Towing Your Horse Trailer Safely to Your Destination
Neva and Tom Scheve, EquiSpirit
The most important goal of any journey should be to arrive safely at your destination. Of course, anytime you travel, you're putting yourself at risk. However, you want to minimize the risk as much as possible. The place to start to ensure travel safety is with your towing vehicle and the trailer. It is of the utmost importance that both your vehicle and trailer are in good condition! And, be sure that your towing vehicle is of the proper rating for the trailer you'll be towing! If you try towing a trailer that is too large and too heavy for your tow vehicle, you could be asking for major trouble!
Now, your rig doesn't have to be new to be in good condition. As long as it has been well-maintained and passes certain criteria, it should get the job done without any problems.
Things to do to ensure a safe trailering experience:
• If you're pulling a tag-along horse trailer, your tow vehicle MUST have a Class III or Class IV hitch that is welded or bolted to the frame of the tow vehicle. The hitch must have a rating that matches or exceeds the weight of your trailer.
• Your trailer needs to be level, regardless of whether it's a tag-along or a gooseneck.
• Make sure the trailer lights and brakes work properly.
• The break-away brake MUST be attached with a fully-charged battery. Check to make sure it works properly before taking the rig out on the road.
• All tag-along trailers require safety chains or cables hooked to the tow vehicle. In some states, safety chains or cables are required with gooseneck trailers, as well. So, check to see what the regulations are in your state. Prior to road trips, check the safety chains, hitch, and coupler.
• If you're new to towing a trailer, or if it has been awhile, practice basic driving and towing skills before you hit the road. Make sure that you know how to back the trailer properly. Practice making turns with the trailer in tow. Work on those sudden stops, so you'll be prepared in case you have to make one during your trip. Also, practice parking the rig.
• If you are hauling one horse in a two-horse trailer, put the horse on the driver's side of the trailer. If you are hauling two horses, put the heaviest horse on the driver's side. This will help keep the trailer balanced.
• If a trailer is not specifically designed to carry a horse backwards, do NOT load the horse backwards! Doing so will change the tongue weight and make driving very dangerous!
• When hauling horses in a slant load trailer, place the heaviest part of the load towards the front of the trailer for smoother traveling. However, make sure that the tongue is not over-taxed and that you have not exceeded the rating for the rear axle of the tow vehicle.
• Always check out the tow vehicle before taking a trip with your horses. Make sure all engine fluid levels are good and replenish those that need to be replenished. Also, top off the wiper fluid, if it's running low.
• Make sure that the ball on the tow vehicle is the correct size for the trailer that you will be towing.
• Adjust all rearview mirrors properly and know how to use them.
• Check the condition and pressure of all tires, both on the tow vehicle and on the trailer. Improper pressure and poor condition of tires can increase the likelihood of trailering problems, tire failure, or even an accident.
• Check to make sure all lug nuts are in place and secure on all wheels. Wheel nuts and bolts should be torqued before first road use and each time a wheel is removed.
With a new trailer, you should check and re-torque after the first 10, 25, and 50 miles. Afterwards, check and re-torque periodically.
• Prior to loading your horses, check the trailer to make sure there are no wasp nests or other potential hazards inside.
• Once the horses are loaded into the trailer, be sure that the horses are comfortably tied to prevent them from getting caught under bars or dividers and to keep them from moving around too much. If a horse got stuck under a bar or divider, it could potentially end up with a broken neck or back. And, if the horses move around too much, the trailer load could become unbalanced and cause the driver to lose control of the rig. Also, make sure all doors are closed and properly latched, before you head out.
• Before getting out on a highway, drive down your driveway or a little ways down an access road. Then, stop and get out and check everything over again. In case you might have missed something the first time around, it might become apparent by this time.
Now that you're out on the road...
You've gone through all the pre-checks, the horses are loaded, and you're ready to get out on the highway. But, there are still things to consider while driving to your destination. After all, you want to arrive there safely with your precious cargo!
