Whether you are going to a horse show, a weekend camping trip or attending a riding clinic at a local stable, trailering your horse is going to be involved. Below are 10 Trailering Tips that will help to make your horse’s next ride stress free.
- Load your horse last. After you have gassed up the truck, loaded your tack, feed, clothing, hitched the trailer, checked that the brake lights and turn signals are working, then and only then should you bring your horse out of his stall. Leaving your horse standing in a hot, enclosed trailer while you try to remember where you left your boots or the cook stove for your camping trip, is just not going to get it done. Not only is it tough on the horse, it is tough on the trailer that will often get kicked by the stressed out, impatient horse within.
- Make sure your horse is comfortable. Long before you load your horse, check the floor of the trailer for soundness. Install rubber mats for traction. Install padded bumpers on the sides of your horse’s stall so if he loses his footing, he will be able to brace himself. Make sure he has food to nibble on, plenty of ventilation and enough room. If you have a tall horse, be sure to get a trailer that has extra height.
- Clean the trailer regularly. A urine/manure-soaked floor is going to be a slippery and very unpleasant place to spend time. I recommend sweeping out and hosing clean the trailer immediately after each use. Urine and manure are tough on floorboards and the longer you leave those substances on that surface, the sooner you will find yourself replacing the floor.
- Final walk-around. Once the horse is loaded, take one final walk around the truck and trailer to make certain all doors are secured. Take one final look at the hitch to ensure it is properly fastened and the safety chains/sway bars are in place. Only now you are ready to go.
- Time stop lights. When I was just learning to drive, my father used to yell at me when I would have to stop at a light. He told me there was no excuse for getting stuck at a red light, if you are paying attention. While there are times when it can’t be avoided, remember that every time you stop and start up again, you are jarring your horse somewhat. Ideally, if you are riding (driving) ahead, you should be able to see the light far enough in advance that you can adjust your speed to get you there when it is green. The trick to a smooth ride for your horse is to keep the trailer moving forward in a steady fashion. A fun exercise is to ask your spouse or a good friend to accompany you for a practice drive. Hitch up the trailer, but don’t take your horses. Give your friend a full glass of water for them to hold while you drive around town. If you are a smooth, thoughtful driver, your friend will be dry at the end of the trip. However, if your friend is soaking wet by the time you get back to the barn, you need to work on your driving skills.
- Turning a trailer. Remember that when you hitch up a horse trailer, the length of your vehicle has at least doubled. This means that you have to swing wider and plan your turns better to avoid climbing up on the curbs. This will tip the trailer and make your horse unbalanced. If you are really uncomfortable turning a trailer, I would recommend investing in a 5th wheel or gooseneck, rather than a bumper pull trailer. These are easier to turn, and easier to back.
- Stopping. As I mentioned above, the longer your vehicle and the heavier your load, the longer it will take to stop. Keep this in mind when you are hauling your horse in traffic. When you apply your vehicle brakes, the trailer is going to continue moving forward. In effect, pushing your truck forward. For this reason, I recommend installing brakes on the trailer that will engage at the same time your truck brakes engage. This pushing problem really comes into play if you are driving downhill. For anyone who has ever hauled horses in the mountains, you know exactly what I mean. It can be frightening to be on a downgrade and feel yourself speeding up because the trailer is pushing you.
- Plan ahead. Just like lining up at the end of a Western Pleasure class, the smart rider has a plan before they make the turn off the rail into the line-up. That way, they are sure to come in straight and have plenty of room between them and the horses on either side. The same applies when you are hauling. Don’t just plow into the parking lot of the show or campgrounds without first scoping out the terrain, the footing, the proximity to shade, other trailers and the location of the exit. Taking an extra minute or two to do this can make the difference between enjoying the cool shade of a big tree on level ground or smelling the porta-potties all day and getting stuck in the mud!
- Backing your trailer. In a perfect world, if you plan ahead, you should rarely need to back your trailer. With that said, and recognizing that Murphy’s Law rules (anything that can go wrong will go wrong), I recommend that you practice backing until you are good at it. If you do that, you will probably never need to back the trailer! Choose a time during the day when your local Kmart, local school or shopping mall parking lot is empty. Hitch up the trailer - without horses – take along a helper and spend a couple of hours backing in and out of the marked parking places. The helper can get out of the truck and direct you from behind until you get the hang of things. Practice using your truck mirrors. Try it at first coming in straight and backing out straight. When you have mastered that, try pulling in on an angle and try backing along the curb in a straight line. Notice how your steering wheel works in relationship to the tail end of the trailer. Also notice the delay time between when you start to move the steering wheel and when you begin to see the trailer react. The more familiar you become with your truck and trailer, the more pleasurable and stress free hauling your horse will be.
- Unload your horse first. When you arrive at your destination, don’t leave your horse standing in a hot trailer while you unpack or set up camp. You wouldn’t leave your child in the car, in the sun, while you unloaded the groceries and you shouldn’t leave your horse standing in a hot trailer. A good exercise for new haulers is to get a standard outdoor thermometer. Park your trailer at home in the sun and insert the thermometer into the trailer at about the same level that your horse’s head would normally be. Do this exercise without your horse. Come back in 10 – 15 minutes and check the difference between the outside temperature and the temperature in the trailer. If you don’t own an outdoor thermometer, try standing in the trailer on your own for the same 10 – 15 minutes and see what you think. To get the true effect, try this exercise after your horse has been hauled and before you clean out the urine and manure. I guarantee that you will have a life changing 10 – 15 minutes!
Many drivers forget that while you are secure in the cab wearing a seat belt, your horse is in the trailer without a seatbelt and he can’t see what’s coming. When you see the stop light change to yellow as you approach, you unconsciously brace yourself. However, your horse has no idea this is happening, until you hit the brakes. If you stop thinking that you are hauling a big, tough horse and instead, imagine you are hauling your mother in-law’s favorite lamp, your wedding china, or your personal computer back there, your horse will be better for it!
About the author: Bonnie Marlewski-Probert has worked in the horse industry for more than 20 years as a riding instructor, trainer, speaker and author. Her personally autographed books are available at http://horsetalesforthesoul.com.