12 Trailering Myths: Busted!
WWhen you embark on your equestrian travels, should you apply shipping boots? Throw a blanket on your horse? Tie him in your trailer? Park your rig under a bridge in case of a tornado? Even experienced travelers are susceptible to misinformation passed around barns and over pasture fences by well-meaning horse friends.
Here, I’ll dispel 12 such myths. First, I’ll give you the myth. Then I’ll bust the myth and describe my best practices, based on my years of experience, skills, and training. Myth #1: Applying shipping boots or leg wraps to your horse is a waste of time, especially for short trips. Busted: I highly recommend leg protection when you trailer your horse. I use shipping boots instead of leg wraps; ease of use means you’ll be more likely to apply them every time you trailer your horse. You’ll also avoid the risk of placing too much pressure on his tendons. Myth #2: You should drive alone when you haul your horse to avoid distractions, especially in inclement weather. Busted: It’s best to take a driving buddy on the road with you when you haul horses. This person can help you drive, check the weather apps, navigate, alert you to road hazards, keep an eye on the horse monitor, and make necessary calls.
Learn the truth behind 12 common trailering myths to help keep your horse safe on the road. BY REBECCA GIMENEZ, PhD
Myth #3: You should always blanket your traveling horse. Busted: It’s true that a blanket or sheet provides warmth and wind protection in cold months, and can offer some protection in the event of a bump, bite/kick, or an accident. You may also wish to use a blanket to keep your horse’s coat clean. And older or compromised animals may need a light sheet. But normally, horses don’t need to be blanketed in the trailer, because they generate plenty of their own heat. Watch for heat stress; trailers are typically very poorly ventilated. Myth #4: You should always tie your horse in the trailer. Busted: Tying a horse in the trailer is supposed to help prevent him from hurting himself, turning around, and biting or disturbing a neighboring horse. A loose horse can hurt another one that can’t defend himself and can cause a wreck as the injured horse seeks to escape from the attack. Tying a horse also prevents him from lying down, crawling under a divider, and/or from putting his head down under a barrier, then panicking when he raises his head. Tying also controls the head of fractious or aggressive horses.
However, when tied, your horse can catch a foot or a trailer part in the tie rope, then panic and injure himself. You can tie a horse tightly enough to prevent him from catching a foot (and annoying his traveling buddy), yet still give him enough slack to
balance himself. Also, a tied horse may injure himself pulling back to try to escape through an open trailer door. It’s extremely important to untie your horse before unsnapping the butt bar and opening the trailer door. Myth #5: In the trailer, a tie rope helps a horse balance and will even keep him from falling down. Busted: This is false. To see how your horse balances in the trailer, invest in a trailer camera, and watch how he balances during turns, stops, and acceleration. Your horse needs room (some slack in the rope) to use his head and neck for balance. Standing up inside the trailer while it’s in motion requires constant minor adjustments of his musculature, even on the interstate at a constant speed. Short ties in particular make it almost impossible for him to balance with his own weight and normal methods. They also make it impossible him to get back up after a fall. Myth #6: Bungee cords are safe for trailer tying. Busted: Absolutely not! Never use a bungee cord to tie your horse in your trailer. This type of product, used in this manner, is dangerous to horses and humans. I know a number of horses and humans who’ve lost eyes and had faces cut open using a bungee cord. To avoid a trailer-tying tragedy, use a tie rope that will break under pressure, such as one made from leather or a high-tech breakaway model. Myth #7: If a tornado kicks up, you should take shelter under a bridge or a highway overpass. Busted: This seems logical, but in a tornado, don’t get under a bridge or highway overpass (as unfortunately shown in the movie, Man of Steel). You’ll be completely exposed, you’ll be in the wind shear (where the wind is worse), and there’s no place to really hide. If there’s time, get out of the way — left or right — of the approaching storm. If not, get down. Think DUCK: D – Go DOWN to the lowest level; U – Get UNDER something; C – COVER your head; K – KEEP in your shelter until the storm has passed. Myth #8: When you experience a breakdown on the road, other drivers will be able to see you if you just place a flare behind your trailer. Busted: While you do need to place a flare/reflective triangle behind your trailer, you also need to place them far enough down the road so other drivers can see them in time to avoid accidentally hitting your stopped rig. Placing one directly behind your rig isn’t enough, especially on interstates and high-speed roads, or if you end up in an area that’s hard to see, such as a tight curve. Walk at least 100 steps (300 feet) down the road behind you to place one flare or reflective triangle, then halfway back to place another one. Use at least three flares or reflective triangles to get attention and prevent further tragedy. Myth #9: If your horse paws, whinnies, or stomps in the trailer, you should immediately stop your rig, get out, and unload him until he calms down. Busted: By taking these steps, you’ll actually inadvertently reward your horse for his fractious behavior. Avoid unloading him until he settles down. Even better, make the trailer ride more comfortable for him. To understand the plight of your traveling horse, drive your rig to level ground on private property. Ride in the trailer while someone else drives. Listen to the sounds. Feel the trailer sway. Identify and fix any swinging chains, rattling gates, or squealing brakes that might be terrifying your horse in your trailer. Myth #10: To leave enough room between your rig and the vehicle in front of you in poor driving conditions, practice the 2-second rule — that is, make sure you can count 2 full seconds before you reach the spot the vehicle in front of you has just vacated. Busted: In poor driving conditions, forget the 2-second rule. Allow yourself 8, 10, 12 seconds or longer to come to a complete stop. The National Safety Council (www.nsc.org) recommends that you add one second per factor of driving difficulty. These factors include poor lighting conditions, inclement weather, an adverse traffic mix, and driver condition (such as fatigue). Myth #11: Always steer in the opposite direction of a skid to gain control. Busted: When you must brake hard, do so as calmly and smoothly as possible, using your trailer’s brakes to assist you. (Never use your engine brake in icy or rainy conditions to slow down on hills.) 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. Myth #12: When you get a flat tire, you should pull over onto the shoulder right away so you don’t destroy the wheel, even if it’s a bit dicey. Busted: Actually, if your vehicle becomes disabled, continue driving until you can pull over to a safe area, if at all possible. Do this even if you have a flat tire and it means destroying a wheel. Stopping on the shoulder is extremely dangerous, particularly on an interstate highway. Doing so can put you, your horse, and emergency responders at great risk. TTR
Even experienced travelers are susceptible to misinformation passed around barns and over pasture fences by well-meaning horse friends. Here, trailering expert Rebecca Gimenez busts 12 common trailering myths.
REBECCA GIMENEZ, PhD
Does the tie rope help your horse balance in the trailer? See Myth #5.