Avoid a Trailer Scram­ble

Trail Rider - - SAFE TRAVELS - BY REBECCA GIMENEZ, PhD

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.

Bal­anc­ing Act

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.

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