Safe Trailering

Courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension

In today’s world, being able to transport your horse is a necessity. Regardless if it is for a trail ride, showing, pleasure, business or health reasons, having your horse familiar with trailering will make for a successful trip.

There are many types of trailers to choose from when hauling horses: stock, ramp, hauler, slant, or straight load. Stability of the trailer will vary depending on the combination of the tow vehicle and type of trailer used. There are two main types of horse trailers: 1.) a bumper pull which is popular for shorter hauls and smaller tow vehicles and 2.) a gooseneck trailer which offers more stability during adverse weather conditions and has a higher weight-carrying ability. Regardless of the type of trailer, make sure the trailer has solid flooring and secure footing for horses. Rubber mats aid in providing secure footing.

Many trailers come with dividing partitions (also known as “dividers”). Slant load trailers have become popular for transporting horses due to easy access (side doors, fold down windows) and being able to easily separate each horse by the use of partitions. There are two types of partitions used in trailers: a partial or full. Partial partitions give more room for the horse to spread its feet and balance itself while traveling. Full partitions are useful when transporting a stallion with other horses or a mare and foal. The full partition helps avoid the foal getting under the feet of other horses. Many trailers have padding on partitions and walls of the trailer to reduce scuffs and scrapes to the horse during transportation.

There are many additional features available for trailers such as side doors, dressing rooms, sleeping quarters, and tack compartments. Talk to a trailer representative or dealer for additional trailer features. The most important decision in selecting a trailer is the comfort and safety of the animal. The more comfortable a horse feels, the less likely it is to develop bad trailering habits.

When deciding on truck and trailer options, the most important choice is selecting the type of setup that works best for your equine activities. Having a towing vehicle with a long wheel base will provide the best stability. The general rule is the larger and heavier the trailer, the more horsepower that is required from the towing vehicle. Choose a vehicle with an adequate tow rating for your trailer.

Pre-Trip Safety Checklist

Tow Vehicle:Fully inspect and check tow vehicle. Replenish engine fluids and inspect tires as towing puts extra stress on vehicle. Regularly service and maintain vehicle per specifications of manufacturer.

Tires and Wheels:Check the condition of tires. Look for any bulges, worn tread, or slices. Tires should be regularly balanced and rotated. Check for proper inflation pressure. Spare tire should also have proper inflation pressure. Wheel bearings should be regularly serviced (cleaned, inspected, greased, new seals). Check the tightness of lug nuts.

Lights and Wiring:Check all lights for proper operation in addition to making sure all the wiring is intact and secured.

Brakes: Inspect brake drums and wheels. Check fluid levels and lines to hydraulic brakes. Do a loaded and unloaded drive test to check the operation of brakes. Inspect emergency trailer brake battery being sure that it is fully charged.

Hitch: Hitches should be professionally installed and have an adequate weight rating for the trailer being towed. Is the trailer ball the correct size for the hitch? Be sure to grease the ball and coupler before hooking up. Is the hitch properly secured?

Clean and oil the jack stand. Be sure the jack stand operates properly and is not bent or damaged. Inspect safety chains and electrical connections. Check the breakaway system to be sure it is operating correctly.

Suspension:Check levelness of hitched trailer. The trailer should not be on inclining or declining angle. Check bushings as well as axle bolts for tightness

Floor and Body:Check floor and ramp for soft spots, rotting, splintering, cracks or corrosion. This may involve removing floor mats for inspection. Also inspect floor mat and replace as necessary. Check the trailer body for any damage. Inspect any seals. Check and lubricate doors, locks, dividers, and windows.

Safety Equipment:Be sure your first aid kit is complete and in your vehicle. Is your truck and trailer safety kit complete (road side flares, fire extinguisher, flash light, etc.)? It is very important to have tire changing equipment that has the ability to handle the weight of the vehicle.

Before heading out on the road, make sure you have properly prepared for the trip. Preparations before traveling include having a first aid kit for your horse(s). A basic equine first aid kit should include:

  • Phenylbutazone (Bute)
  • Non-stick bandages and gauze
  • Bandage
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol
  • Electrolytes
  • Eye wash
  • Thermometer
  • Antiseptic ointment
  • Self-sticking bandage

These items will provide enough emergency care until a veterinarian can be contacted. Remember, the best way to control bleeding is a snug bandage. In case of emergency contact information for your horse(s) should be placed in both your tow vehicle and trailer. Information included should state your cell phone number, horse’s name, horse registration information, veterinarian information, home/stable address, and vaccination records.

It is very important that all horses being transported are up to date on their vaccinations, especially when crossing state lines. If you are traveling to a show, additional vaccinations may be required.

Vaccination recommendations vary throughout the United States, so be sure to check with a local veterinarian in the area you will be traveling to ask for which vaccinations are recommended. All in and out of state health requirements must be met. Throughout the Unites States, transporters are required to have a negative coggins (equine infectious anemia) test and health certification for each horse being transported. Do your homework before you travel – you do not want to be stranded at a checkpoint or port of entry for hours due to insufficient paperwork.

When traveling long distance, be sure to make overnight stabling arrangements before traveling. Have the contact information on hand for your overnight arrangements in case traffic delays your arrival or other unexpected events occur.