Safe Driving for Horse Trailers
You finally have your dream horse trailer. You can't wait to haul your horse to a trail-riding adventure away from home. But first, take time to learn how to drive your horse trailer for your and your horse's safety and comfort, using the following 15 tips. Note that if you've never driven a truck-and-horse-trailer rig before, practice by driving off-hours with an empty trailer in an empty parking lot and on a seldom-traveled road.
1. Adjust mirrors properly.
Adjust your mirrors so that you can see your trailer's back end. Then you'll know when there's enough clearance when pulling in front of another vehicle. Also, aim your mirrors down so you can see the road edge behind your trailer. Keep in mind that passenger-side mirrors don't give accurate distance measurements.
2. Invest in good mirrors.
If your current mirrors don't extend out far enough on the side to see the back of your trailer, buy new ones, or add extenders to the mirror arm. After-market mirrors are available at auto-supply stores and online; or, you can custom-order them from your local dealer.
3. Note your trailer's tracking.
Observe how your trailer tracks behind your towing vehicle - that is, how evenly and closely your trailer's tire marks follow your towing-vehicle's tire marks. You'll use this information to help you turn with care. (See Tip #9.) To see how your trailer tracks, drive your empty trailer to a dirt field. Make some turns, then inspect the tracking pattern.
4. Turn on all lights.
Turn on your towing-vehicle lights (low-beam) and trailer lights for enhanced visibility. The better the other drivers see you, the safer you'll be.
5. Be a turtle.
Be a turtle, not a jackrabbit. Jackrabbit starts and sudden stops are hard on your trailered horse. That sudden jerk when peeling out can throw him against the butt chains or dividers; a sudden stop can throw him forward into the manger or sideways against the trailer wall. Pull out slowly. When approaching a signal or stop sign, allow plenty of room between your rig and the cars ahead of you for greater stopping distance. In stop-and-go traffic, leave about four to five car lengths in front of you to allow for smooth stops. (Bonus: A comfortable, happy horse will tend to trailer load more easily than an uncomfortable, unhappy one.)
6. Watch your speed.
Be aware of speed limits for towing, or for rigs of a specific size or length. And regardless of the speed limit, make safety a priority. Don't adjust your speed according to a road sign, but to the highway's weather and safety conditions.
7. Drive defensively.
Closely watch your fellow drivers and try to anticipate lane changes, changes in speed,etc,.so that you can smoothly adjust for such changes. Don't simply stare at the road directly in front of you; be aware of traffic beindi and in front of you. Watch for brake lights, your distance from other vehicles, and road signs. Keep an extra pair of sunglasses handy so you'll never be without them in sunny conditions.
8. Stay to the right.
This allows other vehicles to safely pass on the left.
9. Make wide turns.
Using the tracking information described in Tip #3, allow for sufficient room to clear corners, street curbs, rocks, and trees. Use your mirrors to monitor clearance. If in doubt, safely stop, get out, and check the clearance. Practice your turns in an empty parking lot.
10. Pass carefully.
When you pass on a two-lane highway, allow at least the trailer's length between the back of your trailer and the front bumper of the vehicle you pass. Never pass near the top of a hill or on a curve, where your visibility is hampered. Look for a broken white line, which typically designates a passing area, if you can do so safely.
11. Stay in the proper gear.
When going downhill, shift to a lower gear to help keep your speed down, which will save brake wear-and-tear. Note that some engines have an automatic "downhill gear," which helps to keep a rig at a specific speed when going down long grades. If your vehicle doesn't have this feature, shift manually.
When going uphill, also shift to a lower gear, which will give you more power without "flooring it." Also, your automatic transmission won't shift back and forth as your speed varies, which can make for a rough ride. Plus, your engine will stay cooler.
12. Avoid overheating.
If your towing vehicle starts to overheat, pull over at the safest site available. Turn off the engine, then raise the hood to allow cooling air into the engine compartment. Do not open the radiator cap; steam and boiling water can burn you. If you've properly maintained your engine, it should cool down after a few minutes.
13. Don't tie up traffic.
If six or more vehicles are behind you, pull over to let them pass as soon as you can do so safely. Allow adequate space to pull over on the road's shoulder, plus enough for you to safely merge back into traffic.
14. Park with care
. Even if you're comfortable with highway driving, it's natural to feel anxious about parking once you reach a trailhead or other destination. To ease your anxiety, first pull out of traffic, stop, and eyeball the situation. Then formulate a game plan. Find a way to turn around and face the parking entrance/exit, so it'll be easier to pull out later in the day when the parking area is full.
15. Back up with skill.
When it comes to pulling a trailer, backing seems to be the biggest bugaboo for some folks - another reason why you should always park facing out when pulling into a parking area. Practice backing at home until it feels natural. Turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction from where you want the trailer's back end to go.
For example, if you want your trailer to go to the right, turn your steering wheel to the left. Move slowly, and watch your trailer in your mirrors for impediments. Practice in a parking lot, the white lines will help guide you. It's not hard; it just takes repetition!