Trailering your horse for the first time can be very challenging for both horse and human. Here are some tips that I've found most useful for myself and that can help make loading up and hitting the road easier right from the get-go.
1. Take your time
One of the first things to remember when loading up your horse and driving off with a trailer in tow is that you must take your time. Impatience and rushing will cause problems every step of the way. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to prepare your trailer, your horse and yourself for a safe and trouble-free ride.
2. Provide a pal
Riding in a trailer can be a very scary experience for a horse. Remember that horses are herd animals, and they like to have company. For this reason, it's easier to trailer two horses than one. If your horse is anxious, it's always a good idea to have some sort of companion for him or her. If you can't afford to keep two full-size horses, it may be a good idea keep a donkey, goat, pony or a mini to help keep your horse company at home and when traveling.
3. Going it alone is not a good idea for you, either
You should not load your horse up or trailer your horse all by yourself, no matter how skilled you are. Have someone else on the ground to spot you, and have someone else ride with you in case of emergency.
4. Plan every aspect of your trip
From load up, to route, to break time, plan as much of your trip as you possibly can. Talk with your helper in advance of loading up so that you are both on board with the steps you will take to load up and what you will do in case of emergency.
5. Know your horses
If you're loading several horses, take their personalities into account. Boss horse may very much want to be the first one loaded. Subordinate horses may be easier to load once the top horse is on board.
6. Keep horses in sight of each other throughout loading and unloading
Again, remember that horses are herd animals and being in close proximity with each other can help calm their nerves.
Assemble your horses in a waiting area near the trailer before you begin loading. Be sure that they can see each other the whole time.
When you unload, reverse this process. Don't lead one horse off out of sight as soon as he exits the trailer. Instead, tie him up nearby so that the others can still see him as they are unloading.
7. Don’t spring surprises on your horse
To avoid problems loading, prepare your horse well in advance. Keep the trailer in sight for several days before loading. Tie the horse to the trailer when you are grooming and saddling. Feed the horse outside and inside the trailer to help him get used to the idea of loading up.
8. Let the horse decide
If you're just loading one animal, and he or she is unused to being trailered, try simply setting the horse’s feed in the trailer all the way to the front and leaving the door open so that the horse can simply walk in whenever he or she is ready. Then you can sneak up and close the door.
9. Some horses can be lured with food
By this I mean that they will follow you if you're carrying a bucket of food, and you can shake it a bit to urge them to move forward. If your horse is like this, you can simply step into the trailer carrying a bucket of food, and your horse is very likely to follow you.
Be careful with this method because you will then be in the front of the trailer with your horse blocking your exit. If you feel you can safely slip past the horse and out the back door that's fine, but if you think you might get stomped or kicked, this is not a good method.
10. Prepare yourself for a safe trip
In addition to safely loading up, safety on the road is of vital importance. Before you set off for the first time, make certain that you are completely comfortable and completely safe.
11. Begin by hitching up correctly
If you don't know what you're doing, get an expert to help you. It is absolutely essential that your trailer be securely attached to your vehicle and that all of your signal lights and brake lights work correctly.12. Practice
If you haven't driven with a trailer in tow, practice with an empty trailer before you ever hit the road with horses on board. Don't load up and drive off with your precious cargo until you are completely comfortable maneuvering in every situation while pulling a trailer.
13. Especially practice backing up
When you're actually pulling a trailer, you should avoid having to back up at all costs; however, the best laid plans often go awry. You may very well find yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to back up. In this case, you'll need to be skilled. Remember to proceed slowly, steadily and carefully.
14. Add extra mirrors
Remember that trailers are often wider than the towing vehicle. You may need to add extra side mirrors to remain cognizant of the position of the trailer in your lane of traffic.
15. Stay calm and cool
Don’t overreact if your trailer starts to fishtail, and don't try to correct it by steering. Instead, hold the steering wheel steady and move straight ahead. Brake gradually and gently to bring your trailer under control. Whatever you do, don't accelerate if your trailer starts to snake or fishtail. This will only make matters worse.
16. Keep an eye on your gauges
Remember that towing a trailer puts extra stress on your engine, so overheating (especially on hills or curvy roads) can be a big problem.
17. Take along a well-equipped breakdown kit
It should include:
- Complete list of emergency numbers
- Fully equipped first-aid kit
- High visibility jacket
- Warning triangles
18. Stay organized in case of a breakdown
If you do get a flat tire or otherwise break down, keep your wits about you. Turn on your hazard lights right away and move carefully to the nearest hard shoulder. Set your emergency brake, put on your high visibility jacket and set about making it easy to see your vehicle by putting out flares and/or warning triangles.
It's very dangerous to unload on a busy roadway. It may even be illegal in many locations. If you must unload, call the police to come and provide some security and traffic control.
19. Remember that even an empty trailer adds quite a bit of weight to your entire rig
Add one or two or more thousand pound horses, and you have quite a bit of weight behind you. For this reason, you must develop the habit of keeping your eyes on the road and checking traffic and road conditions in the distance all the time.
Check your mirrors frequently and always be prepared to stop gradually. Slamming on your brakes with a horse trailer behind you is a sure way to cause mayhem.
The first time you attempt trailering your horse may seem overwhelming, but if your horse trusts you, and you are actually trustworthy and a sensible, safe driver, you have nothing to fear. Follow the tips presented here to enjoy a low stress, safe journey with your horse and trailer.
About the Author: Nicky Ellis is an editor at Horses & Foals. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.