December 13, 2019

Safety Considerations While Traveling with Horses

Be Prepared for a Safe Trip

Whether driving a few miles to an event with your horse or planning a trip, there are some considerations before you begin your journey. In this day and age staying at home with your horse limits the experiences you can enjoy. From local competitions to horse camping with friends, getting on the road is something most of us do with our horses. I have seen some of the coolest places from the back of a horse (Like riding through Yellowstone National Park) and can’t imagine not being able to load up and head out. Here are some things to consider before embarking on your journey, whether 5 miles or 5 hours.

Getting ready for the trip to Yellowstone.
Getting ready to head out for Yellowstone

Making Your Hauling Experience Safe for your Horse

There are two very important items to master before heading out with your truck and trailer. First of all be familiar with your truck and trailer. If you’re driving a new or different rig be sure you’re comfortable driving on the freeway, entering driveways, backing and handling your new rig empty before adding the precious cargo. If you’re new to pulling a trailer I would suggest taking a driving course to help you get comfortable handling your new rig. Hauling one or more 1,000-pound live animals that can move unexpectedly is scary if you’ve never hauled livestock before.

Secondly, make sure your horse loads readily and hauls well. Practice hauling on short trips before heading out on a long trip. Train your horse to load safely and willingly. In an emergency you need to be able to load up quickly. When a horse is already scared it’s much more difficult, but if you’ve trained them and made sure they load easily you’ll be ready in case of fire or other natural disaster. Learn to drive smoothly. Be slow to accelerate and brake. They are standing on 4 legs in a moving vehicle so keep that in mind when coming to a stop, cornering, switching lanes and stopping.

Thoughts on Trailer selection

If you are thinking about the best setup for you and your horse creating a list of activities you’ll be doing, how far you’ll be driving and if you’ll be camping overnight, are all considerations. Do you need more than a two-horse trailer? Remember the bigger the trailer, the more weight and length you’ll be handling and maneuvering. If buying used, be sure and have your trailer checked out thoroughly by a trailer dealer or certified shop. Floorboards and wheel bearings are often overlooked and can be a disaster if left unchecked.

Check your floorboards and frame annually

If you’re thinking about a gooseneck or living quarter be prepared for a trailer that handles and maneuvers very differently than a bumper pull. A bumper-pull will pretty much follow you while a gooseneck can cut the corner significantly so be sure and learn where your rear axles are and understand that this is your turning guideline. Many times, in turning off a street into a driveway, you lose sight of the rear of your trailer when making right hand turns. Get out and look if you’re unsure where your rear wheels are going to end up in the turn. I’ve seen people drop their trailer into a ditch or hit a curb cutting a corner too short.

2 Horse Trailer weighing about 3500# empty. 3/4 Ton Truck
33' Living Quarters - 2 Horse, 9000# Empty.
3/4 Ton Truck fitted with Banks Braking System and Airbags

Know your rig

Plan your route ahead of time, check out the parking without your trailer the first time you go to an unfamiliar place. Unless you’re a seasoned truck/trailer driver you can get yourself into a tight spot you may not get out of if you’ve driven down a road without a turnaround. Plan, plan, plan. There are tricks to driving with your trailer and most of us have learned by doing. I recommend taking a truck driving course or find an experienced instructor to help you learn how to handle and maneuver your rig. When I purchased my Living Quarter from the dealer, she took me out driving so I could learn how a gooseneck handles. Buying from an experienced horse person like, Maggi Clark, at Bickford Trailers in Snohomish makes the experience so much easier!

Participants learn how to maneuver their own rigs

I also took a truck driving course designed for people with horse trailers. The instructor, Glen McGoff, who owns North Cross Commercial Driving School, taught a trailer handling course in a grass field where we could easily maneuver through cones learning to turn and back safely. It was much easier on the gooseneck axles when making sharp turns as well. He walked along beside us as we learned how to back which is the biggest challenge for most horse people. Even though I’ve driven trucks and trailers most of my life, learning to drive a gooseneck was a bit of a challenge as well. Where the wheels are set on the trailer make a big difference as well. With a 2-horse Living Quarter the wheels are almost all the way at the back, so your turning radius is much more of a challenge when entering driveways. Glen mentioned the biggest mistake drivers’ make is not taking the time to get out and look when unsure of their surroundings

Truck Considerations

I’ve seen far too many people driving small SUV’s pulling a horse trailer. Usually the mirrors don’t see past the trailer, creating an unsafe situation for the driver and horses. A truck that’s too small doesn’t have the stopping capacity of a full-size truck either. Many half-ton trucks are capable of pulling a two-horse trailer on the flat, but I wouldn’t recommend pulling the pass with a truck that’s too small for the job. Know your tow vehicles specifications as well as the weight of your trailer. I wouldn’t recommend anything smaller than a 2500 hundred (3/4 ton) or 3500 (1 ton). You may even want to consider a dually for pulling a larger living quarter trailer.

Before the Trip

The Truck: Make sure your truck has been properly maintained with regular oil changes and checkups at your mechanic or dealer. Do a pre-check with your dealer before going on a long trip. If all looks good, you’re ready to go. Before embarking do one more pass by checking the oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, radiator and tire pressure. Many tire places, such as Les Schwab, will check the air in your tires complimentary. Check your hitch! Be sure the undercarriage hitch on your bumper pull looks strong (no cracks or visible wear). Carry an extra cotter pin for the coupler and pin for the hitch.

The Trailer: Check your tire pressure. If the trailer has been sitting for a while it may need air. Check for visible wear and cracks. Check your wheel bearings. Make sure that you have them packed by a reputable shop annually. Check your breakaway battery. It needs a charge to work should your truck and trailer be separated. It’s illegal to have a faulty breakaway system. Finally check your floorboards. Pull the mats and check that the wood is firm and safe. Lastly, know that your lights and brakes work.

Final Thoughts

Be sure that you have good towing coverage. Most auto policies will not cover a trailer or live animals. There are a few companies such as US Rider or Trailguard designed for people who haul horses. Do check your insurance policy. At the very least have towing coverage for your vehicle and have good friends who will come and get your trailer in an emergency. I had quite an adventure a few years ago hauling my horse over Stevens Pass. Read about the adventure here.

Lastly, I’ve created a handy preflight checklist you can download here.

Happy Trails!

Images by NW Horse Source

Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages. Since then, it has grown into beautiful, all-gloss magazine with the largest coverage of any free equine publication in the Northwest – a distribution of over 16,000 copies and over 600 locations monthly. Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses! Today, Karen remains involved with every aspect of the magazine and treasures the community of thousands who share a common passion. Somewhere in the wee hours of the early mornings and late evenings, she still finds time to care for April, her gorgeous and sweet-tempered Quarter Horse.

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