Written by Brad Heath
Taking your eyes off the road for even a second can lead to serious and even fatal accidents while traveling. Any time you travel, you should be cautious of road hazards, other drivers, and dangerous conditions that could lead to disaster. When pulling a horse trailer, you need to be even more cautious than usual.
Towing a 3,000-to-4,000-pound trailer with your horses inside will make driving different than usual. Many people who aren’t used to hauling such a large weight put themselves and their horses in danger by not taking all the necessary safety precautions.
Since any and all types of road travel can be dangerous, it’ s important that know how to drive a horse trailer safely. Here, we’ve put together a check-list of safety features for your trailer and safety tips that will help you stay safe while on the road.
When it comes to trailering, what’s most important to us here at Double D Trailers is your safety and your horse’s safety. Whether you’re a new trailer owner who is learning to drive with a trailer or a veteran horse trailer traveler, there’s important safety reminders and tips for pulling a trailer in this article that will help you to have a safe and enjoyable journey.
In this article…
When it comes to you and your horse’s safety on the road, not all trailers are created equal. Does your trailer have all the necessary safety features to keep your horse safe? When examining your own horse trailer or looking for a new one, it’s important to look for certain safety features that will keep your horse well-protected in the case of an accident.
Make sure your trailer has a strong frame – one that’s not made of weak aluminum – that will keep your horse protected in an accident. The material your trailer is made out of is one of the most important things that will determine how strong and secure your trailer is. Aluminum trailers might seem appealing, but they will crumple like a soda can in an accident.
The best option in terms of trailer materials is Z-frame – a lightweight but strong material that is a combination of zinc and chromate. This material creates a trailer frame that’s simply the safest for your horse. But your trailer frame isn’t the only safety feature you need to look out for. There’s lots of other features that your trailer should have if you want your horse to be safe…
Horses seem to be experts at getting themselves stuck in awkward and sometimes dangerous situations. When horses are in trailers, it’s no different.
One horse owner told us that her horse was so determined to get out of the parked trailer that he jumped, well, tried to jump, through the open manger door – only to get stuck halfway through.
So, when your horse gets himself stuck somewhere in your trailer, it’s important your trailer is designed to be able to rescue him without any problems. Typically, horses can get stuck underneath horse trailer butt bars and chest bars, or on top of them as well.
For that reason, your trailer should have butt and chest bars that have quick release pins. These should work even when your horse’s full weight is pushing down on them. That way, you’ll be able to lower the bars even if your horse is stuck on top of them.
Don’t choose a trailer that has walls made of a single layer of aluminum metal. With one kick, your horse can punch through a wall or divider made out of this material, badly injuring his leg or hoof. Instead, look for a trailer with walls that are double-layered and insulated.
The ceiling and floor should also be double-layered to better protect your horse. A ceiling that is painted white will keep your horse cooler on hot summer days. Double D Trailers use a SafeBump roof system that is flexible yet durable. It’s a material that can withstand the force of your horse rearing up into it and also is safer on your horse’s head in the case that he does hit his head on the roof.
Also, choose a floor material that will be strong and durable enough to prevent floor failure. Don’t choose a trailer with aluminum floors, as these are the most prone to weakening, rusting, and breaking while on the road. Brad suggests floors made out of treated lumber or synthetic Rumber material.
Horses are very claustrophobic animals, and some trailers can seem like dark, scary cages that are just waiting to trap your horse forever. When your horse begins to sense danger, he’ll start to feel stressed. But there are certain trailer features that can minimize your horse’s stress and make for a much smoother trailer ride.
One major way to eliminate your horse’s stress is to make sure your trailer is spacious, open, and light. This will make your horse feel safe and comfortable, and he’ll be able to see around him, which will help him to be calm during travel. It’s also a good idea to find a trailer with lots of windows and tubular dividers around where your horse’s head will be. This will help him feel less trapped and will also improve airflow in the trailer – allowing your horse to breathe in fresh air instead of dust and other debris.
