Imagine if someone suggested that you stood blindfold in a container while they swung it from side to side and then slammed it to a sudden stop. You would probably not enjoy the experience. And yet this is exactly what we subject our horses to every time we take them on a journey. Is there any wonder then that many horses become unwilling to go into a trailer? Take a ride in your horse trailer (not on the road as it is illegal) and you will be surprised how it feels each time the trailer turns or stops.
Whenever you take your horses out on the road, whether for a short or long trip, you are putting yourself and your horses at a certain amount of risk. Your vehicle or trailer don’t have to be new, but it is very important that they are in good working condition and that the towing vehicle is the correct weight for the load it has to pull.
Careful driving and taking a few sensible precautions will enable you to make the journey as comfortable as possible for your horse. Always think about your passenger in the trailer. Give the horse time to prepare for stops, do not accelerate quickly and make sure that the trailer has cleared the turn and has straightened out and the horses have regained their balance before returning to normal speed. Travel carefully over bumpy roads.
If trailering is new to you, practice driving with the trailer empty. Know how to park and back up before you go out on the road. Backing is not so hard once you know the secret. Put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. If you want the back of the trailer to go to the left, turn your hand to the left. If you want the back of the trailer to turn right, turn your hand to the right. If you want the trailer to move sharply turn the steering wheel before you move the vehicle. If you want to turn more gradually turn the steering wheel as the vehicle is moving.
If you are only hauling one horse put him on the driver’s side of the trailer. If you are hauling more than one horse, put the heaviest one on the driver’s side. Most roads are crowned in the middle, so by putting the heaviest part of the load on the higher side it will help balance the trailer. Never put a horse backward in a trailer that is not designed for it. This will change the weight balance of the trailer and make driving dangerous.
When the horses are loaded make sure that all of the doors are latched properly and that the horses are securely tied. Untied horses can get stuck under bars or dividers, which could cause a broken neck or back, or they could move around too much which may unbalance the load and cause loss of control of the vehicle.
Once you get out on the road, your driving requires some special precautions. Loaded horse trailers are heavy. The extra weight puts more strain on the tow vehicle and stopping distances become longer. You will also not be able to accelerate as quickly. These problems will be emphasised if you are close to your maximum towing capacity. A good precaution is to drive under the speed limit, keep a good distance behind the vehicle in front of you and don’t try to dart into a line of traffic. The speed limit for vehicles towing a trailer is 80kmph. Don’t let other drivers push you to drive faster. You are bigger than they are, so let them deal with it. However do be considerate and don’t act like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with a long line of traffic and frustrated drivers behind you. Pull over when you get the chance and let the faster traffic past.
When driving on dual carriage ways or motorways change lanes gradually. Make sure that you give clear signals so that your intentions are clear to those behind and next to you. Make good use of your rear view mirrors. Keep forward motion and tension on the hitch to prevent loss of control from trailer sway. If the trailer starts to sway do not slam on the brakes, but instead brake in short spurts, this will slow the trailer behind you and keeps the tow vehicle going forwards, which should result in straightening out the combination. A jackknife caused by a trailer skid must be handled differently. If you have to apply the brakes hard to the towing vehicle, check in your rear view mirror to make sure that the trailer is not jackknifing out of control. If you see the trailer swinging out of your lane, stop using the brake. Release the brakes to get the traction back. Once the wheels grip the road again the trailer will start to follow the tow vehicle and straighten out.
Frequently look at the trailer through the rear view mirror. Try to be aware of what is going on behind you. Keep radio noise to a minimum so that you can hear if anything is wrong with the horses or the trailer. If you feel or hear anything out of the ordinary and you wonder ‘what was that?’ pull over as soon as it is safe, stop, get out and check it out. The little bumping noise or funny feels could be the start of something very serious.
Before you set out on a journey check the towing vehicle, check and replenish engine fluid levels and wiper fluid. Make sure the rear view mirrors are properly adjusted and that you know how to use them. Check the tyre pressures in all of the vehicles, improper or uneven tyre pressure is responsible for most towing problems and low tyre pressure is often the cause of tyre failure. Driving with tyres that have a low pressure can also cause higher fuel consumption. Check the nuts on the wheels periodically. Check over the trailer for wasp’s nests and other hazards. Check the trailer hitch and trailer brakes and ensure that all of the lights are working. Take a cell phone with you in case of a breakdown or accident. It is a good idea to keep a human emergency kit in your vehicle and make sure that you have identification, insurance papers and drivers licence. In case of an accident keep a list, in a conspicuous place, where it can easily be seen, of people and telephone numbers who could be called in case of emergency. These should include your vet’s number, plus relatives and friends, who would be familiar with you and your animals. Carry an emergency kit with you. Consider taking extra water as part of this kit. In an emergency situation, you may need water for cleaning injuries or as a bath to cool of an over heated horse. It is a good idea to also carry emergency triangles, flashlight, spare bulbs and fuses in case of minor breakdowns. No one ever wants to have an accident or to be stranded out on the highway with horses in tow. Take precautions and be prepared for the worst and you should be able to handle any of those unexpected developments that life hands out.
Image Credit: Shutterstock