In which horse trailers are contemplated in some amount of detail

Stacey at the Behind the Bit blog had an interesting post the other day about trailering safety.This was her tongue-in-cheek suggestion:It started a really interesting discussion between her readers. Some were completely paranoid about trailering--absolutely petrified by the mere suggestion. Others are willing to trailer, but have strict rules about frequency and duration of stops (interestingly, some insist on frequent long stops while others shrilly cry that there should be no stops whatsoever).

And then a few endurance riders piped into the conversation.

Endurance riders take transportation seriously. As a general rule, distance riders tend to be rather fanatical about safety. But generally speaking, endurance riders don't freak out at the thought of driving our horses 8 hours or more to get to an event. Some of us do it monthly during the season--or at least as often as we can afford!

I started to wonder why endurance riders have such an unusual attitude towards travelling...and this post is the result of some of the musings.Some of my comfort in trailering comes from familiarity with the equipment. Fiddle and I trailer out at least once per week all year round--and in summer, we load up and head out 3 or 4 times each week whenever possible. I drive the truck a lot, and I haul the trailer a lot. I'm familiar with how it drives and how it handles in all sorts of weather. I know how the rig is supposed to sound and feel, and I'm pretty confident that if it started sounding or feeling wrong, I'd be aware of the wrongness pretty quickly.

I'm also really happy with the rig we have now, too. The 3/4 ton diesel truck has plenty of "tug" to it, and more important than that, it has plenty of brakes. As a friend of mine likes to say: "If the truck won't go, you call a tow truck. If the truck won't stop, you call an ambulance." I know where my preferences lie on that issue.

Something my dad taught me years ago applies here: drive the rig so your passengers won't realize it's moving. I do that, even when I don't have passengers and even when I'm not pulling a trailer. It's good practice, so that when I do have somebody else along for the ride, I give them a nice, smooth journey. Since I don't do jackrabbit starts or slamming stops even in my teeny truck, I don't have to remind myself to avoid those things when I'm towing.

Because she is in the trailer so often, Fiddle doesn't fret about getting in or being in it. It's a familiar, secure place for her--a relatively calm, quiet place with a haybag and an interesting view out the window. Hana is a good traveller as well. This comes from practice and lots of it.

Neither of the mares was particularly good at travelling when we first got them. Hana was so out-of-shape that she was sweaty and exhausted by a journey of any distance--the effort of balancing and staying steady required her to use muscles that had no tone or fitness! I think a lot of people don't remember that the horse doesn't just flop down in the trailer like we do in the truck--they have to work to stay upright in there.

Fiddle didn't have much experience travelling when she came here. Fortunately, I had access to the ultimate horse trailer companion: the Toad. Toad had travelled thousands of miles to competitions in the years before I got Fiddle, and he was completely at home in a horse trailer. Fiddle's first journeys in the trailer, therefore, were alongside the Toad, who taught her to brace her feet, settle her bum against the back wall, snack hay from the haybag and watch the world go by out the window. Fee now enters the trailer with the same eagerness that Toad taught her to have in those first few trips.

What about stopping along the way?

If you're travelling across a state or two (especially in the West, where the states are big!) fuel stops are essential, and rest breaks are important for the health and safety of the driver and the passengers.

We deliberately drink water and tea while travelling so that we are hydrated when we arrive...and also so that we remember to stop and give everyone a break periodically! Fuel stops are an opportunity to offer a carrot, a fistful of grass, or a bucket of water. We also have favorite state rest areas with big grassy "pet walking" areas that are good for a few minutes of grazing for the horses on long trips.

We try to take longer meal breaks in places where we can park the trailer within view of the restaurant windows.I don't worry about anybody stealing Fiddle. Hana would go happily with anyone who called her "pretty", but Fiddle has a very short list of people whom she has authorized to hold her leadrope...and gawd help the unauthorized thief who might try to unload her. Fee would also rip the doors off the rig if some unauthorized person took Hana away from her. Sometimes, having a big bad b*tch mare is a good thing.

Finally, I have to say some nice things about a service provider:US Rider is the only roadside assistance plan that will cover your rig when you are pulling a live load. Triple-A won't touch live animals. State Farm doesn't even want to think about live animals. But when something goes wrong on the road and you call US Rider, the dispatcher who answers the phone will ask as part of the greeting: "Are you and your horses safe?"

I don't know that I've ever mentioned US Rider on this blog, but I've said elsewhere that it is one of the few horse-related bills that I pay every year with a smile. Some years I don't need to call on them for help...but when I do call, they help me. US Rider will tow your truck and your trailer if it won't start or drive. They will cover the cost of roadside repairs if that is a better option. They will replace your flat tire, bring you fuel, or jump your battery at no charge. The people who answer the phone actually know what you mean when you say, "the rig won't start and it's 90 degrees in the shade" and they will start working immediately to make everyone safe. I've rarely written fan letters to service companies before--but I've written one to US Rider. They've saved my butt a couple of times, and they do it promptly and politely. In today's economy, that's worth gold.

What do you think you do well when you're travelling with horses?