Another way to decrease your horse’s stress is to minimize noise inside the trailer. While you can’t completely eliminate all the noise of the road, having a well-insulated trailer will minimize the rattly trailer noise that can put your horse on edge. Look for a trailer that uses a 3M chemical bonding system for the walls and floor instead of bolts and screws that scrape and screech when the trailer is in motion.
Finally, make sure there’s enough horse trailer partition padding around the area where your horse’s legs are – trailers with thin, weak padding can leave sharp metal pieces exposed that can then scrape and bruise your horse’s legs. Since your horse will lean against the walls and horse trailer interior dividers to balance while your trailer is in motion, it’s essential that these areas are well-padded.
After you’ve designed a trailer that has all the safety features you need to keep your horse safe, now it’s time to hit the road. Right? Well, not so fast. Once you have your dream trailer and know how to hitch a horse trailer to your truck, it’s important to make sure your truck or towing vehicle can support your trailer’s weight.
Matching your tow vehicle and your hitch to your trailer can be a little complicated. It’s important to make sure your truck can pull your trailer without any problems. If your truck can’t haul the weight of your trailer, you could be putting yourself at risk of a serious road accident and a citation from the police.
Although it might seem like common sense, making sure your truck is strong enough to pulling your trailer is more complicated than it sounds. Many people buy an awesome new trailer only to discover that their current truck isn’t the right match.
That’s why you need to know how much your horse trailer’s tongue weight is, and how much your truck can pull. If you need help finding that information, check out this article that explains how to make sure your truck is a good match for pulling a horse trailer.
Most people store their trailers outdoors, where they get rained on, snowed on, and left out in the hot sun day after day. This can weaken your trailer over time, causing your tires to become stiff and the rubber to become brittle and breakable. To prevent tire blow outs while on the road, make sure to change your tires regularly, even if they aren’t worn out.
Before setting out, you should also check to make sure that all your signal lights and brake lights are working. Look for rust and weak floorboards as well. Anything that looks like it could be hazardous for your horse should be fixed before you hit the road.
Another thing to check for is insects and wasp nests – wasps especially can build nests along the ceiling and in the corners of your horse trailer and wreak havoc when the trailer starts moving. With a pre-flight check before your journey, you can avoid many problems that would otherwise ruin your trip.
Just like pulling a horse trailer for the first time can be stressful for you, and it can also be scary for your horse. Being in the trailer can be stressful for your horse, but you can help your horse have a good travel experience by preparing him for travel. This is especially important if you are going to be traveling long distances, to an out-of-state horse competition or destination.
To prepare your horse, make sure the days before travel you make sure your horse is well hydrated to prepare for the trip, especially if you are traveling in the summer. You can also add electrolyte supplements to your horse’s feed the day before the trip so your horse’s body can be well-nourished and hydrated.
It’s important to have water and feed inside your trailer for your horse to munch on during the trip. If you have a hay net inside your trailer, make sure you hang it high off the ground. As your horse eats out of it, it will sag lower and lower, and if it’s too close to the ground, your horse’s leg could get snagged in it. This could severely damage the soft tissues in your horse’s leg and cut off proper blood circulation, causing a serious injury.
Your horse’s legs are especially delicate and if not taken care of, can end up bruised and scraped because of travel. To prevent this, you can use leg wraps or shipping boots. However, leg wraps, if applied incorrectly, can do more harm than good. If you’re new to trailering and using these types of leg protections, it’s better to go with shipping boots.
Although shipping boots don’t offer the same leg support that leg wraps do, they can still protect your horse’s legs from cuts and scrapes while in the trailer. Make sure you buy the correct size shipping boots for your horse. If they are too big, they could slip off, and if they are too small, they could rub against your horse’s skin and cause abrasions.
If you’re trailering a horse for the first time and your horse has never used shipping boots or leg wraps before, they could be annoying and cause your horse additional stress. If it’s a hot summer day, this also wouldn’t be a good idea, as they could contribute to your horse overheating. However, if your horse travels with other horses that might kick them during travel, shipping boots could add an extra layer of protection.
