Monday, January 31, 2011

Trailer tansport: How safe is safe enough?

The ad below pretty much sums up how I'd like Riley and Harv to be transported. Sure, I'd change a few things, like the fact that  it's a bumper pull, and I'd definitely upgrade the tow vehicle.

But I'm liking the security detail.  I've actually met with guys from the Secret Service (once when Al Gore came to campus). Believe me, they look just like the guys in this ad, and they act just like the ones in the movies.

Oh, sorry--we were talking about trailering...
I have a reputation for being a PITA about trailering and travel. People think I'm nuts. I've even lost a friend over my horse travel mandates. Really.

In my ideal world:
  • Horses don't stand on the trailer unattended. 
  • Tanks are fully gassed before you load the horses (no unecessary stops).
  • No stops for lunch while horses wait in the trailer. 
  • Trips to horse shows, clinics, etc. are handled like a military insertion. Get'em there safe, do your thing, get'em home.
If that's annoying, well, I'm sorry. I don't see how people can be so blithe about putting their horse in a metal box and hurtling down the same road as a bunch of drunks and cellphone users. I want to yell out the truck window, "Hey, precious cargo here! Watch it!!!!" But most of all, I want a motorcade  of guys in dark suits.

On February 6 Riley will be in a trailer, careening down I-78, on his way to a dressage test clinic at Marilyn Payne's in Caliphone NJ. There'll be tons of video to share.


  1. I hope the videos are of the clinic and not of you trailering him there...

    though it does sound somewhat amusing.

  2. I feel the same way..... I feel like trailering them about is something we do purely for our convenience, and although we all know horses spend a lot of time on self-destruct, I think if they get hurt in a paddock being a horse that's one thing. Asking them to get in a rolling box and go down the highway requires much trust on their part. I am amazed more horses aren't reluctant to load, aren't you?

  3. It shocks me, anon. I am not around horses as much as some folks but I've seen some scary trailer mishaps/accidents first hand. I wish there were stats, becuase I think people would take it more seriously. When I do horse shows, the trailering scares the crap out of me -- the show itself is not stressful.

  4. I take trailering very seriously, but having trucked my horse from Maine to New Jersey each year for Championships and from Maine to Kentucky for WEG last fall, there is NO way you cannot stop for gas/bathrooms/watering horses/eating dinner or lunch. LOL! Not realistic! I am super careful and my horse trailers like a dream, thankfully. Still, there are certain things you MUST do when trailering longer distances. :)

  5. Love that ad! I didn't get a trailer because towing (and reversing!) scares the heck out of me. I settled for a HorseVan instead, kind of like a big converted builders van? It's small and easy to drive. In my head, easy to drive = SAFER.

    I also have a camera inside that feeds to a screen in the cab so I can check he's alright if I hear any ominous thunks coming from the back...

  6. You're totally right that some people are far too oblivious to the dangers. However, I do want to make a comment on one of your concerns. Sometimes stopping for a lunch break is a good thing. They're bouncing around and doing a lot of work to keep their balance. A little break gives them a much-needed rest. It also gives you a chance to check on them, give them a drink, etc. Of course, make sure to park in the shade if you can, open whatever doors/vents are safe to have open when standing to keep good circulation now that the wind isn't helping, etc.

    I am always amazed that my horses take trailering so in-stride even though that leaf blowing across the ground might eat them!

  7. Love the Ad! I could not agree with you more-trailing can be scary to say the least and I think every precaution should be taken. Good luck next week!

  8. Trailering is a nerve wracking experience. I would like the men in black suits but that SUV looks like it is going to drag on the ground trying to pull that trailer.

  9. Do you ever trailer your horses long distances? Sometimes you need to stop for lunch on long trips.

    It also helps teach the horses patience -- they know they're not going anywhere, just in a parking lot. If you can, park where you can see your trailer while you eat. If not, have a padlock on the trailer door.


  10. No Lytha, I know that stops are necessary on long trips (gas, food, water for the horses, etc), but I would probably not go into a sit-down restaurant and leave my horse(s) unattended.

    There are lots of ways to teach a horse patience and I'm not sure the trailer is my environment of choice. Trailers can be hot, and they certainly aren't healthy.

