Check back on Wednesday, May 12, for the next article—Accident Prevention and Driving Tips—in our continuing series on Towing and Trailer Safety.
Most horse owners are guilty of at least occasionally throwing the horses on the trailer, jumping in the truck and hitting the road without more than a quick glance over the rig. However, going through a quick checklist before every trip will keep you up-to-date on the condition of your vehicles, which will, in return, contribute to your horses’ safety.
“You never break down in front of a garage in broad daylight,” said DJ Johnson of Johnson Horse Transportation with a laugh. “You should prepare for it to get to the destination, not for it to break down. Preventative maintenance is such a key thing. No one wants to break down with a load of horses.”
But It’s All About The Horse, Right?
Even before you perform a pre-trip checklist, there are several documents your horses are going to need, especially if you’re hauling long distances.
In addition to your “Limited Power of Attorney” and “To Emergency Responders” forms, you should also carry a current health certificate and negative Coggins.
Your veterinarian provides these documents. Health certificates must be current within 30 days, and Coggins within one year. Regulations for transport differ by state, and you can find those regulations on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
Check, Check, Check!
“We believe you can never over-prepare for a trailering trip with your horse,” said Mark Cole, managing member for USRider. “Even if you are only going to travel a short distance to a local event, an accident—or some other emergency—could occur, leaving you stuck on the highway unexpectedly for an extended period.”
- Wheel bearings — Service annually or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.
- Tires — Replace every 3-5 years regardless of mileage.
- Tire pressure — Check spares and inside tires on dual wheels, too!
- Hitch — Make sure you’re using the correct size and that it’s locked on the ball.
- Safety cables/chains — Are they securely connected?
- Electrical connection — Is it plugged in and secure?
- Breakaway system — Is it connected and secured?
- Emergency battery — Should be charged.
- Trailer lighting — Check blinkers, emergency flashers and brake lights.
- Floorboards — Make sure there are no cracks, rot, rust or signs of damage underneath the mats.
- Brake controller — Test on the driveway before you head out.
- Trailer — Remove any sharp or potentially harmful items.
- Doors — Secure and latch, use a snap hook or carabineer to prevent accidental opening
- Inside the trailer — Check for wasp nests, insects or spiders, which could panic your horses.
Where Rubber Meets Road
Tire failure is the most common cause of trailer problems on the road. Cole reported that USRider has seen a lot of disablements that involve two tires on the same side of the trailer going out, which is a problem considering most owners only carry one spare. USRider recommends keeping two spare trailer tires to prevent the inconvenience of having to find another spare on the road.
While a flat tire isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it is a frustrating inconvenience, especially when you’re hauling horses. Changing a trailer tire isn’t always as straightforward as a vehicle, so keeping an eye on the condition of your tires is essential.
“Tires should always be filled to the max air pressure cold because they ride cooler because they flex less,” said Tom Scheve co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, And Servicing A Horse Trailer. “When they flex more, they get hotter and can blow.”
Check tire pressure when the tire is cold. Make sure all valve stems have caps to keep dust and grit from damaging the spring in the valve.
A tire’s recommended tire pressure can be found on the wall of the tire. While tire pressure is important, you also need to check the treads and sidewalls. Dry rot is a huge concern for horse owners who don't use their trailers for long periods of time. More horse trailer tires wear out from dry rot than road miles.
Dry rot is characterized by small cracks on the sidewalls of the tire. Severe cracks in the tires could release air and reduce tire pressure. Cracks can also show up within the treads, and if you see exposed cable wire, you shouldn't drive on the tire. Extreme weather can make cracks worse.
“Be sure to check for uneven tire wear by rubbing your hand over the tire or by visible inspection,” said Scheve. “Uneven wear is a sign of low pressure or bent axles and should be checked.”
“Invest in good quality tires,” added Cole. “All tires are round and black, but the similarities stop there. Quality tires that are properly inflated will reward you with many miles of trouble-free travel. We highly recommend the use of a tire pressure monitoring system. It lets you know of a developing problem and will help keep you off the side of the highway.”
Hitting The Brakes