owners will usually find it necessary at some point in time
to trailer their horses. Trailering may be necessary at time
of purchase, for horse shows, trail riding, or a medical emergency.
Whatever the need, it is important to be prepared and knowledgeable
about trailering safety. Poor preparation of the horse, trailer
or towing vehicle can turn a pleasurable outing into a horse
owners nightmare. Poor truck and trailer maintenance can result
in traffic accidents or breakdowns such as: a lat tire(s);
a broken axle, spindle or spring; and motor failure. In more
extreme cases, broken welds can cause a trailer to become
detached from the towing vehicle. Perhaps the most serious
problem that can result from improper trailer upkeep is having
a horse fall through rotted floor boards; especially during
travel. This fact sheet will provide the basic concerns involved
in horse trailer maintenance and trailering safety.
purchasing a horse trailer consider the needs of your horse.
The trailer should posses:
height (7-8 feet) and width (6-8 feet) for the horse(s)
mats on the floor and tailgate to provide traction and cushion
during loading, unloading and travel
ropes or chains of adequate length with quick release safety
padding on chest bar and stall sides
lights for night time hauling
vents on the roof and along side panels
maintenance checks should be performed on a horse trailer
every time it is used. Routine items include:
need a minimum amount of 1/4" of tread (check with your
state Division of Motor Vehicles for the measurement); be
adequately inflated and have no signs of dry rot cracks.
Spare tires also should be checked.
and safety triangles or reflectors should be in good working
order in case of breakdown. (Ignitable flares should not
be stored in the horse trailer because of fire potential)
should not be rotted or in weak condition.
any boards that are questionable. To help lengthen the life
of a trailer floor, mats should be lifted after use and
the floor swept or hosed out. If the floor is hosed be sure
it is dry before the mats are replaced. Yearly applications
of a weather sealer on the floor boards will also extend
screws, bolts or nails that may have worked loose and are
protruding from the inside of the trailer should be removed.
lights (marker, tail, brake, directional and interior) should
be working and bright.
welds, safety chain welds and snaps should be in good repair.
hitch ball as necessary.
chocks should be in good condition and used anytime the
trailer is unhitched from the towing vehicle.
maintenance checks include:
of frame for cracks and wires for loose connections and
or replacement of rotted or rusted metal
of all hinges, springs, etc.
of ramp hinges and springs for weakness and cracks
should be pulled and bearings checked and repacked
of spring shackles for wear
of brakes and emergency break-away cable, pin and control
the Horse for Travel
loading and unloading the horse in the trailer well in advance
of any scheduled events; especially if the horse is unfamiliar
with trailering. A battle getting into the trailer is an
unpleasant way to start a journey or end what had been an
should be trailered in a leather rather than a nylon halter.
In an emergency situation (such as the halter becoming snagged)
a leather halter will break more easily and is less likely
to injure or burn the horses head.
a horses legs for travel not only protects the legs from
injury but adds support. It is important to ensure that
the wraps extend below the coronet band to protect this
area. (See Rutgers Cooperative Extension Leaflet #609 Horse
Bandaging: A Practical Art - for the proper way to wrap
a horses legs.)
remove all tack (saddle, bridle, harness) from the horse
loading or unloading horses, it is best if two people are
available to do the job.
a cotton lead rope or leather lead when loading or unloading
horses. This is advisable in the event that the horse rushes
backwards pulling the lead through your hands. Nylon leads
will blister, burn and cut hands when pulled quickly.
walking a horse into the trailer, make sure that chest bars
and escape doors are open for the handler to exit safely.
Never climb under or over dividers, chest bars or the horse
to exit the trailer. Never leave yourself in the position
of being trapped in the trailer with the horse between you
and the exit.
sure that the trailer is securely and properly hitched to
the towing vehicle before loading a horse. Never load a
horse or leave a horse in an unhitched trailer. Do not unhitch
a trailer with a horse still inside. Trailers are very unstable
and can easily tip on end.
loading a single horse, place the horse on the left side
of the trailer. When trailering two horses, place the heavier
horse on the left side. This will make towing the trailer
smoother and the ride easier for the horse because of the
crown contour of the road surface.
approaching the ramp make sure the horse is in the center
of the ramp so that the horse does not step off the sides.
secure the butt bar/chain before tying the horses head.