What aspects of hauling do you dread?

Comments

  1. I'm glad to hear a personal review of US Rider -- I'm going to add them to my memberships this year, because thus far I've been pretty lucky with a rig but I don't want to push it!

    I've been driving trailers for as long as I've been driving, so I'm pretty comfortable having horses in tow. But for me, the worst part of the drive are the people who don't understand how big and heavy horse trailers are, and how they can't stop on a dime if you dart in front of them. ;P I just make sure to stay alert and give everyone a biiig space bubble.

    Will is a super shipper. He loads himself, even trying to detour into open trailers if someone else's happens to be parked in our driveway. He loves going places. But he is having more trouble balancing in my narrow straightload as he gets older, and long trips exhaust him, so I'm thinking I need to either get a slant load or just extra-wide stalls -- something I'll probably need for Jabby anyway.

    I haven't gotten to take the Moose out anywhere yet, but I know he showed a bit, so hopefully he'll be easy. He's a really good drinker and eater so I'm hoping he won't be hard to keep fed and hydrated at events.


    HA! Word verification -- Bingly. It knew I was talking about the Moose. :D

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  2. I'm a very big fan of US Rider - they actually will provide roadside assistance to ordinary cars too - the coverage is for the person not the vehicle. All the members of my family have their roadside assistance.

    I have a big rig - 4 horse gooseneck, pulled by a F350 with a crew cab, long bed and dualies. I'm a big believer in stability and braking power - and the truck does it for me.

    I worry most about the other drivers - if I was on the road by myself I wouldn't worry. I try not to drive in bad weather. Dawn, Lily, Norman and Pie trailer very well, and Maisie is a pain - fretful and pawing. But Dawn has to be in the last slot, otherwise she gets upset having a horse behind her (I have a slant) and kicks.

    I stop at least every three hours for at least 15 minutes to give the horses a chance to rest, urinate and drink water (if they will - only Dawn is a good drinker). On 1,000-mile hauls - I've done a number, I'll stop overnight at a "horse motel" - there are a couple of good directories.

    I don't enjoy trailering - I worry too much - and by the end of the day my shoulders and back are sore and tight.

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  3. Totally just reread my comment -- that second paragrah should be "if they dart in front of you." I think I need to go to bed, LOL.

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  4. I haul across the country for the farm I work for, so I know how hauling long distance can be. When we haul for work, all horses have food and water in front of them, we stop every couple hours for fuel, bathroom breaks, check on the horses and refill hay and water. If we are traveling for more then 24 hours, we lay over somewhere and unload the horses for a night. We haven't had any issues hauling long distances, except for the normal tire blow outs and a minor brake issue. We have one ton dually's, a 5 horse and a 6 horse, plus we use a semi that hauls 15 horses.
    When I am hauling my own horses, I don't go anywhere that is more then 3 hours from home. At least I haven't yet!
    I agree with Now That's A Trot with the worst part of the drive, other driver's! I think I have done a blog post about that before, I get so irritated by other driver's!
    I leave this week for Scottsdale, with 19 horses. I'm hoping the weather treats us good and we all get there safely!
    I will check into US Rider, I've heard of it and thanks for the review!

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  5. Off-topic: I have a question about the seat of your saddle. Can you email me at jackereynolds@yahoo.com? Thanks ~E.G.

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  6. Ole gray mare. Your most excellent post can be summed up in owner common sence and knowledge. AS a wife/mother in a "horsey" family and a Pony Club DC for five years I did a lot of hauling. I agree, the most stressful part is impatient people who don't understand hauling horses. I live on an island with only ferry access and the deck hands would practically dance a jig trying to get you to load faster than was comfortable. Cudos for your always excellent blog.

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  7. I want a trailer... and a truck...

    *whine*

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  8. I've had two near misses going downhill with NON-horse trailers that started fishtailing. So for a LOOONG time I was pretty white-knuckled going down hills. Hauling my two from Spokane to E-burg when we moved just about did me in (think: the Vantage hill)!
    But my current rig--3/4 ton Jimmy and 3-horse Classic-- hauls so nice that I've gotten much more confident. I do go very slow and easy, having hauled babies for so long. And, having watched a horse trying to balance in the back of a trailer with no door. I think every person driving horses should ride in the back of the trailer once in a while to see and feel what it's really like!
    I have the AAA "RV" rider and it's supposed to cover the trailer--but I wouldn't expect (or want) them to have anything to do with the actual horses. I may have to look into US Rider, but I wonder if they even have coverage in this neck of the woods.

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  9. EvenSong: I can answer your question about US Rider in a strong affirmative from first-hand experience!

    Madeline and I were hauling 3 horses home from a ride on the Sunday of a HOT holiday weekend (4th of July) when the alternator began to fail on the Canyon Road. We limped the rig (an elderly motorhome) to the gas station in Ellensburg beside the Buzz Inn, and it died in the parking lot.

    We called US Rider. An hour later, the motorhome was being towed to a shop in E'burg, and the horse trailer (and Mads and me) were on the way home to the Wet Side. We arrived home only 2 hours behind schedule...and part of that because we bought the tow driver a burger on the way home. THE ENTIRE TOW BILL was covered by US Rider.

