If you are new to horse hauling, I’m sure you are looking forward to getting out on the road and transporting your horse to a favorite spot for a trail ride. Before you head out on your first road trip, some driving practice is in order. There are also safety precautions that need to be adhered to.
As far as safety, it goes without saying that the trailer, towing vehicle and hitch need to be in top notch condition. The hitch and the vehicle doing the towing need to be manufacturer rated to haul the size and weight of the trailer and cargo. To be on the safe side, they should be able to handle an amount of weight that is in excess of what you would normally haul. When you’re sure your equipment is in good working order and can handle the job easily, it’s time to practice driving. This is also important time to inspect all tack and equipment you’ll be hauling to ensure everything is in good working order as well as replenishing your trailer’s first aid kit.
Start by driving an empty trailer in a deserted parking lot, in off hours, with the permission of the owner. Practice pulling forward smoothly, slowly braking and stopping, taking turns and backing up. The weight of the trailer will make braking and stopping slower than normal and you will need to compensate by braking sooner. Backing up takes the most practice. At some point, you will likely have to reverse into a parking spot.
The most important part of backing up is the ability to see the rear end of the trailer and determine if it is going in the direction you want it to. Adjust the mirrors so that you can clearly see the back of the trailer. You may need to purchase mirror extensions or upgrade to bigger mirrors to accomplish this. Place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, in the six o’clock position. Turn the steering wheel to the left if you want to turn left and to the right if you want to turn right. Be patient and move slowly. Practice until you can repeatedly place the trailer squarely in the parking space.
Once you are confident in your driving ability in an empty parking lot, venture out onto a little used back road and practice making short trips that incorporate turns and stops until you are certain that you can control the trailer and stay in your lane while turning or stopping, without jackknifing the trailer. Be aware that in addition to the weight of the trailer, the weight of the horse and gear, when added, will slow acceleration and increase stopping time to an even greater extent. Be sure to leave extra room between you and the traffic on the road ahead of you. The rule of thumb is to at least double the braking distance. Also leave plenty of time to accelerate when pulling into traffic. Darting into traffic creates a dangerous situation for yourself, your horse and others travelers.
There is just one more step until you can load your horse and get out on the road. There is an old saying in the business world that fits this situation. “Ride Your Own Bus” is a saying that refers to experiencing your business as if you were a customer. In the case of driving a horse trailer, the only way to know the horse’s experience is to ride in the horse trailer. Have a friend take you on a short drive on private property or in a deserted parking lot. In some states it is illegal for people to ride in a horse trailer. This is the only way to understand how the horse has to adapt to the back and forth swaying of the trailer, to taking turns and stopping abruptly. It will make you a more careful and considerate driver. You will quickly realize that the horse cannot see what is coming ahead and therefore cannot prepare for turns, accelerations and stops that throw it off balance. Slow and steady is best for the horse.
Now you are ready to trailer your horse and head out. Be aware that speed limits for trailers may be different than posted limits on the road. Because of slower braking times, speed limits may be lower. Remember your ride in the trailer, and accelerate slowly to avoid the horse being thrown around in the back. Take turns slowly and carefully, leaving extra space, and watch the mirrors to be sure the trailer has straightened out after the turn before accelerating. It is important to watch the mirrors to see the rear of the trailer when passing, making turns or backing up.
Park only on level surfaces, leave plenty of space between other cars on the road so there will be no sudden stops and don’t let anyone hurry you. Drive at a safe speed for the load you are pulling even if it slows other drivers. You are not engaged in a race. The goal is to get you and the horse to your destination safely and soundly.
One more tip is to be familiar with the route you will be driving so that there will be no surprise steep hills or sharp turns. Stay focused, look ahead to anticipate upcoming traffic, stop lights, construction projects or accidents and check the mirrors often to be sure there are no problems with the trailer. If the trailer begins to sway, slow down until it is moving smoothly once again. If you hear any odd noises or thumps, pull over and check the horse, cargo and trailer. Cargo may have shifted or there may be a mechanical problem with the trailer.
You will soon be an experienced horse hauler and all of this will be second nature. Then you can transport your horse safely to and from wherever you want to go and both of you can enjoy trail rides in beautiful locations, including these trail riding venues by season in northern California and Oregon.