Whether you’re a white-knuckle nube or a trailering pro, everybody can use a refresher course in how to prevent and, worst case scenario, be prepared for breakdowns. Laura Cox reports.
Hello Horse Nation! The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I went from unemployed and horseless, to employed in my dream job (working with horses, of course) and a place to keep my horse in a matter of 24 hours. Needless to say, like any horse freak normal human being, it became my mission to take a trip from my Tennessee home to my parents’ South Georgia farm to repossess my little black demonic pony as soon as humanly possible.
En route to pick Twister up from my parents’ farm, it dawned on me that I could pass along some of my tips for traveling short and long distances with horses. Many of you may have hauled your horses at some point, but there are likely an equal number who may be embarking on their first travels in the near future who could benefit from the information I am about to purge offer up freely on your behalf.
My first tip is to service your towing vehicle. While I am a firm believer that everyone should know how to check their fluid levels in their vehicles, having a professional check your vehicle over should be a requirement prior to hauling your precious cargo over a long distance. Have your service shop check all belts, fluid levels, tire pressures and tread, and brakes. Prior to hauling a horse from Georgia to Texas, my dad and I took our truck in for its pre-travel check, where we learned from our mechanic that when it comes to replacing belts, it is best not to make those types of changes unless the belt is actually broken. He explained that major parts replacements should only be done when the vehicle is going to be driven locally to allow a break-in period. I’ll tell you how I know he was right in just a minute.
Second, check over your horse trailer. Like your vehicle, the trailer should be serviced on a regular basis to check the brakes, flooring, and hitch to ensure safe use. My recommendation is to contact your local trailer dealer to locate a reputable service shop.
For Local and Long Distance Hauls:
Assuming you have followed the general maintenance tips, you are half-way ready to haul your precious cargo. At this point, you probably have all of your tack, Coggins Test, Health Certificate, etc. loaded and ready to go, but a few not so obvious necessities are a must on any trip.
Have a plan. Before traveling, map out your route. I prefer sticking to the larger interstates and highways, because changing a flat tire on the side of a small country byway with no shoulder can be extremely unnerving. Remember, even with a plan, sometimes construction or other unforeseen incidents can lead to detours in your trip. Be aware of detour options. If there is a suggested truck or large vehicle route along with a separate car route, take the truck route. The route will probably take you longer than a car route, but it will likely entail less tight turns or tricky navigating. Keep an atlas or state map(s) in your vehicle so in the event you must reroute without detour signs, you can pull over and devise a new plan. If you have a GPS, they are definitely helpful, but keep in mind they are not always 100-percent reliable.
For your horse, always pack extra feed and hay in the event you must make an unexpected overnight stop. Whenever you stop for gas, check hay nets and refill as necessary and also provide the horse the option to drink. I keep a small bucket handy in the front of my trailer for easy access and two large water containers filled with fresh H2O from home. If your special equine cargo refuses to drink, but looks like he/she needs water, offer them a salt block or loose salt. This can encourage them to tip the bucket upside down and chug it to take a few sips and rehydrate.
Assuming you own a horse trailer with drop down windows, PLEASE KEEP THEM UP WHEN MOVING! Nothing scares me more than seeing horses traveling down the interstate sniffing the air like a dog with his head out the backseat window. All I can visualize is debris flying up and striking the horse(s) and injuring them, or worse. I do keep the sliding windows open to allow for ventilation. My trailer is white, and therefore reflects the sun. Even in the Deep South, the inside of the trailer stays relatively cool with the reflective paint color. If you have a stock trailer, they have shatterproof glass you can mount to prevent anything from flying in and striking and injuring or spooking your pony. We had this on my first trailer, and it was mounted along the side with enough of a gap to provide air circulation.
Do you remember the last time you saw a semi truck pulled over on the side of the road? Remember those fancy little reflective triangles they had lined up behind their truck? Well, my dad gave me a set when I started driving my ponies around, and I am proud to say, they have made me feel safer during break-downs and flat tires. Yes, I’ve had both on more than one occasion. Any form of reflectors should be a staple in any roadside emergency kit. Yeah, I know, in the daytime you are probably super obvious in that big-rig, but at night, not so much. Did you know that when your alternator dies, you lose all power to your vehicle? I sure didn’t when mine bit the dust in the middle of nowhere. Bye-bye AC, radio, engine… I digress. The reflectors, especially in the dark, give other drivers a heads-up that you are there, and with any luck, slow them down as they pass cautiously.
Like any vehicle, your horse trailer is always at risk for a flat tire. Unlike your car, your trailer does not necessarily come with a jack (mine didn’t). I highly recommend purchasing a Trailer Aid or something similar to it as they are relatively inexpensive, durable, and easy to use.
If you are uncomfortable changing a flat, or you are unsure how to deal with a breakdown, they have an APP for that there are companies out there that can assist you. For an annual fee, you can become a member of AAA, US Rider, or one of the other roadside service companies that specialize in helping broken down motorists.
My hope is that this information provides a little guidance to first time haulers, or anyone who has yet to come across a road block (no pun intended) in their travels. Preparing for the unknown can help minimize the stress you and your equine travel partner can experience.
Happy Trails Travels!