  11. As I am one of the many who continue to be utterly horrified about the trailer dragging death of a horse in Arlington, Washington last June, I no longer feel it necessary to apologize to anyone about my completely obsessive-compulsive habits of trailering. My "always" habits: travel late at night in summer to help keep horses cooler in the trailer plus there's less traffic on the road; double check the hitch before setting out AND stop at the first stop sign/ranch exit - anywhere right away that's safe and DOUBLE CHECK THE HITCH, DOORS AND LIGHTS again; always have someone at the trailer watching at stops esp. in rest areas because there are some really scary bad people esp. in rest areas even though on long trips (tho it's sure nice to have restrooms and a shady place to park the trailer and let horses legs rest); always forego grain 36 hours before trailering feeding only a nice wet warm bran mash; always have a buddy in the cab watching the trailer cam; always meticulous about maintenance (did you know that poorly packed or not repacked at all bearings can catch fire?) and check tires for excess heat at every stop; always check doors at every stop; always safety check everything and I do mean everything before re-hitching to head home esp if it's been a couple days; always plan ahead for any possible emergencies including having cash on hand, FIRST AID KITS, phone numbers of vets on the route and at the destination if other than a show, and noting rest areas or parks or "horse motels"...and on and on. Yeah. I think I could give lessons to rock group roadies! As a result I can truthfully state I have never (so far, touch wood) had anything worse than a flat tire and that was found in the show parking lot before I hitched up to go home. Without a doubt, trailering for me and many others is hands down the scariest thing we do with horses and mostly it is because of those things we can't control like other crazy drivers and the kinds of people that the Secret Service is always on the lookout for!

  12. I feel as you do about unnecessary stops with a horse in a trailer. As folks have pointed out, there are times that one must stop, but I like to keep those to a minimum both in the number of stops I make and the amount of time I leave my guy(s) standing.
    It really irked me years ago to go to an after-hunt party. Everyone went off to eat, drink and be merry and their trusty, tired and dirty steeds were relegated to the trailer, maybe with a hay net. I was considered to be a weirdo or a softy as I grabbed a plate of food, off loaded my horse, and stayed with him until my friend was ready to leave.

  13. lytha and I have trailered from/to a lot of the same places for the same reasons. Our horses view the trailer as a place to nap and snack from the haybag and look out the window. Gas stops are an opportunity to offer water and a carrot. Lunch breaks (we park so that we can see the trailer from the restaurant window, with the rig in the shade) are a chance for the horses to fall asleep totally. State rest areas and parks are a place to get the horses out of the rig so they can eat some grass. After 20 minutes, they hop back in the trailer for another haybag and a snooze. My horses have been known to *gain* weight during travel.

    Of course, my horse is "hard to steal." She has a self-imposed list of people who are authorized to hold onto her leadrope, and the list is a short one. God help the unauthorized thief who might try to unload her.

    The worst part of trailering for me is the other drivers. I taught my kids this guideline: whenever cars outnumber trucks on the road, you drop your speed 10mph. When the ratio drops to 3 cars or more per truck, slow down another 5mph. People who drive cars *do not* understand stopping range for a large vehicle, and we must drive proactively and establish a big "bubble" around the rig to stay safe.

  14. Dreaming I had a situation very similar to yours once, and I was the big party pooper that dragged everyone down with the suggestion that we get the horses home. It's awful to be the only one in the crowd that feels that way, but it happens. I've learned to pick my trailering situations carefully -- I really don't like inconveniencing people or holding them to my rules. Live and Learn.

  15. Arena/Lytha, I suspect you guys are relaxed about it b/c your horses are relaxed, and that's a good situation to have. Riley is a relaxed traveller, Harv was not. He freaked out in stalls at shows if I left him (you could hear him bellow from the show ring).

    I know good horse people that are more like you than me (with respect to trailering) but I do think you have to be vigilant and ready for unexpected behavior.

    You're right that other drivers are probably the worst safety risk.

  16. When I used to fox hunt we would always reload our horses and let them munch on a haynet while we enjoyed the hunt breakfast. It usually took us about 45 mins to eat and clean up. Most of the hunt horses were use to this and used this time to let down and relax after hunting all morning. I think we all felt that in the middle of a huge field our horses were safer munching in their trailers than being tied to the side while still high off the morning hunt.

  17. I completely dislike un-necessary stops. It could be because I haul a draft.. she's massive, she's young.. she's impatient... she ROCKS MY TRAILER !

    Then there is the whole "all the idiots on the road" that insist on cutting off the large truck, with large horse trailer then slam on their brakes. Like geeze you don't SEE ME???

  18. Hey, my policy is if you come in my trailer you abide by my rules.

    My primary rule is that the owner of any horse in my trailer either be in my car or driving behind me.

    I had a situation last year where a horse started to collapse in my trailer and I couldn't reach the rider at all (she'd turned off her cell phone). I wasn't sure what to do but finally decided to unload her horse at a nearby farm (luckily I knew the owner) so it could recover. The horse was fine but I could have really used an extra pair of hands and eyes that day. I find it very stressful to trailer other people's horses because it is quite dangerous and even though I am a conservative driver you can't control the cars around you.