While it might be convenient to saddle your horse before towing a horse trailer, so you can unload from the trailer and start riding right away, this is not a good idea. Having your horse in the trailer all saddled up can make your horse uncomfortable, especially if it’s a hot day. And, the stirrups hanging down on your horse’s side could become caught on something and cause your horse to become startled. It’s much better to saddle up after reaching your destination.
Some horse owners that have stock trailers decided to trailer their horses untethered. In a bumper pull trailer, this can be very dangerous. Since a horse is such a large animal, when untethered, a horse can easily throw the trailer off balance, putting excess weight on the back horse trailer axle. If your horse steps near the back of the trailer, this could drastically unbalance your truck and even lift up the back of your truck. A sudden change like this could cause the driver to lose control and end up in a serious road accident.
Always tether your horses in a stock trailer so that your horse’s weight is properly distributed among the stock trailer axels. When tying your horse, remember to leave some slack in the rope. This will allow your horse to use his head and neck for balance and make it less likely that he will fall during travel.
If you offer to haul a friend’s horse while towing a horse trailer with your horse, it’s important to know whether or not the two horses are good travelers. Transporting a horse that you and your horse are unfamiliar with could cause problems for both horse owners and horses.
Just imagine you arrive at your destination and unload your horse and your friend’s horse, only to find that your horse has bruises and scrapes all over his legs. You know your trailer has thick padding that protects your horse’s legs, and are surprised to see his injuries, since something like that has never happened before.
What you didn’t know is that your friend’s horse becomes stressed and frantic in trailers, and often reacts by rearing up and kicking around in the trailer. Most of the time, when horses suffer from leg injuries in the trailer, it’s not because of the trailer itself, but rather, their travel buddies that kick them and harm their legs during travel.
To avoid this dangerous situation, make sure you know whether your horse is a good traveler or not. If your horse isn’t the best traveler, it’s best to trailer him alone. That way, you’ll save yourself veterinary bills and keep your friend’s horse’s safe as well.
Rain, snow, and wind can all cause difficult driving situations and make the roads unsafe for travel. Your safety is what’s most important, so we recommend that you avoid trailer driving if there’s bad weather or otherwise unsafe conditions. No event or vacation is more valuable than you and your family’s well-being.
However, sometimes the weather can suddenly get worse in the middle of your trip, and you find yourself towing a horse trailer in situations you would normally avoid. In these cases, always take extreme precaution. Here are some important reminders that you need to know in case you have to trailer your horses in bad weather.
Road surfaces are the most slippery and dangerous when it first starts to rain. The fresh rain mixes with the oil and dust on the road and creates a slick surface that can cause accidents for unprepared drivers.
If you live somewhere where it rains a lot, it’s important to know how to drive a horse trailer in the rain. You are probably used to driving carefully and safely in the rain, but it can be a little different when pulling a horse trailer. When you are hauling your horse trailer, use the same tactics, but be even more careful.
Since you are towing such a heavy load, it’s going to take you even longer to brake, especially when it’s raining. Give yourself extra time, drive slower than you normally would, and be careful when turning.
When it’s raining really hard, you could lose control and start sliding while on the road. Brad Health warns horse trailer owners, “if you’re towing a few-thousand-pound trailer, and it’s pouring outside, you could lose control and end up hydroplaning on a back road. Don’t put yourself in danger – if there’s a big storm, pull over and wait it out.”
And if driving on wet roads is dangerous, just imagine how much worse it is on icy roads! When the roads begin to freeze over or if it starts to snow, take the first exit and get off the roads. Driving on ice in a normal vehicle is stressful and risky. Driving on ice while towing a horse trailer is just impossible.
Don’t drive on ice. There’s no way to stay in control and you will be putting yourself, your horses, and everyone else on the road in danger.
If you have a trip planned and see that there’s snow in the forecast, it’s best to postpone your trip. You don’t want to be trapped on the road in a snowstorm or have to risk trailer driving on icy roads.
