Ensuring Safety on the Road with Your Horse

When you’re gearing up for a journey with your equine companion, safety should always be your top priority. Many horse owners instinctively think about the trailer itself, but it’s crucial to recognize that safety starts with the tow vehicle. This article outlines essential safety measures to take when transporting your horse, covering both the vehicle and the trailer.

Prioritize Vehicle Maintenance

It’s common for horse owners to focus on the trailer, but the foundation of safety lies in the condition of your tow vehicle. Regular servicing and maintenance are essential to keep it in top shape.

One common mistake is overestimating the towing capacity of your vehicle. Always adhere to the gross vehicle weight limits specified in your owner’s manual. Remember, this weight includes not just the trailer and horse(s) but also any additional items loaded into the trailer.

Ensure your vehicle is equipped with the appropriate hitch for hauling a horse trailer and that it is securely attached to the frame. A bumper hitch is insufficient and unsafe for transporting horses. While tow mirrors aren’t mandatory, they significantly improve your visibility of the trailer.

Tire Care Matters

Proper tire maintenance is vital for both your tow vehicle and horse trailer. Pay attention to the age of the tires. You can determine their age by locating the year date on the sidewall. Don’t solely rely on tire appearance, as many trailers are infrequently used, and the tread may appear fine while internal deterioration is occurring.

Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, President of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER), recommends replacing tires older than five years. Even if tires are in good condition, they must be correctly inflated. Invest in a tire gauge to ensure proper inflation and don’t forget to check the spare tire.

Gimenez also emphasizes the importance of greasing and packing bearings annually, regardless of how frequently you use your trailer. In case of doubt or if you lack expertise in maintaining your trailer, consulting a reliable mechanic or trailer shop for an annual check-up is a prudent move, as most states do not mandate annual trailer inspections.

Secure Hitching

Ensuring a secure hitch connection is paramount. The ball on your receiver must precisely match the trailer hitch size to prevent accidental unhitching. After hitching, use a pin or locking mechanism to keep it securely in place, preventing tampering or accidental disconnection.

Don’t overlook the pin holding your receiver in the hitch; replace it if it shows any signs of wear or tear. Connecting safety chains or cables from the trailer to the tow vehicle is also essential.

Lights and Brakes

Before departing, meticulously check the functionality of your trailer’s lights and brakes. Verify that your vehicle’s brake control box is engaged and functioning correctly with the trailer brakes.

Safety Inside the Trailer

Inspect the flooring of your horse trailer regularly. Even if it appears to be in good condition, wooden floors should be replaced every ten years due to the deteriorating effects of manure and urine. Consider alternatives such as poured-in rubber material or composite material boards.

While rubber mats offer traction, adding a layer of shavings provides cushioning and comfort for your horse, especially during extended trips. Ensure you use large flake shavings to minimize dust particles inside the trailer.

Avoid storing tack and equipment in the front of the trailer unless a dividing wall separates it from the horse compartment. In the absence of a barrier, any objects in this area can become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident or sudden braking.

Prepare Your Horse

Prepare your horse for travel by familiarizing them with the loading and unloading process. If you plan to use leg protection during travel, introduce your horse to wraps or boots well in advance of putting them in a trailer. Introducing new legwear right before transport can increase your horse’s anxiety.

During travel, hang a hay bag or net in the trailer so your horse has access to forage, promoting a more comfortable journey. If possible, bring water from home or acclimate your horse to water flavored with a bit of molasses or Kool-Aid (using the unsweetened envelope) to encourage them to drink.

When driving with your horse in tow, prioritize their safety. Practice gradual acceleration and braking, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles to avoid sharp turns or sudden stops. Remember, you’re transporting precious cargo, so adopt a defensive driving approach.

Handy Checklist

To ensure a safe trip, consider using a checklist that you can refer to every time you transport your horse. Missing even one detail can make the difference between a successful outing and a potential disaster. Take personal responsibility for safety; if someone else connects the trailer, double-check everything carefully. Here’s a checklist to help you:

  • Verify that you have up-to-date Coggins papers and all necessary horse health documents, including your own emergency contact information.
  • Ensure that your first aid kits are well-stocked and up-to-date.
  • Check the condition and air pressure of all tires, including spares, on both the trailer and tow vehicle.
  • Examine the fluids in your tow vehicle.
  • Start your journey with a full tank of gas.
  • Hitch the trailer and double-check all connections, including safety chains and cables.
  • Inspect the inside of the trailer before loading your horses to ensure there are no hazards or damage.
  • Open vents and windows, but make sure your horses cannot extend their heads outside the trailer.
  • Confirm that all lights and brakes are working, and have someone stand behind the trailer to verify light functionality.
  • Recheck the brakes once your horses are loaded and ensure that the brake control box in the tow vehicle registers the engagement of the trailer brakes.
  • After loading your horses, double-check that all latches and doors are securely closed.
  • Drive with your headlights on for added visibility.
  • Whenever your trailer has been parked unattended at a show, event, trailhead, or rest area, always double-check your tow vehicle, hitch, and trailer to ensure everything is in order before hitting the road again.

By following these safety measures and maintaining a diligent approach to preparation, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with traveling with your horse. Safety should always be the top priority when embarking on any journey with your cherished equine partner.Top of FormBottom of Form

By Staff writer