Tips for Trailering
Having a horse trailer at your disposal brings the freedom to take your horse places—clinics, shows, trails or the beach. It also gives you the peace of knowing you can truck your horse out at a moment's notice for urgent medical care should the need arise. But owning and operating a trailer means added responsibilities and concerns if you want to do it well.
So if you're new to trailer ownership or are looking for some extra help with hauling, here are some suggestions on trucking procedures, horse health and driving tips, and lists of both necessary and luxury items for your trailer.
Before You Head Out
Consider obtaining a roadside assistance plan from US Rider, which specializes in covering horse vans, tow vehicles and trailers carrying horses. Their technicians are equipped to help you if you break down on the side of the road while hauling your horse. They also have access to emergency stabling locations in the event that your trailer is unfit to complete your trip. Their help is invaluable if you break down on the highway.
With the exception of an urgent medical situation during which you've been asked by a veterinarian to truck your horse to a hospital, you should always make sure your horse has been eating and drinking normally and producing a normal amount of manure before you haul it. Trucking is stressful for horses, and stress can exacerbate illness in a compromised horse. Your trip should be postponed if your horse isn't feeling well. If you are unsure as to whether your horse is feeling in top condition to travel, check your horse's respiration, pulse and temperature along with his hydration level and other vital signs before taking him on a long trip. See How to Use Equine Vital Signs for details.
Try to take someone with you whenever you're hauling a horse. Many trailer-related injuries result from the loading and unloading process, and having an assistant to help you at these times can be invaluable. You'll also appreciate the help in the event of an unforeseen circumstance, such as a breakdown or a detour on unfamiliar roads. Even if your trip is supposed to be relatively short, be prepared for traffic tie-ups or situations that can mean a longer time for your horse to be in the trailer. Bring enough water (2 to 3 gallons per horse) so that you can offer him a drink and check on his well-being. For long trips, plan stopping points in advance.
If you're crossing state lines, take your horse's negative Coggins (proof of negative EIA) along with a health certificate and record of inoculations.
Prior to loading your horse, inspect your trailer for bee and hornet's nests. They can be built virtually overnight, and you don't want to lock your horse into a trailer with an active nest. Each time you prepare to haul your horse, double check your hookup, emergency braking system and safety chains, and that the directional, road and parking lights on your trailer are functioning. Check that the side mirrors on your tow vehicle are positioned correctly so that you can see your blind spots. Also confirm that trailer doors and latches are secure, and that you have adequate tire pressure on both your towing vehicle and your trailer.
At least once monthly and before every long trip, check your tire pressure when the tires are cold. Remember to check the spare trailer tire too. Refer to your owner's manual or the sticker located on your vehicle's door jamb for the proper tire pressure. The pressure listed on a tire indicates how much pressure it can hold, not the recommended operating pressure. Properly inflated tires allow your vehicles to run smoothly, reduce gas consumption and are less likely to have blowouts. According to US Rider, improper tire pressure is the leading cause for roadside service assistance. Should a flat tire occur on either your truck or trailer, however, their technicians are equipped to change it.
Plan to have a trained mechanic inspect your trailer at least once per year. Many people choose to have their trailers looked at twice yearly. Be sure the floorboards, axels, ramp, brakes, hitch and emergency braking system are checked and tested. Watch for signs of rust on the trailer, and consult your mechanic as to how it can be treated and whether it poses a hazard.
Trailer mechanics can obtain window repair and replacement kits to fix broken trailer windows, so your inspection is the time to report any difficulties in their operation as well. If your trailer has drop-down windows, screens should be in place so that a horse cannot stick his head out during trucking.
Many trailer-related injuries to horses occur during loading/unloading, so you should work with your horse at home to train him to load and unload calmly. You may wish to use properly fitted shipping boots or wraps to protect your horse's legs during loading. Conduct training sessions with a helper when neither of you will feel rushed nor are likely to become frustrated if your horse is uncooperative. Consult a reputable trainer for help if your horse's loading behavior is uncontrollable or dangerous. If you truck your horse only infrequently, consider loading and unloading him periodically to keep his training sharp.
Use floor mats in your trailer for non-slip footing. Shavings can generate dust and can contribute to poor respiratory conditions inside trailers. If you use shavings, be sure they are dust free. If conditions are rainy or snowy when you arrive at your destination, close up the back of your trailer. Doing so will keep your ramp or step and floor mats dry—and less slippery—for when you need to reload your horse. Cocomats designed for trailers can be applied to ramps to provide a slip-free footing as well.
Horse Health Concerns During Trucking
Make sure your horse wears either a leather halter or breakaway halter for trucking. These halters should break if your horse becomes entangled or falls on the trailer. Some haulers use breakaway trailer ties or twine in conjunction with their trailer ties so that the horse will break free if he falls. Other haulers choose not to tie a horse at all in a trailer to the horse to move his head freely in efforts to maintain balance. The choice that is right for you depends on your horse's personality and whether he is sharing his ride with another horse with whom he might fight.
Shipping halters encased with sheepskin, or halter fleece kits that can be attached to your regular halter, provide soft protection from rubbing for horses with sensitive facial skin. Head bumpers or horse helmets designed to protect the vulnerable poll are also available for horses that are likely to raise their heads high.
Avoid giving grain to a horse during trucking. Be sure the horse's last grain meal has had time to fully digest prior to hauling, and wait a bit for the horse to relax and drink water after a trip before providing a grain meal.
Hay is a comfort food for a horse during hauling, and is important to keep the horse's digestive system functioning during the stress of a trip. Rely on plenty of hay to keep the horse calm and occupied. However, hay generates airborne particles and dust that can fly into your horse's eyes and respiratory system during a trip. For this reason, some people wet hay to reduce dust in a trailer, and other people place fly masks on their horses for trucking.