If you are towing a horse trailer a short distance to a nearby horse show or competition, you likely won’t experience intense winds. But if you are trailering a longer distance – like through the middle of Nevada – you might be exposed to high wind areas that could cause problems for inexperienced drivers.
Wind might not seem like a big problem, but in flat areas where the wind is very powerful, it can be so strong that it flips over tractor trailers and semi-trucks. Luckily, horse trailers aren’t as high up off the ground as freight trucks, but if a big gust of wind comes, they can still be hard to keep under control.
Make sure you are prepared if you are going to be pulling a horse trailer in a high wind area. Check the weather ahead of time, keep both hands on the wheel at all times, and don’t overcorrect if the wind starts blowing your truck and your trailer off the road or out of your lane.
One of the most dangerous situations for your horse during travel is extreme temperatures. Extreme heat or cold can drastically impact your horse’s health. The type of trailer you have can either protect your horse during crazy temperatures or make the situation worse.
If your horse trailer is not insulated – both on the ceiling and the walls – heat will enter your trailer more quickly and cause your horse’s body temperature to rise more quickly as well. Avoid aluminum trailers at all costs – this material absorbs heat and then transfers it into the inside of a horse trailer and onto your horse. It’s much better to find a trailer with fiber composite material – a material that’s much better at regulating temperature. Your trailer interior should be painted white as well to reflect as much heat as possible.
On days where the temperature is in the upper eighties, nineties, or more, your horse can become dehydrated very quickly. Your horse will start sweating a lot and losing fluids. To keep your horse safe, don’t travel on days with unsafe temperatures.
If you are pulling a horse trailer on a hot day, make sure your horse is drinking plenty of water during the trip and that your trailer is well-ventilated. Open the windows and overhead vents so the air can flow through the trailer without any problems. If you live somewhere where hot temperatures are common, you can even install an onboard fan system in your trailer to keep your horse cool and safe during summer trips.
When it comes to trailer driving in colder temperatures, make sure to keep most of the windows and vents closed so there’s not too much cold air blowing on your horse. You can put a blanked on your horse to keep them warm as well. But if you do this, make sure to check frequently to make sure they are not sweating. If the blanket makes your horse too hot, they can start sweating and in cold temperatures this will chill your horse and make the problem worse.
Another important thing to remember is to check your tire pressure. Especially before you set out on a trip in very hot or very cold temperatures, take a quick look at your tire pressure. When the temperature changes, the air changes as well, so you might need to add more air to your tires, depending on the temperature.
Now you know what features your trailer needs to have to keep your horse safe, how to prepare your horse for travel, and how to drive in different weather conditions. You’re almost ready to hop into the driver’s seat and start out on your trip. Here’s a few last safety tips to remember.
If your route takes you up through the mountains or down some hills to the coast, you might have to drive on some steep, windy roads. Pulling a horse trailer up an incline or safely descending down a slope can be a little frightening. Here’s some pointers.
When going up a hill, always drive in the right-hand lane. Take your time and stay in control, and if it’s a one lane road, pull over to let faster drivers pass you. Since going uphill requires a lot of vehicle power, you’ll want to drive a little differently than normal.
Your truck or tow vehicle probably has a “tow or haul” setting that you can use while going up steep inclines. If your truck doesn’t have this, don’t worry, you can switch to a lower gear so that your truck doesn’t strain or burn too much gas too quickly. Switching to a lower gear will help your truck haul your trailer more efficiently. Whatever you do, don’t ever tow your trailer uphill while your truck is in “overdrive” – this could cause your transmission to overheat and damage your vehicle.
If you’re traveling down a steep road, you should also switch your tow vehicle into a lower gear. This helps your engine slow down itself and is much better than breaking all the way down the mountain.
The horses that are most calm and well-behaved in the trailer are the ones that have been well trained to adjust to the trailer and trailer frequently. Practice makes perfect, so the more you travel with the horses the better they’ll be in the trailer.
