The Open Road
Is your rig ready for the open road? Use these expert guidelines to make sure your tow vehicle and trailer are ready to go. Bonus: Glossary of trailer-weight terms; in-trailer first-aid kit.
YYou’ve invested in the right trailer for your horse and are planning your equestrian travel for the year. But is your rig ready for travel on the open road? Here, we’ll tell you how to ensure your vehicle has the capacity to tow your fully loaded trailer. Then we’ll give you hitch-safety guidelines. Next, we’ll provide a rig-safety checklist and detail two essential kits to carry in your tow vehicle.
Finally, we’ll give you a pre-trip practice routine to make hauling day easier. As a bonus, we’ll list the items you should have in your equine first-aid kit (page 55) and give you a glossary of trailer-weight terms (page 56).
Your tow vehicle has to have the right pulling power, curb weight, and wheelbase (the distance from the front axle to the rear axle) to haul your trailer safely. To determine whether you have enough towing capacity to pull your trailer, match your tow vehicle to your trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.
The GVWR isn’t the actual curb weight (see glossary); it’s the limit as to what your trailer can weigh and still be safe as stated by the manufacturer. You’ll find this information on the Certificate of Origin, the title, or on an informational sticker on your trailer.
A typical two-horse tag-along trailer, with or without a dressing room, will have a GVWR of 7,000 pounds. This means it has two 3,500-pound axles. (The GVWR could be a little more if the manufacturer figured in tongue weight.)
Most standard two-horse gooseneck trailers will have a GVWR of 7,000 or 10,400 pounds. The larger and heavier your trailer, the stronger the axle will be, increasing the GVWR.
In most cases, the actual weight of a fully loaded trailer never exceeds the GVWR (if it does, it’s illegal and unsafe) and often will be quite a bit less.
Have your fully loaded trailer weighed so you know the actual weight. If you use the actual weight as a guideline when choosing your tow vehicle, add at least 15 percent to the actual weight so you’ll have a safety margin with your tow vehicle.
Some small SUVs and trucks have a rear axle/engine combination set to fully maximize pulling power. However, they don’t have the weight and wheelbase to handle those weights well.
Horses are “live” weight and will shift around in your trailer. You don’t want the “tail wagging the dog.” Longer wheelbases make your tow vehicle more stable by preventing the front end from floating (the feeling of bouncing from front to back).
A weight-distribution system will help stabilize a tow vehicle with a shorter wheelbase. The heavier the vehicle, the better it can handle the weight behind it. But be careful — you can overdo your tow vehicle, causing a severely mismatched rig, such as using a heavy, spring-loaded one-ton dually to pull a light two-horse trailer with one or two small horses. This rig assembly would provide a rough ride.
Is your rig ready for the open road? Use these expert guidelines to make sure your tow vehicle and trailer are ready to go.
For a tag-along (bumper pull) trailer, use a frame-mounted hitch, not a ball on the bumper. The frame-mounted hitch is rated for how much it can hold ( tongue weight) and how much it can pull ( carrying weight). This rating is separate from what the tow vehicle can haul.
For example, your tow vehicle may be able to pull 16,000 pounds, but the frame-mounted hitch might only be rated to carry 4,000 pounds.
Ratings are usually located on a sticker on the hitch itself. The sticker will list two sets of ratings: weight carrying and weight distribution.
The weight-carrying rating is the one you’ll use for a slide-in ball mount, which consists of a square tube mount with a ball bolted to it.
The weight-distribution rating is almost
BY TOM SCHEVE AND NEVA KITTRELL SCHEVE
always higher than the weight-carrying rating. You’ll use this set of ratings when you use a large, slide-in weight-distribution ball mount that allows two 30-inch steel bars (often mistakenly called sway bars) to attach from the ball mount to the trailer frame.
These bars latch into a snap-up bracket on the trailer frame. The ball and the slide-in mount are also rated and should be equal to or greater than the hitch rating.
Now that you’re familiar with the ratings, check the nut that secures the ball onto the ball mount to make sure it’s tight, and check the pin that secures the slide-in ball mount to the frame-mounted hitch.