If the horse pulls back before the butt bar is in place
it wont break the tie, the halter or fall down. Do not stand
directly behind the horse when hooking the butt bar in case
the horse flies backwards.
tying the horses head use a safety-quick-release knot or
a tie with a panic/safety snap (See Figure 1). Make sure
the horse has enough rope length to permit head movement
for balance, but not to get its head down or over to the
horse traveling alongside.
horses take to trailering naturally, while for others it
is often a traumatic experience. It is important that a
horse be happy and secure when being trailered. One bad
experience in trailering is all it takes to make a horse
a bad hauler. A bad hauler is hard to cure.
starting to travel check to see that the horse is comfortable,
that ventilation is adequate, and that the hay bag or manger
is securely fastened so that the horse cannot become tangled
all doors to make sure they are secure and that the hitch
is tight. Safety chains should be in place and all lights
and brakes functioning in accordance with your states Division
of Motor Vehicle codes.
starts and stops should be very slow and steady.
not exceed the speed limit. Remember to allow extra stopping
distance when towing a trailer. Moving horses and the weight
of the trailer will push against the towing vehicle.
not allow anyone to throw lit cigarettes or matches from
the window of the towing vehicle. Wind currents often suck
the cigarettes or matches into the trailer, causing a fire.
on the horse(s) at every stop or every 100 miles. At this
time also check the hitch, safety chains, lights and hay
bags. Keep hay bags full and offer the horse(s) a drink
backing up with the trailer if at all possible. If backing
is necessary it is advisable to have a person outside the
vehicle to watch and guide you.
lowering he ramp keep feet and hands out of the way.
the horse before lowering the butt bar.
not stand on the ramp or directly behind the trailer when
a horse is exiting in case it leaves the trailer quickly.
It is not advisable to allow a horse to fly back quickly
as this soon becomes a bad and dangerous habit.
to keep the horse straight as it backs down the ramp so
that it does not step off the side. Walk the horse around
after trailering for an extended distance to restore circulation
and ease stiff muscles.
tying a horse to the outside of a trailer, use a safety-
quick-release knot or panic snap. Make sure the rope is
short enough that the horse cannot get a leg over it, but
long enough to allow free motion of the head. Never tie
a horse to a trailer with a rope length long enough to permit
grazing. This is where the most serious trailer accidents
ramp to the trailer should be in an up position when tying
a horse to the outside of the trailer, especially when the
tie rings are located towards the rear. A ramp in the down
position leaves space between the back of the trailer and
the springs where a horse can easily get a foot or leg stuck.
The ramp is also the right height for the horse to injure
its lower legs on.
leave a horse tied to the outside of a trailer unattended.
When leaving a horse inside a trailer, make sure the chest
bar and butt bar are secure, especially if an escape door
is left open.
not tie a horse to the outside of a trailer when it is unhitched
from the towing vehicle. Horses are stronger than we think
and a panicked horse can and will drag an unhitched trailer
your horse is a fun and rewarding experience. As long as
common sense is used and the safety guidelines above are
followed trailering accidents are less likely to occur.
Horse Safety Manual. American Youth Horse Council in
Cooperation with the American Horse Council. 1989.
Safety Checklist . Equus Magazine, 151. May 1990.
Publication #: FS607
document is apart of
a series from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Rutgers, the
State University of New Jersey. Publication date: Revised:
March 1992. Publication date: March 1992.
R. Margentino, Program Associate in Animal Science and Karyn
Malinowski, Ph.D., Extension Equine Specialist, Rutgers Cooperative
Extension, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New
Brunswick, NJ 08903.
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