    I figure: that incident right there covered 3 years membership.

    So, the short answer to your question is: yes, they cover your area. The long answer to the question is: it was actually quicker and easier to get the rig towed in Ellensburg than it was in downtown Seattle. I have broken down in both locations, and tested this personally!

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  10. NTAT: Standies have the reputation as being horses who will "load into a soup can." I think the low-flight index of the breed is apparent in their willingness to haul quietly and happily as well. But yes, it sounds like a slant-load trailer is in your future!

    KATE: trailering gets easier for people as much as it gets easier for horses, I promise. Jim compares trailering to tacking up your horse: the first 200 times you did it, you have to think about every single detail. After that, you are able to rely on routine and habit, and it gets a lot easier.

    PG: with the long distances and big rigs you haul for work, your employer should be paying for your US Rider membership! (just my not-very-humble opinion!)

    Anon: yup, it's the other drivers that make things difficult. I find that listening to music helps...a little.

    Dom: I hear ya. I bought my first trailer...um, that would be the trailer I have now...when I was 40!

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  11. but what gets me: she wasn't just talking about driving style, she was talking about never stopping at restaurants/rest stops, which pointed out to me that she doesn't really trailer distances. then i realized wait, not only distances, but probably at all - she probably has others trailer her horse, and one of them is probably the friend she lost due to her over-the-top outlook on never stopping. in some ways it can be more stressful to have someone else pulling your horse, because you're not in control. you're not the one with your hand on the trailer brake controller, knowing how long it takes to stop the rig.

    in her "ideal world" the horse trailer never stops, but here's the disconnect: making stops gets the trailer out of the way of the cell phone user, drunk driver, and people who cut us off.

    the horses need a rest, and the driver needs a break after hours of hyper-vigilance at the wheel.

    maybe it doesn't occur to her that some trailers have insulation and keep the horses cooler in summer than the driver in the truck, even. that we aren't always trailering in summer, rather all year, and that some trailer designs allow horses to drop their heads to their knees. maybe she's never had someone trailer her horse when it's cold enough to keep a blanket on the horse in the trailer.

    we've both had terrifying break downs and the horses were just fine, cuz they are used to stopping. i cannot believe how many people agreed with the mentality of "get there and get it over with asap." (maddy couldn't believe it either when she read the original post.)

    there is no better reward for teaching horses to stand patiently in a parked trailer, than when you have an emergency and your horses don't mind being rehitched to a tow truck on the shoulder of an interstate. cuz that in itself is stressful enough without horses kicking walls because the trailer is not in motion.

    we're not "blithe" and "less vigilant" - we're experienced.

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  12. I just bought my first horse trailer a month ago (christmas present to myself). I found a 4Star one horse trailer local and just had to have it. YES it's a ONE horse trailer. Super nice and really roomy. Has all the bells and whistles with windows galore. I can haul it with my Jeep grand Cherokee with no problem. I had a brake box installed and will now look into getting a weight distibution hitch as well.

    My Peb trailers like a dream. We trailer all over the place in my sister's 3 horse stock slant. I think my Peb feels like a royal princess in her own trailer now. It only took her about 15mins to figure out she HAD to back out vs be able to turn around in the slant.

    Funny thing: the first time I hauled with it I realized there was alot of moisture condensation inside it on the way home (it must really be air tite...it's winter here so no opening the windows yet)...so the next time out i figured i would open the roof vent to let some air in...when I went to get Peb out she had snow all over her head OOPS!!! forgot there was a foot of snow up there to blow in. LOL

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  13. Love this post. :) I'm with BTB on security. I'd love that kind of detail. I don't trailer, don't (sob) own a truck and trailer.

    If I can find one to practice on that is smaller than Bella's gigungo big rig, I'm going to ask Alice to give me lessons. She started trailering when she was 15. Her grandmother owned a horse ranch, hooked up the rig, put it in impossible situations, then helped her learn how to get out of really bad situations safely. Now that's love!

    also good to know about US Rider...

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  14. lytha has an excellent point:
    the further/longer your travel with your horse, the more likely it is that Stuff Will Happen.

    Flat tires. Engine Trouble. Traffic jams.

    One time a truck hauling flattened cars to the recycler lost the load on a bridge ahead of us, and traffic was stopped dead for at least 3 hours.

    If our horses weren't accustomed to standing quietly and napping in the trailer, there might have been problems. As it was, we woke them up every once in a while to hand a carrot through the window. No worries, no problems.

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  15. I'm dropping by from my life with the critters, on a tour of stylish award blogs!

    I'm afraid I don't know anything about horses and have only ridden very little (mostly by hanging on till my thighs ached) so I won't be able to contribute in any intelligent way to this discussion.

    I just wanted to say hello really. Have a happy weekend :)

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  16. This is wonderful post, I must say! You have included all details about horse trailers in this post. Also horse trailers shown in post look very nice and spacious. Like it very much.

    Horse Floats Sydney

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