Trailer Smart for Safer Hauling

We've all been there. A truck that isn't quite large enough to haul that heavily loaded bumper pull gets pushed around when the horses bicker over the hay bag. The old trailer doesn't have any brakes or tail lights, but it's only a few miles down the road. Your brakes lock, but it's only on one wheel and you're a good driver, so why worry?

Ignoring limitations when hauling your horses is dangerous and can cause injury and maybe even death to you, your horses, and others. No one is such a good and conscientious driver that they can compensate for hauling too large a load with too small a vehicle or for a lack of brakes and tail lights.

While it is impossible to eliminate every risk when hauling horses, we can certainly reduce them significantly by choosing and matching our towing vehicle and hauling equipment carefully, properly hitching and loading our trailers, and practicing careful driving habits.

Consider the following when selecting your trailer and towing vehicle:

  • Is the truck correctly sized to haul the loaded trailer? It is best to get an outside professional opinion on matching the truck and trailer. 
  • Does the vehicle have a correctly installed frame hitch, rated to tow the loaded weight of the trailer? Again, seek professional assistance if you're unsure. 
  • Is the ball correctly sized for the coupler? A 2-inch ball is correctly sized for a 2-inch coupler, while a trailer with a 2 5/8-inch coupler needs a 2 5/8-inch ball. Joining a coupler to a smaller sized ball might at first seem like a workable solution, but as soon as you cross the first set of rail road tracks or bump in the road, your truck and trailer can easily be separated. 
  • Does your truck have the right electrical outlet for the trailer wiring? All livestock trailers should have working brakes and lights, which requires a proper electrical connection. 
  • Does the trailer have a solid floor? Make sure you check under the floor mats. Moisture becomes trapped under floor mats and can cause wood to rot and steel to rust, and urine causes aluminum to corrode. Aluminum floors can also crack. All livestock trailers should have a stout floor, no exceptions. 
  • Is the trailer appropriately sized for the animals you intend to haul? 
  • What are the benefits and limitations of a tow behind verses a gooseneck trailer? Which is most appropriate for your use and hauling vehicle? Generally a gooseneck trailer is more stable and less likely to sway when hauled. A gooseneck has a smaller turn radius and will track inside the curve when following the truck through a turn. Tow behind trailers track behind the hauling vehicle even when on a turn. An anti-sway bar can be used to reduce sway when hauling a tow behind trailer.

Every time you hitch up you should also verify:

  • All the lights are working; 
  • The ball is properly attached to the draw bar; 
  • The correctly sized ball for the particular trailer you are towing is on the draw bar; 
  • The draw bar is properly attached to the hitch receiver (be sure to check the pin); 
  • The trailer coupler is properly secured to the ball (Most tow behinds have a clasp that needs to be closed or a pin that needs to be placed. Failure to secure the coupler may result in the separation of the towing vehicle and trailer);
  • The safety chains are attached correctly (Tow chains should be crossed under the trailer tongue and secured to the towing vehicle using the hooks next to the ball.); 
  • The trailer floor is sound; 
  • The trailer is properly ventilated for the season and number of animals being hauled; 
  • Tire pressure of both the truck and trailer tires is adequate; 
  • Tire tread of the truck and trailer is suitable; and 
  • The emergency brake box is charged and properly connected.

Remember, trailers need maintenance just like vehicles, so have your trailer serviced annually. The service should include a check of the wheel bearings (as they may need repacking), wiring and lights, brakes, alignment, tire wear, emergency brake box, and structural integrity.

Loading the Trailer

In general it is a good idea to balance the load in your trailer. Your goals should be to keep the trailer level when it is loaded and situate your horses in a manner that limits risks.

Remember to load your heaviest horse on the driver side of the trailer. Also if you are only hauling one horse it should be loaded on the driver side. This helps keep the trailer from flipping if your passenger-side tire runs off the road.

In slant load trailers the heavy horse or single horse should go into the first stall. Keeping your weight toward the front of the trailer, rather than toward the back, helps avoid trailer sway.

Evaluate your rig once the trailer is loaded. If the trailer buckles down at the tongue (and the truck is properly sized for the load), you need to reconsider how your horses are distributed in the trailer and shift some weight to the back. Similarly, if the trailer buckles up at the tongue (and the truck is properly sized for the load) too much weight is in the back of the trailer.

Driving

Speed up and slow down more gradually, take turns slower, and allow more stopping room, but when you’re on straight and safe roads, you can go as fast as is legal and manageable for your vehicle. Remember, when your horse gets off the trailer he should be uninjured and not afraid of getting back on!

Accident or Intention

An accident is "any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause." It seems that definition is worth remembering and perhaps we should step back and carefully survey every trailer driving calamity before casually assigning the word "accident."

Hopefully we can all agree that when we wreck it is not because we had a "deliberate plan"; but how many of us can truly say there wasn’t a "deliberate cause?" When hauling livestock we have a duty to be trailer smart by selecting and maintaining appropriate vehicles and equipment, carefully loading animals, and focusing on the safety of our human and livestock passengers, other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Article reprinted with permission from the Kentucky Horse Council.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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