Avoid a Trailer Scramble
AAs you haul your horse, he must constantly adjust his body weight to keep his balance, working his muscles hard. He may even have to scramble to stay on his feet. Here, I’ll explain how your horse balances in your moving trailer. Then I’ll give you eight ways to help keep him safe, secure, and on his feet. Finally, I’ll provide pros and cons of four common trailer designs, in terms of how they affect equine balance.
Since your horse’s body weight is so high above his feet, he has to work hard to keep his weight stable when your trailer is randomly swaying, bumping, and moving down the road. He knows what to do to stay upright; his every instinct drives him to stand up and protect himself from falling over or down.
How does your horse balance? My colleague, Chris Riley, PhD — a professor of equine clinical studies at Massey University at the University of New Zealand — recently trained six GoPro video cameras on horses as they traveled in two-horse, forward-facing trailers.
Dr. Riley’s documentation confirmed that when horses try to balance in a trailer, they spread their legs forward, backward, and to the side in a base-wide stance to help them increase the surface area of their weight in contact with the trailer floor.
This is basically the same thing you’d do if I tried to push you over while you were standing up, especially if I tied your hands behind your back. Horses are horizontal animals, while we’re vertical animals, so our methods of aligning our spines might be different, but our concepts of gravity, momentum, and inertia are similar.
What You Can Do
Here are eight things you can do to help your horse balance inside the trailer as you go down the road. • Drive carefully. Scramble marks in trailers attest to the efforts of horses to balance themselves and often point to poor driving skills. Good driving skills are crucial to helping your horse keep his balance. Turn and accelerate slowly, and brake gently. More than 65 percent of your horse’s body weight is on his forequarters, so when you apply the brakes, it’s difficult for him to keep his hind legs on the floor. He’ll tend to tip forward, bracing with his front legs. When you brake hard, his hind legs will creep forward, under his body. • Invest in the right size trailer. To balance correctly in your trailer, your horse must have free use of his head and neck. If your trailer is too short for him to be able to raise his head, he’ll lack the ability to engage this critical balancing maneuver. • Invest in a quality trailer. Quality structural materials in your trailer’s walls, bulkheads, and flooring will provide balancing support for your traveling horse. • Invest in quality, cushioned fittings. Invest in heavy-duty, cushioned fittings anyplace your horse will touch to lean and balance, including chest bars, butt bars, stall sides, and dividers. Note that in a forward-facing, two-horse trailer, he’ll consistently use the chest bar for balance during braking. In a slant load, he’ll lean against the side dividers or his travel buddies. • Invest in stall mats. High-quality mats
absorb shock and encourage grip. • Keep your trailer clean. Keep your trailer floor free of urine and manure, which can cause slick conditions. • Consider bedding. Bedding materials can provide traction, but can also cause respiratory problems if inhaled. Look for large, dust-free shavings. Mix in liquidabsorbing pellets to control urine. I’ve used a small amount of damp sand or dirt in trailers without good mats or sufficient bedding. • Tie him correctly. If you tie your horse in the trailer, leave enough slack so that he can balance by moving his head and neck, but not so loose that he can catch a leg in the tie rope.
Learn how to help your traveling horse keep his balance with these expert guidelines.
Good driving skills are crucial to helping your horse keep his balance. Turn and accelerate slowly, and brake gently.