place)
SAFETY CHAINS: make sure chains are crossed and hooked to vehicle frame (not bumper).
BREAKAWAY: check cable length - it should be shorter than your safety chains, but not so short that it'll break free when you make a tight brake cable turn. Weave the cable through a link of one chain, so it won't snag and pull free. Make sure coupler is fully plugged in.
TRUCK: check fluid levels and fill fuel tanks.
GEAR: In addition to hay, water, buckets, and other horse supplies, pack emergency equipment in your tow vehicle.
She suggests the following items for an emergency kit:
- Extra halter and lead rope for each horse, for off-loading in an emergency.
- Emergency flares and reflector triangles.
- Flashlight (rechargeable, with an adapter that fits vehicle cigarette lighter).
- Jumper cables and spare fuses.
- Spare tires, jack, chock blocks, torque wrench, and WD-40 for changing tires.
- Tool kit-crowbar, hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers.
- Duct tape, for covering sharp edges in a damaged trailer and other uses.
- Fire extinguisher. (Make sure it's pressurized.)
- Horse and human first-aid kits.
- Cell phone and phone numbers.
USRider teamed up with nationally known large-animal rescue experts and conducted a three year study, evaluating over 200 horse trailer accidents. Based on their research, they offer 15 safety recommendations for anyone traveling with horses.
- Drive carefully. With operator error factors, such as driving too fast, causing the majority of trailer accidents, it’s imperative for you to be very careful and remain attentive. Drive as though you have a cup of water on the floorboard of your vehicle, and stay slightly under the speed limit to make allowances for adverse driving conditions. Double the following distance recommended for passenger cars. Maintain that distance even when cars cut in front of you.
- Hang up, and pay attention. Avoid talking on a cell phone while pulling a trailer.
- Pull over safely. If your vehicle becomes disabled, continue driving, whenever possible, until you can pull over to a safe area. Do this even if you have a flat tire, and it means destroying a wheel. Wheels can be easily replaced. Stopping on the shoulder is extremely dangerous, particularly on an interstate highway, and can put you, your horse, and emergency responders at great risk. Pull over on the grass as much as possible, away from the white line.
- Use your headlights. Drive with the headlights on at all times to increase your visibility.
- Use reflective material. Apply reflective material to the back of your trailer. If you lose trailer lighting or experience an electrical failure, this material will help other drivers see you as they approach.
- Replace your tires. Replace your tow-vehicle and trailer tires every three to five years regardless of mileage. Make sure that tires are rated to support more than the gross weight of the trailer and its contents. Check the air pressure in all tires (tow vehicle, trailer, and spare) at least every 30 days. Purchase a high-quality air pressure gauge, and learn how to operate it.
- Check your inside dually tires. If you pull your trailer with a dually truck, check the inside tires for wear. Since these tires are "hidden" behind the outside tires, they’re easy to neglect. Also check the inside tires’ air pressure. Even if an inside tire is completely flat, it’ll be supported by the outside tire, making it appear properly inflated.
- Leave tire-changing to the pros. Even if you know how to change a tire, don’t do it by yourself if you have an on-the-road breakdown; call for professional help. Your life is worth the time waiting for help.
- Maintain your vehicle and trailer. Perform regular maintenance on your tow vehicle and trailer. Have your trailer wiring inspected for uninsulated, loose, and/or exposed wires, and poor connections. This applies to old and new trailers alike. New trailers are not trouble-free; inspect them closely. Have your trailer axles serviced annually or every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first.
- Use ICE. Make use of the ICE program; ICE stands for "in case of emergency." This simple program is designed to help emergency responders identify victims and determine who needs to be notified. Make it easy for first responders to know who to contact for information on handling your horse: Program an entry into your cell phone called "ICE – Horse." Key in the contact information of someone with the authority to make decisions about your horse’s care, should you become incapacitated.
- Draw up a power-of-attorney document. In conjunction with the ICE program, initiate a power-of-attorney document with a trusted friend or relative. If you become incapacitated, this will provide for your horse’s emergency medical treatment. Also, prepare the corresponding Notice to Emergency Responders document. Keep copies of both documents in the glove box of your tow vehicle. (Both forms are available for download free from the USRider website).
- Hitch up safely. Improper hitching is a common cause of trailer accidents. Use a hitch that’s the correct type, size, and rating to match the coupler. Make sure the hitch is properly installed onto your towing vehicle. Securely fasten the safety chains and breakaway switch actuating chain.
- Balance your load. An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to overturn in an accident. When loading your trailer, load the heaviest cargo on the left. If you’re loading only one horse, load him on the left side of the trailer. After loading, secure trailer doors and hatches.
- Use protective gear. To help ensure your horse’s safety, always apply shipping boots and a head bumper.
- Carry a first-aid kit. Carry a current veterinarian-approved first aid kit. Recommendations for such a kit are listed in the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website.