    As a foxhunter, my horse is pretty comfortable standing on the trailer after the hunt. I generally don't leave him too long but if he has lots of hay and his best friend in there with him, he's content to doze. Since we only hunt in the spring/fall it's usually quite cool in the trailer.

  19. My horses do stand in the trailer for stops, but I keep an eye on things.

    The driving part is nervewracking, though, mostly because of the other drivers on the road. "Oh, gee, here comes a horse trailer, we better pull out in front of it." "Oh, look, there's lots of room between that trailer and the car in front. Let's cut into the lane." I have to double time my defensive driving skills.

  20. Ah, liz, the my barn my rules thing! You are right, but I have trailered with a pro hauler who talked on her cellphone incessantly and missed our turnoff. I suggested that the cellphone was not a good idea in unfamiliar surroundings -- she was not happy -- I never used this person again.

    Now, what would I have done if it were a friend? Polite but firmly express my feelings, ask him/her to respect my concerns. If they don't, lesson learned for me.

  21. I am so with you on this. I rarely trailer my horse, but daughter's pony and horse have trailered a fair amount and I am a stickler for pretty much the same things you listed.

    There is no way I could ever go inside a restaurant and leave my horses in a trailer unattended no matter how long the trip was. I just couldn't do that.

    For the most part, I don't do things that require that kind of journey for my horses, but if we ever moved a great distance and needed to transport six equines, it would be a total nightmare for me. I'm truly not sure what I'd do - probably hire a professional and ride WITH THEM to make sure everything was done my way.

  22. I totally agree with your trailer rules. I do not own a trailer or truck, so I am at the whim of friends. I appreciate the ride and the opportunity to show or clinic, but I am often left fretting inside and biting my tongue. I cringe if the driver accelerates roughly and do we really need to stop at Wawa or the tackshop?
    I also stay near my horse when he is tied, even if this means eating lunch standing up or waiting half an hour until someone else can watch him and then walking "briskly" to the port-o-potty.
    Once I trailered my horse in July and it was hot. He was dripping with sweat when he came off the trailer. I felt so badly that I wanted to cry. Thankfully, the farm owner was very kind and she let me use her facility to shower my horse. He was fine, but we drove back later when the sun was low. I learned my lesson.

  23. I agree with the comments regarding all the safety aspects of trailering our 'precious cargo'. When I am trailering I am a completely different person on the road, I can not stand watching people take turns too quickly, accelerate or stop too quickly. I am so careful, I think too many drivers are insensitive to the act of balancing for the horse and our job is to make his 'transport' as comfortable, smooth and stress free as possible. Becky

  24. We trailer 3-4x a week. We keep our horses at home and have to haul to ride in a real arena, or for lessons. We frequently ride down the road, and thankfully, we live in a community that is fairly rural and people are mindful of our horses.

    My mare used to be awful to load and haul, but the frequency of our hauling has made her pretty good (thank GOD!). We are always mindful of all of the other cars, which IMO is the biggest hazard. We don't haul very far (less than 5 miles normally) and it's an easy haul, but we still make sure everything is done just as we would be hauling 100 miles to a show (weekend of the 12 and then again the weekend of the 19th).

    My biggest thing is LEATHER HALTERS!! They break in emergency situations and I'd much rather pay another $40 for another halte. I always use the cheaper track or turnout halters. We also keep the leadropes on the horses, but clip with a trailer tie (which incidentally is attached to the trailer with a piece of baling string, another breaking point).

    As long as you're mindful and well-prepared, trailering is not a bad thing. :)

  25. Madman, thanks for the idea of using baling twine as another safety 'release' on the trailer tie. Does the synthetic (red/orange) twine break or do you need the jute version?
    I have a guy who sometimes decides he's leaving. I had a close call with one of the elastic ties - never again!

  26. It was great to read your post on your feelings about trailering, but even better to read all these comments too. I am new to trailering and the whole thing stresses me out. Nice to know others struggle with the driving. Personally I estimate how long it will take to get somewhere and double it so I can take my sweet time and avoid other cars.

  27. @Stacey - I guess the "my trailer, my rules" works best when it's your own trailer! I'd have a hard time keeping my thoughts to myself if someone was talking on a cell phone while driving my horse!

    Most of the time I drive and I find that I'm more conservative than many of my friends.

  28. I work for an equine breakdown assistance company and there's some useful tips on transporting horses safely on our website: (You don't need to be a member to read them)

  29. Since I must haul my horses to even school them, my horses spend a lot of time in the trailer. Because of that it is like a second home to them and they are relaxed and comfortable in there which makes for much safer trips.

    In a perfect world none of us would be hauling horses around and there would be no dangers. We're never going to get that so it's our responsibility to see that our horses are not only as safe as they can be but as prepared as possible to deal with things like trailering.

    Looking forward to video of the clinic.


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