One thing that could come in handy, in case of an emergency, is a cell phone. If you don't have a cell phone, you should either invest in one, or install a CB radio in your tow vehicle. You never know when a situation might arise in which you need to contact help quickly.
As you drive down the highway, you cannot be too cautious! Remember that a loaded trailer is heavy and puts extra strain on the tow vehicle. Your stopping distance will be longer. Your acceleration will be slower. Watch your speed! If there is a posted speed limit for trailers, adhere to it. If not, keep your speed down to at least 5 mph below the posted limit, and NEVER follow too closely behind another vehicle!
Always be aware of the load that you are hauling. Use your rearview mirrors frequently. Use your turn signal to let other drivers know of your intention to turn or change lanes. Change lanes gradually, and keep forward motion and tension on the hitch to prevent loss of control due to trailer sway. Should the trailer begin to sway, do not use the tow vehicle's brakes. Instead, apply the hand brake on the controller to the trailer in brief spurts. The tow vehicle will continue moving forward, while the trailer is slowed down enough to straighten out the rig. Once the tow vehicle and trailer are again under control, you may use the tow vehicle's brakes to slow down.
In case your trailer skids and goes into a jackknife, you should apply the brakes to your tow vehicle. In fact, hit the brakes hard! Look into your rearview mirror to see if the trailer is swinging out of your lane. If it is, let up on the brakes to regain traction. Avoid using the hand brake, because it is the trailer's brakes that have locked up and caused the skid. Once the wheels regain traction, the trailer will begin to straighten out and follow the tow vehicle.
When traveling up or down steep hills, use a lower gear. If the trailer seems to pick up speed going downhill, use the hand brake to slow the trailer. When ascending a long, steep hill, downshift and keep your speed down to 45 mph to prevent too much strain and overheating of the engine.
Remember your equine passengers, as you travel down the road. Slow down in bumpy areas. Take turns slowly. Give the trailer a chance to complete the turn and straighten out, and allow time for the horses to regain their balance before resuming your normal speed.
Avoid parking on a grade, if at all possible. If you must park on a grade, use precaution. Have someone else chock the wheels, as you apply the regular brakes. Once the chocks are in place, release the brakes and allow the chocks to absorb the load. Now, reapply the regular brakes, set the parking brake, put the transmission into the parking gear, and release the regular brakes. When it's time to leave, apply regular brakes while starting the vehicle. Release the parking brake and then release the regular brakes. Drive just until the chocks are free. Reapply the regular brakes, as someone else removes the chocks.
Items to carry with you on trips:
• Always, always carry a first-aid kit with you, and make sure that it is fully stocked!
• Bring along extra water for drinking and for cleaning wounds, should any occur.
• Have an emergency kit that contains your identification, insurance papers, vehicle license and registration papers, as well as a list of names and numbers to be contacted in case of an emergency. This contact list should include your veterinarian and relatives or friends that you wish to be reached.
• If you're going to be traveling down an interstate, be sure to carry up-to-date equine health certificates and proof of negative Coggins (EIA).
• Keep in your tow vehicle a jack, tire iron, spare tire, jumper cables, spare belts and hoses, a tool kit, tow chain, replacement fuses, work gloves, portable air compressor, road atlas, cash and/or credit card.
• Store in your trailer a spare tire (for the trailer), a tire iron and jack (if trailer takes a different size than the tow vehicle), chocks, 3 emergency triangles, flashlight, electrical and duct tape, equine first aid kit with splint, knife, buckets and sponge, a spare halter and lead rope, spare bulbs and fuses, WD-40, fire extinguisher, broom, pitchfork, shovel, insect spray, and manure disposal bags.
• If you're traveling during winter months, you should bring some extra horse blankets, extra people blankets, sand, red flag for your antenna (if you get stranded), a candle, lighter or matches, and tire chains.
When you're fully prepared and fully aware, traveling with your horses can be a pleasant experience!