Equine Ownership

30 Point Trailer Safety Check

Follow this essential checklist for horse, vehicle and trailer to ensure you and your horse arrive safe and sound every time you travel.

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By: Heather Davis |

It was the annual girls’ summer camping trip in the mountains and the weekend was amazing…until it wasn’t. Four best friends had been camping with their horses in the same area of the Rockies for seven years, and this year was shaping up to be one of the best. The horses were confident and well-conditioned, the views were incredible and the Friday ride was one for the books.

Saturday, however, was a different story, when in true Rocky Mountain fashion, a snowstorm could be seen heading their way, clouds building and darkening quickly. The friends packed up camp in a hurry, throwing things in the back of the two trucks without caution, the temperature dropping rapidly.

When it came time to prepare the horses to load, the snow was already falling, the wind whipping around them.

“Let’s just load and go,” Kendra yelled to the other girls across the howling wind.

“No!” hollered Sue. “We don’t know what the roads are like. We need to wrap the horses!”

They argued briefly, but Sue’s good sense of safety won out, and lucky for the horses that it did.

The team wrapped the horses and loaded them into the two trailers. They performed their safety checks and started the treacherous journey out of the mountains. They took the drive slowly, but with the icy roads, a gust of wind and shifting horses, the lead trailer turned a corner and the outside wheels dropped off the side of the road.

Sue watched in horror as the trailer slipped sideways off the road, landing heavily on its side, the truck twisting with it. She brought her own truck and trailer to a stop, put on her hazard lights and jumped out of her vehicle, trying to call 911, but finding no cell service available. She pulled out her personal location device, hitting the red emergency button, knowing it would send a beacon for help.

She raced over and found her two friends shaken up but okay. They all clambered over to the trailer, Kendra climbing on the top the trailer to access the back-panel door, now that it was on its side. They pried open the door, expecting the worst. The two geldings were tangled together, one on top of the other, but appeared to be okay. Sue spoke quietly to the horses, reassuring them as she reached through the window. She carefully untied the closer horse, dropping the rope quickly as he scrambled to his feet. He bolted out the back, stopping abruptly as the three other women waved their arms, speaking calmly. Kendra approached slowly, taking the rope and leading him away from the back of the trailer.

Sue moved ahead to the other horse, straining to reach through the window. She finally managed to grab the end of the rope and pulled back on the slip knot, releasing him. Surprisingly, he calmly walked out the back of the overturned trailer. She carefully checked the horses for initial injuries, then led them back to her own trailer. Again, she spoke calmly to the horses, and managed to get them loaded.

As she closed the door, fingers frozen, she saw the flashing lights of first responders on their way. They arrived and immediately checked on the women and called a tow truck.

The vehicle was extracted along with the trailer and hauled back to Canmore, where they were having the horses assessed by a veterinarian.

“This could have been catastrophic,” the vet told them. “If you had had hitch or brake problems, or if these horses hadn’t been so well swathed for transport, you would have had a very different outcome today.”

Sue thanked the vet and threw a mental “I told you so” in Kendra’s direction. The time it took in the cold to perform their safety checks and prepare the horses to transport saved their lives.

* Names have been changed.

SAFE TRAILERING CHECKLIST

When it comes to transporting cargo as precious as your horse, safety is key and knowledge is power. If you perform the following checks every time you tow, you can be confident that both you and your horse will arrive safely at your destination. Don’t rely on the word of someone else, be sure the checklist is complete by doing it yourself!

Tow Vehicle
1. Confirm that your vehicle is properly rated for the trailer and load you will be transporting.
2. Ensure you have enough fuel, and that the windshield fluid and oil is topped up.
3. Inspect the tires, checking the air pressure and tread. Uneven wear is a sign of problems that may require maintenance work.
4. Carry a full-sized spare tire in usable condition.
5. Ensure that your tow hitch is in good condition, is the correct class, and has been professionally installed if an after-factory addition.
6. Check that the tow electrical plug-in is clean and in working order. Frayed or abraded wires or plugs should be replaced.
7. Ensure the ball size is correct and the ball is tightly secured to the ball mount.

