3 Steps to Safe Win­ter Haul­ing

Trail Rider - - SEASONAL GUIDE -

You can haul your horse all year long, even in the dead of win­ter, as long as you do so safely.

Here, I’ll give you a three-step strat­egy to safe win­ter haul­ing: (1) trailer-load safely; (2) keep your horse com­fort­able; and (3) drive care­fully.

Note: You may wish to sign up for USRider Eques­trian Motor Plan, which cov­ers both your tow ve­hi­cle and your trailer, and will help you find a safe place for your horse, in an emer­gency. (For more in­for­ma­tion, call 800/ 844-1409, or visit www.usrider.org.)

Step 1: Trailer-Load Safely

Here are six ways to ease trailer-load­ing in snow and ice. • Wear good boots. Slip­ping, fall­ing, or break­ing a limb is re­ally a downer on your planned trip. Find good-qual­ity boots that will keep your feet warm, pro­tect your feet, and pro­vide good trac­tion. • Train your horse. Prior prepa­ra­tion and good train­ing are im­por­tant to make sure your horse is a good loader; if he rushes in or out, he can eas­ily slip. • Cre­ate an invit­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Put fresh hay in the bags and a lit­tle grain in the manger. Open the doors and win­dows, so there’s plenty of light. The more invit­ing you make the trailer’s interior, the more likely your horse will feel con­fi­dent enough to step in. • Lay in sup­plies. Keep a rub­ber broom, a snow shovel, sand, shav­ings, and salt (avoid ice melt, which can burn your horse's skin) in your trailer or tow ve­hi­cle. Use these tools to clear snow and ice from the area around your trailer and to add trac­tion. These mea­sures will min­i­mize the chance of in­jury as you load your horse. • Find trac­tion. Park so that your trailer’s ramp is po­si­tioned on the best trac­tion you can find. Dirt is pre­ferred, but snow is bet­ter than ice or as­phalt. • Clean your trailer. Clean the in­side of your trailer. Frozen urine and ma­nure are slip­pery. If your horse falls in­side your trailer, he could suf­fer a se­ri­ous in­jury or even death.

Step 2: Keep Your Horse Com­fort­able

Here’s how to help keep your horse com­fort­able while haul­ing him in the win­ter. • Pro­vide good-qual­ity hay. Even in re­ally cold weather, horses cre­ate more heat than you think they do. The best way to keep your horse warm in the trailer is to pro­vide good-qual­ity hay. • Watch over-blan­ket­ing. It’s easy to over-blan­ket your horse. Most trail­ers are poorly ven­ti­lated, so they tend to get very warm with body heat, even in be­low-freez­ing tem­per­a­tures. A light sheet or blan­ket is suf­fi­cient for most horses. • Ap­ply leg pro­tec­tion. Ap­ply leg pro­tec­tion, such as polo wraps or ship­ping boots. In win­ter, it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant to pro­tect your horse’s pre­cious lower legs from slips and kicks. • In­crease ven­ti­la­tion. Hu­mid­ity and con­den­sa­tion buildup from your horse’s breath can cause res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness. Im­prove the in­di­rect ven­ti­la­tion in your trailer to coun­ter­act this risk. • Avoid drafts. That said, make sure that there are no di­rect drafts hit­ting your horse, es­pe­cially on his face and eyes. Freez­ing-cold tem­per­a­tures with wind can re­sult in dam­aged corneas from frost­bite. • Mon­i­tor your horse. On the road, check your horse fre­quently. If there’s sweat un­der the blan­ket, he’s cook­ing in­side. If he’s clipped and lacks nat­u­ral in­su­la­tion, care­fully mon­i­tor him for sweat or shiv­er­ing.

Step 3: Drive Care­fully

Here’s an on-the-road guide for driv­ing in win­ter con­di­tions. • Re­cruit an as­sis­tant driver. In poor con­di­tions, it’s help­ful to have an as­sis­tant driver. This per­son watches road con­di­tions, un­usual events, and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions that could cre­ate a prob­lem. This per­son also does all nav­i­ga­tion, is the ground guide for back­ing and tight spots, checks on the horses from the in-cab cam­era, and han­dles im­por­tant mo­bile-phone calls. • Learn to back up. Back­ing up a rig is par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing in snow. Not only are the roads slick, but also the snow cov­ers up land­marks you might rely on for guid­ance. Learn to back your trailer when the weather is nice. In poor con­di­tions, set up your rig so that you have max­i­mum back­ing room. Use a ground guide to make sure you don’t hit some­thing or go off course. • Call ahead. Call ahead to make sure that your desti­na­tion has cleared its roads and drive­ways for your ar­rival. • Turn on all lights. Keep on the ap-

pro­pri­ate lights of your tow ve­hi­cle and trailer at all times, day and night. • Take it slow. Go as slow as you need to. Run your haz­ard lights, if nec­es­sary. Let the rest of the traf­fic go around you; your pri­or­ity is your safety, and that of your horse and your pas­sen­gers. • Stay calm. Driv­ing a trailer is no place for road rage or frus­tra­tion to set in. Stay calm, take your time, and breathe. • Al­low room to brake. Leave enough room be­tween you and the ve­hi­cle in front of you to ac­count for much longer brak­ing dis­tances than nor­mal. Watch for black ice. For­get the 2-se­cond rule. In poor driv­ing con­di­tions, al­low your­self 8, 10, 12 sec­onds or longer to come to a com­plete stop. Add one se­cond per fac­tor of driv­ing dif­fi­culty. Fac­tors in­clude poor light­ing con­di­tions, in­clement weather, an ad­verse traf­fic mix, and driver con­di­tion (such as fa­tigue). • Stay right. If you’re mov­ing slower than the traf­fic around you, turn on your flash­ers, and move into the right lane. • Pay at­ten­tion. Pay at­ten­tion to the road at all times. No tex­ting. No talk­ing on your phone. No yelling at the kids. • Drive de­fen­sively. Plowed snow can make nor­mal roads and drive­ways very nar­row. Take the time to al­low other ve­hi­cles to pass, and set up for turns and back­ups ahead of time. • Avoid a skid. If all else fails and you must brake hard, do so as calmly and smoothly as pos­si­ble, us­ing your trailer’s brakes to as­sist you. If you start to skid or slide, ease off the brakes im­me­di­ately, and steer into the di­rec­tion of the skid to re­gain con­trol. This ma­neu­ver is coun­ter­in­tu­itive, so prac­tice it in an open park­ing lot or at a driv­ing school in good weather con­di­tions. — Rebecca Gimenez, PhD (an­i­mal phys­i­ol­ogy), is pres­i­dent of and a pri­mary in­struc­tor for Tech­ni­cal Large An­i­mal Emer­gency Res­cue (www.tlaer.org). A Ma­jor the United States Army Re­serve, she’s a dec­o­rated Iraq War vet­eran and a past Lo­gis­tics Of­fi­cer for the Amer­i­can Ve­teri­nary Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion’s Ve­teri­nary Med­i­cal As­sis­tance Team. She’s an in­vited lec­turer on an­i­mal-res­cue top­ics around the world, and is a noted equine jour­nal­ist.


You can haul your horse all year long, even in the dead of win­ter, as long as you do so safely.


Go as slow as you need to. Run your haz­ard lights, if nec­es­sary. Let the rest of the traf­fic go around you; your pri­or­ity is your safety, and that of your horse and your pas­sen­gers.

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