Are you doing things right when it comes to horse trailer safety? We discovered that, despite good intentions, many people are making dangerous mistakes when they trailer their horses. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of our top 15 safety tips to make sure every ‘hitch up’ goes smoothly and without incident.
Tip #1: Use a properly equipped tow vehicle and hitch.
This may seem like Trailering 101, but this is actually a very common mistake! People will often buy a state-of-the-art new vehicle and assume that it is able to tow a fully loaded trailer. We’ve even caught dishonest salesman trying to mislead buyers on the sales lot. An improperly matched truck, hitch, and trailer combo can cause disaster on the road.
Learn about the tongue weight of your horse trailer and make sure that your hitch is up to the challenge. Then, double check that your tow vehicle is able to handle a fully loaded trailer. You may need to consider an add-on like weight distribution arms (sway bars) to safely tow your rig.
Tip #2: Hang your hay net high off the ground.
You may pack a hay net to its limit to keep your horse happily munching during a trip. Just remember that the bottom of the net is going to sag lower and lower as it is emptied. One vet we spoke with described how some horses can paw at the base of the net and get their leg tangled in the nylon ropes.
First off, a horse with a stuck leg is not a happy horse. Secondly, binding nylon rope can cause severe damage to the delicate soft tissues at the back of their leg. Much like an improperly applied leg wrap, this tourniquet effect can cause bowed tendons and lasting injury.
Tip #3: Do a full pre-flight check on your trailer before setting out.
Many trailers are stored outdoors so they are exposed to the elements. Rain, ice, and the hot sun, can wreak havoc on your trailer weakening it over time. Tire rubber can become stiff and brittle causing sudden blow outs while on the road. They should be changed regularly even if tires are not worn down. Also check for rust, weakened floorboards, faulty signal lights, sharp exposed surfaces and even nests from stinging insects.
One of our readers, Willis Lamm, shared his experience with unhappy bugs, “They can build nests along the ceiling, inside tubing, and channels, and get really upset when you drive off!”
Tip #4: Learn how to properly apply shipping wraps.
Horses have very delicate legs so it’s definitely important that you learn the “dos and the don’ts” of leg protection. Know when it’s a good idea to use leg wraps, when shipping boots are better, and when you’d be better off leaving your horse’s legs naked. Also, learn how to avoid bowed tendons from improperly applied wraps. If you’re not sure, it’s best to have an experienced horse person teach you.
Tip #5: Don’t saddle your horse before trailering.
Sure, it’s more convenient to arrive at your destination with a horse saddled and ready to go. But, stirrups hanging on the side of a horse’s body can be uncomfortable during travel if your horse tends to lean against the dividers. This may make them become trailer shy over time.
Tip #6: Always tether your horses in a stock trailer for proper load distribution.
Every trailer that comes from Double D Trailers is custom designed for your specific needs. That means we know a thing or two about load distribution and safe towing. Owner Brad Heath had this to say about untethered horses in stock trailers:
“I've seen owners hauling horses untethered without support/partitions in stock trailers. In a bumper pull this is very unsafe as a horse can easily throw the trailer off balance with the weight being too much on the back axle. Especially if a center gate latch fails and the horse step towards the rear of the trailer. This can create "negative" tongue weight which will try to lift the back end of the tow vehicle. The trailer will sway and can quickly cause the driver to lose control or wreck.”
Tip #7: Practice trailering with your horse.
Even the most well behaved horse can become trailer sour if he goes several seasons without travel. Make it a regular habit to practice loading, unloading, and traveling with your horse. In addition, give your horse time to acclimate to a brand new trailer before setting off on a big trip. Remember that horses see trailers as ‘traps’ and it can take some time for them to build up their confidence when faced with a new rig.
Tip #8: Be selective with your horse’s travel mates.
Some horses are not good travelers and they can actually put your horse and trailer at risk during a trip. One vet we spoke with explained that it is often the other horses who kick or move around during a trip that can cause leg injury to your horse. If you know that a horse is a poor traveler, you’d be better off telling that friend that you can’t accommodate them on your trailer. Your friend may be a bit put off by the refusal, but it’s better than other arguments you could be having about expensive vet or trailer repair bills.
Tip #9: Check that your trailer is not too hot and your horse is well hydrated.
Aluminum horse trailers with mill-finished roofs can become dangerously hot during the summer months. Any horse trapped in this situation is in danger of dehydration from excessive sweating and heat exhaustion. That is why we always recommend a double layer insulated roof like our SafeBump design.
You should also make sure your horse stays well hydrated over long trips. Read this article to learn how to check for signs of dehydration and tricks to make them drink more water when they need it.
Tip #10: Drive responsibly.
If your regular driving habits don’t change at all when there are horses behind you, then something is wrong. You should be conscious of their presence and use safe driving practices like gradual turns, slower deceleration, and more frequent stops to ensure they have a pleasant ride. Learn more driving tips here.
Tip #11: Don’t let your horse hang its head out of a trailer window during travel.
Heads, tails, or any body part really. A horse trailer is designed to protect your horse while he’s inside the trailer. As soon as part of his body is hanging out, he is more at risk. Eyes can be injured by flying road debris and horses can be ejected during severe accidents. Do your horse a favor and close the safety bars on the windows.
Tip #12: Never leave a loaded horse unattended with the doors or windows open.
When you first arrive to an event, it may seem convenient to leave your horse in the trailer while you go register, meet friends, or find your bearings. Just make sure that someone else stays back with the horses. We’ve heard stories of horses literally trying to leap through manger windows in panic situations. Small windows…big horse… you do the math.
Tip #13: Don’t transport horses in a bumper pull designed for other livestock.
Horse trailers are specifically designed with tongue weight and axle placement to handle the weight of horses. If you are using a trailer designed for much smaller livestock to transport horses, then you are throwing off the balance of the trailer and putting yourself at risk for a traffic accident. Negative tongue weight can be caused when there is too much weight at the rear of the trailer causing the front end to lift up. This, in turn, lifts up the rear of your truck which can impact your steering and braking.
Brad Heath explained, “I always get very, very anxious when I'm anywhere near a horse being hauled in a bumper pull “stock" trailer which is really designed for cattle, sheep and goats, and not for horses.”
Tip #14: Untie your horse before opening the rear divider to offload.
Loading and unloading are undoubtedly some of the trickiest aspects of trailering a horse. Our innovative SafeTack designs help alive some of this challenge with a design that allows many horses to simply walk straight onto and off of a trailer.
Still, if you need to back your horse from a trailer, be sure to untie his halter before lowering the rear divider. Most horses are very sensitive to that pressure from the rear divider or butt bar. As soon as they feel that pressure removed, they want to back up regardless of whether they are still clipped in the front. A panicked horse can do serious injury to himself in this situation.
Tip #15: When in doubt…ask for help!
If you there is an aspect of trailering that has you stumped, check for help from your network. A trusted trainer or friend may be able to help you teach your horses to better handle a situation. If your question is in regards to towing or trailer design, send us a message, and we’ll help you out!
What are some more safety tips that you’d recommend for our readers? Thank you to the people who have replied in the past with their suggestions.