Trailer
8. Confirm that your trailer is within the Gross Vehicle Rated Capacity for your vehicle.
9. Ensure your wheel bearings have been checked – they should be repacked once a year, especially before any long hauls.
10. Check that your doors are working well and your ramp (if applicable) is solid and has traction.
11. When hooked up, check to see that the hitch is seated properly and the ball is locked.
12. Ensure chains are crossed and properly attached under the hitch.
13. Check that the trailer jack is fully retracted.
14. Ensure that the emergency breakaway system is properly connected (and charged if applicable).
15. Test all running and perimeter lights, as well as signal, brake and reverse lights.
16. Ensure that the brake controller is working.
17. Confirm that the trailer is sitting level when connected (you may need a drop hitch, or inverted hitch).
18. Check your tire wear and pressure. Don’t forget your spare tire as well.
19. Inspect the floors by pulling back the rubber mats and looking to see what’s underneath! With aluminum floors, check floor and rivets for pitting (sinking into the metal), as this will show weak areas. With wood floors, check for damaged and rotten boards.
20. Inspect the entire trailer for rust spots that could impact structural integrity.
21. Check interior ties, panels, etc. to ensure everything is working properly and there are no sharp edges or other hazards that your horse could injure himself on.
22. Ensure vents and/or windows are open for air flow. Trailers get extremely hot very quickly!

Horse
23. Train your horse to load calmly in advance of an excursion in order to avoid panic/injury.
24. Use transport bandages and helmets, especially for longer hauls.
25. Ensure you have planned an acceptable amount of stops for food and water breaks, depending on length of haul.

Loading
26. Always ensure the trailer is connected to a tow vehicle first, even when training loading.
27. The person loading the horse is in charge of the process. No matter what method you use for encouraging your horse to load, the person loading should have absolute authority, and all other people should be out of the way. This is the safest possible load scenario, as the person loading the horse is able to watch it and determine a course of action should the horse balk or spook.
28. The option to tie a horse up is just that. There are both pros and cons to tying and leaving horses loose. However, if you choose to tie your horse, make sure it’s done with a quick release slip knot or snap every time.
29. If you have a trailer with panels, consider the size of the horse you’re loading. Many trailers are designed mainly for an average Quarter Horse, so your 17.2hh Hanoverian or 2,200 lb Belgian will not be comfortable with the panels closed.
30. Load your heaviest horses to the front of the trailer if using more than a two-horse. This will ensure the most stable towing for you in your vehicle.

Towing Terms

Unfortunately, there are many units on the road that are towing trailers heavier than they are designed for. This can be a dangerous situation when it comes to stopping. Check the tow rating sticker on your tow vehicle, the tow sticker on your horse trailer, and know these important terms:

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) and Gross Weight (GW) – The actual weight of a single vehicle and its complete load.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – Weight specified as the maximum loaded weight of a single vehicle. For tow vehicles, this includes the weight of the tow vehicle, all passengers, fuel, equipment and the tongue weight of the trailer.

Gross Combination Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) – Weight specified of the tow vehicle and the trailer, along with all contents.

Tongue Weight – The amount of the trailer’s weight that presses down on the trailer hitch or rear axle. Too much tongue weight can cause damage to suspension and the drive train. It can cause the front tires to lift slightly, reducing traction, braking effectiveness and steering responsiveness. Too little weight can lift the rear of the vehicle, causing instability and increased chance of swaying or jackknifing. The tongue weight for gooseneck and fifth wheel trailers should be 25 per cent of the trailer weight. Trailers over 2,000lbs should have a tongue weight of 10-17 per cent of the trailer weight.

Payload – The weight of all passengers, accessories and equipment carried in (including on) a vehicle.

Payload Rating – The maximum payload for the vehicle permitted.

Gross Axle Weight (GAW) – Weight that is loaded on the front or rear axle.

Weight Carrying Hitch – Weight-carrying hitches are common on light-duty with a tow rating up to 5,00lbs. The ball on a truck’s bumper or a square receiver underneath the bumper usually indicates a weight-carrying hitch.

Weight Distributing Hitch – Also known as a weight equalizing hitch, distributes the tongue weight to all the wheels of the tow vehicle and trailer.