Springtime is upon us -- the birds are chirping, the skies are once again blue and you and your horses are ready for some travel. Even if your trailer was put away last fall in pristine condition, it’s a good idea to check it for problems before you hitch up and drive away with your best friend inside. Horse trailers need maintenance just like your truck, make sure these items are safe and secure:
Hitch / Safety Chains. Although they rarely develop serious problems, check your hitch and safety chains for rust, wear and deformation. If you’ve changed tow vehicles or balls over the winter, ensure the trailer hitch still fits snugly long before you take your first spring trip.
Tires. Tires should be properly inflated and have at least 1/4 inch of tread left. Horse trailers stored on the ground should also be checked carefully for tire dry rot, which can cause dangerous blow outs. Make sure your spares are up to speed, too.
Wheel Bearings. They may be out of sight and out of mind most of the time, but your wheel bearings need regular care. Ensure they’ve been greased and repacked, if necessary, to keep noises down.
Brakes. Hook up your trailer and check the brake system to ensure it’s working well. Make sure your break-away brake system’s battery is charged up or replace the battery if it’s starting to struggle to hold a charge.
Lights. The small connector that links the lights of horse trailers to their tow vehicles can be easily damaged, especially if it has seen a lot of mileage. Check the connection for frayed wires, clean any mud and debris out of the plug and hook it up so you can check the lights. Make sure all the signal lights work properly, then check the interior and exterior auxiliary lighting. Replace any bulbs as necessary to keep your trailer well-lit.
Dividers and Doors. Even a two horse trailer has a few moving parts that need frequent lubrication. Look at your doors, windows and dividers to ensure they move freely without unnecessary noise or rubbing. Lubricate and adjust these items to keep them working at their best.
Floor. No matter what type of flooring your trailer has, it should be checked regularly for rust or rot, especially if you left rubber mats in the trailer over the winter. Poke wooden floors with a screwdriver to uncover hidden rot and pay special attention to the edges of the floor, where debris can easily lodge. Check rubber floors and mats for wear.
Padding. Quality custom horse trailers, as well as many standard trailers, come with a great deal of padding on the walls, stall dividers and other items inside the horse area. Check that these pads are in excellent condition and will continue to support your horse if he should lean against them or feel the need to kick a wall during transport.
Water Tank / Hay Rack. Clean out your water tank and hay rack thoroughly before you plan to travel. Removing old hay prevents new hay from molding and cleaning the water tank keeps water-borne illnesses at bay. You wouldn’t want to drink from a tank full of algae, and neither does your horse.
Ventilation. Air flow is vital to a comfortable ride for your horse, so check that the vents all open well and screens aren’t clogged with debris. If necessary, take the screens out and clean them with a water hose to increase the airflow in your trailer.
Propane Tank. Horse trailers with living quarters are nice on the road, but if you forget to fill up your propane tank before you head out, you might as well be camping. Make sure your main tank and any spares you carry are in good shape, with no rust on the tank or damage to the valves.
Heating, Air Conditioning and Appliances. Heating, air conditioning and appliances are the main reasons people choose horse trailers with living quarters, but those extra appliances mean extra pre-travel checks. Make sure the heat and air both function properly and check each and every appliance. If you have an oven or cooktop, clean them well to help reduce the risk of grease fires.
Don’t Forget Your Horse Travel Kit
Before you leave the house, make sure your emergency supplies are ready and stocked up. There’s nothing like being stranded on the side of the road without a functioning jack or lug wrench, double-checking your travel kit now will save heartache later. A well-stocked horse travel kit should include the following items:
Hydraulic Jack. If you have two, so much the better. Make sure your jack is still functioning before you head out, otherwise you might as well not have one.
Lug Wrench. You always hope you won’t have to change a tire on the side of the road, but if you do, make sure you’ve got the right sized lug wrench with you.
Emergency Triangles and Wheel Chocks. For your safety, always use emergency triangles and wheel chocks when changing tires.
Flashlight. There are a million and one reasons you might need a flashlight on your trips. Pack a good one, spare bulbs and extra batteries.
Tape. Electrical tape is handy on the fly if wires start to fray far from a repair facility. Duct tape is good for smoothing out rough edges you discover while on the road -- it’s also useful for taping up anything that’s rattling during your trip.
Knife. Whether you’re cutting baling twine from hay bales or tape for an emergency repair, knives are good for all sorts of things. Keep refills on hand if you choose one with disposable blades.
Spare bulbs and fuses. Fuses and bulbs blow at inconvenient times -- be prepared with extras for every item on your trailer. Don’t forget the exterior lights, they’re the most vital to safety, after all.
Fire Extinguisher. After your equine first aid kit, a fire extinguisher is the most important item to have on board. Check that the charge is good and that you understand how to use it before your trip -- a horse trailer fire can burn through quickly and cause serious injuries.
Equine First Aid Kit. Be prepared for horse emergencies with splints, horse wraps and other supplies to keep your horse in good shape on the road. Even if you have a vet handy, you’re going to want to make sure your horse can travel comfortably on the way there.
It may seem like a quick check is enough before you take your horse on the road, but horse trailers can develop serious hazards if they’re not properly maintained. Don’t put yourself, your horse and your trip at risk by neglecting the little things -- go over your trailer with a fine-toothed comb before you set out this spring.