Equine emergencies in the trailer are likely one the biggest fears of horse owners—no matter how safely you drive, and how well your horse travels. You can't prevent every potential emergency, but you can be prepared by being proactive and knowing how to take control of the situation.
Equine Emergencies in the Trailer
by Ann Marie Henry
For as long as people have made horses a part of their lives, there have been horse related emergencies. Those who don’t know much about horses are often surprised that these seemingly graceful and beautiful animals are so accident prone. If you are just getting involved with horses, moving them home for the first time, traveling to your first competition or simply want the peace of mind that comes with being better prepared, there are simple steps that you can take to lessen your chances of an emergency resulting from neglect, accident or illness.
Evaluate Your Rig
Many horses are terrified, or at least somewhat nervous about getting in or traveling in a horse trailer. It is often impossible to regain the trust and confidence of a horse who has been in a trailer accident or has had a bad experience. Because of this, it is of great importance that one seeks to avoid accidents and emergencies in a trailer as best they can.
Foremost, evaluate the type of trailer you expect to haul your horse in. While it may be costly to invest in a new one, it is even more costly if you get in an accident where your horse severely injures itself. Many loading and hauling phobias can be attributed to old, poorly sized, lit and ventilated trailers that may be a bargain to buy. Your trailer should be tall enough, wide enough, and provide a smooth ride. It should allow adequate lighting and ventilation to help ease the mind of an animal that is claustrophobic. In addition, the interior design from the trailer should be free from sharp edges and latches that a horse can get caught or cut on.
Tow your horse trailer with a vehicle that is properly fitted with towing equipment and rated for the weight you are pulling. Evaluate your own driving technique, and if necessary, practice and perfect your driving skills with an empty trailer before adding a horse to the equation. Maintain both your truck and trailer to lessen your chances of something going wrong while you’re on the road.
Before your trip, visually inspect the condition of both your truck and trailer tires and check that the air pressure is appropriate. Test your batteries, brakes, turn signals and lights on both the truck and trailer, as well as the fluid levels of the tow vehicle. Have your hitch and floorboards inspected by a professional on a regular basis to insure they are sturdy and in good working order, and have them show you how to inspect it yourself as well.
Build Your Horse’s Confidence
If your horse is prone to panicking while being hauled, and your trailer is not to blame, practice building his confidence on short, pleasant rides before embarking on a long one. Outfit the horse in protective boots or bandages, a breakable halter, and protective head wear. While this may seem unnecessary to some, it is a quick, inexpensive way to protect your horses from many injuries that can occur on a trailer and give the horse a bad experience. Provide hay in a bag or net so the horse can eat and relax during the ride.
Once your horse has become comfortable on their short rides, you will be better prepared for longer trips. Plan well in advance for travel, and pack for the journey accordingly with supplies for both you and the horses. Have emergency numbers ready and map out your route. Put shavings on the floor of the trailer to absorb urine and help prevent your horse from slipping during transport. Make sure the horse is tied in a position that they can lower their head and clear their respiratory tract.
On an extremely long trip, arrange to stop and offer the horse water, especially during hot times of the year. Plan stops where you can safely unload the horse and allow it to stretch and move around. For trips that involve more than one day of travel, arrange to stay at areas where the horse can be stabled for the night to rest.
Should your vehicle breakdown during your trip, turn on your 4-way flashers and do your best to stay out of the traffic lanes. Be prepared with warning triangles or flares, and have your cell phone and emergency numbers handy. Besides a roadside emergency kit that includes a spare tire, lug wrench, small air compressor, jumper cables and a fire extinguisher, it is also recommended that you pack water and hay to keep your horse content as well as an extra halter, lead rope and first aid supplies just in case.
Ann Marie Henry is a riding instructor and horse breeder who enjoys educating novice horseman of the finer points to horse care and safety. Visit her Horse Training Books site.