Even a very well-trained horse can suddenly react differently or throw a fit when loading if he goes a while without traveling. Keep your horse familiar with the trailer and make it a regular part of your training schedule to practice loading, unloading, and being around the trailer.
Also, remember that if you get a new trailer, your horse will likely need some time to adjust and to become familiar with the new “metal box” that they’ll be traveling in. Be patient with your horse and spend some time training them to load and unload in the new trailer before heading out on your next big trip. Do your best to drive as calmly and safely as possible to give your horse a smoother trailer ride.
When it comes to knowing how to pull a horse trailer safely, use common sense. Remember that it is your responsibility to keep yourself and your horses safe while on the road. Don’t put your horses in danger by transporting them in a trailer that’s designed for cattle, sheep, or goats, and don’t use an unfit vehicle to try to tow your horse trailer. Both of these situations are recipes for disaster.
And, when you arrive at your destination, or make a pit stop, don’t forget about your horses. Horses can easily become spooked and anxious, so don’t leave your horse in the trailer alone with the doors or windows open. Always have someone watching your horse, even while they’re in the trailer.
Traveling with your horses for a weekend getaway or a long-awaited riding competition is exciting and enjoyable, for both you and your horses. Don’t let a road mishap ruin your trip – always drive cautiously and try to be as safe as possible while driving a horse trailer.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help – trainers, friends, and horse owners would be more than happy to help you help your horses travel in the trailer more effectively. And if you have any questions about what trailer would work best for your horses, or how to make your trailer as safe as possible, we’d love to help. Send us a message today with any questions or concerns you might have.
This article was written by Brad Heath and published on Thursday, 18 March 2022.
What are some tips for pulling a trailer?
For horse owners who are learning to drive with a trailer, it’s best to practice trailer driving without your horse before heading out on your first trip. Remember to follow all speed limits, stay in the right-hand lane, avoid sudden stops and quick acceleration, and always use common sense when traveling on the road.
How do I make turns while learning to drive with a trailer?
Turning while pulling a horse trailer can be a little complicated. Remember that you’ll need to make much wider turns and you’ll need to have extra room and space during the turn. To be extra cautious, give yourself more space than you think you’ll need, and always watch your mirrors while turning. When making a left turn with a trailer in tow, you will need to: (1) move farther into the intersection before turning, (2) start turning sooner (3) keep your truck and trailer in the middle of your lane at all times.
Is driving a horse trailer difficult?
Learning to drive with a trailer can take some adjusting, but you’ll find that as long as you take your time and remain calm, you’ll be able to learn quickly and in no time, you’ll be able to haul your trailer without any problems.
What is a slant load horse trailer?
A slant load horse trailer is a type of horse trailer where the horses are transported in stalls that are diagonal, rather than parallel (like in a straight-load horse trailer), to the trailer walls. This slant load design allows you to fit more horses into a smaller space, and gives you storage space for a tack room in the back of your horse trailer.
What should I do when trailering a horse for the first time?
If your horse is new to trailering, make sure to practice the loading and unloading process multiple times until your horse is familiarized with the trailer. Go at your horse’s pace and give him time to explore the trailer and calmly and learn to confidently enter and exit the trailer. During your first trip with your horse, make sure to take frequent stops to check on him and of course, give him lots of praise and encouragement.
What is a double axle horse trailer?
Double axle or tandem axle horse trailers have two sets of horse trailer axles and two tires, one right behind the other one. This gives your trailer more stability on the road and makes it possible to haul more weight. Typically, double axle horse trailers are more difficult to maneuver than single axle trailers, but if you plan on hauling heavier weights, they might be the right option for you.
What are the different trailer suspension types?
There are a few different types of horse trailer suspension systems. First, there’s rubber torsion suspension. This is an independent suspension that absorbs the shocks and bumps of the road and gives your horses a smoother trailer ride. Next, there’s leaf spring suspension. This common suspension system is made up of several curved springs attached underneath the horse trailer axles. There’s also air ride suspension, which uses airbags next to the horse trailer axles to absorb road vibration.
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