Also, make sure the ball size matches the coupler size on your trailer. A 2 5/16- inch coupler put onto a 2-inch ball will pop off at the first good pothole.
Cross your trailer’s two safety chains and attach them to slots on the frame-mounted hitch on the sides of the tube receiver for the ball mount. After you attach the chains, connect the electrical plug.
There are various types of gooseneck hitches from which to choose. Most brands will have a way to remove the ball when not in use, such as one that will flip down into the bed out of the way or one that can be removed.
Make sure that the gooseneck hitch rating is enough to pull your loaded trailer safely. A professional hitch installer will most likely know how to install it for you, but know that the ball should always be mounted slightly ahead of your truck’s rear axle, never behind it.
After hooking up, make sure the coupler is locked or latched. You can check this by raising the gooseneck while your trailer is hitched to make sure it doesn’t come up off the ball. Your gooseneck hitch will have two places to hook the safety chains; these are located on both sides near the ball.
Perform this rig-safety check the day before you haul your horse. Laminate this checklist, and keep it in your tow vehicle so it’ll be at hand on the road. Check fluids. Park your tow vehicle on a level area, and set the parking brake. Check all the fluids (oil, transmission, brake, power steering, coolant, battery, and windshield washer). Check the tire pressure. Check the tire pressure on all tires. Make sure they’re at the recommend pounds per square inch (PSI) when cold. Recheck the tire pressure before you head back from your trip. It’s very possible that a tire could get punctured while you’re on the road. With rubber torsion suspension (found on most all trailers), you can’t always tell if the tire is flat by looking at it, because the front tire holds up the back one. Check the electrical cord. Insert the trailer plug into your tow vehicle’s receptacle, and start the engine. On a tag-along trailer, if the cord is tight from the trailer to the plug, it might pull out of the receptacle. If so, have it lengthened. If it’s too long, it might drag on the ground. If so, loop it up, out of the way. Electrical cords
on most new goosenecks will be long enough to reach the rear plug located under the rear bumper. If the cord doesn’t reach, you’ll need to have an electrical connection mounted in your truck bed or have the cord lengthened. Check the lights. Check all the running lights, turn signals, and brake lights. Check the interior lights, which often aren’t pre-wired on the tow vehicle’s plug. Check the brakes. Drive your rig slowly forward while operating the brake controller by hand until the brakes grab to ensure they’re working. Then use the brake pedal to make sure they work through your system, and adjust according to the loaded weight. They should activate slightly before the brakes on your tow vehicle. Check the ramps and doors. On your trailer, work all the ramps and doors to make sure they work easily and latch well. Check the horse stalls. Walk through the horse stalls, and rub your hands over all the window frames, bar guards, butt/ breast bar brackets, dividers, etc. Feel for sharp edges and protrusions that could put your horse in harm’s way. Remove the dividers. If the dividers and center posts are removable, practice removing them to make sure you can do it quickly and easily in case you have an emergency. Do this again after extended use of your trailer — sometimes, things settle and stick. Check for insects. Make sure there are no wasp nests or other insects residing in the trailer that could spook your horse. Inspect the trailer exterior. If you’ll be tying your horse to the outside of your trailer, check the area for sharp edges and protrusions that could harm your horse. Practice securing the butt bar. Practice securing and pinning the butt bar. The faster you can do this when loading your horse, the less time you’ll spend behind him.
Keep a toolkit and emergency kit in your tow vehicle at all times. Here’s what to include. • Toolkit. On the road, you’ll need a driveon jack — we recommend Trailer Aid
(www.traileraid.com) and wheel chocks to change a tire. Your toolbox should include a tire gauge, screwdrivers, an electric wiring kit/tester, a hammer, adjustable pliers, various sizes of adjustable wrenches (you may need to adjust the gooseneck coupler), a cheater bar (to give you more leverage for stuck bolts), a lug nut wrench for the wheels, duct tape, extra license plate bolts, Gorilla glue, rope, and bungee cords. • Emergency kit. In this kit, keep such items as flares, triangles, cones, a fire extinguisher, jumper cables, extra fuses, WD-40, a sharp knife, bucket and sponge, water, extra lead ropes and halters, gloves, flashlight with extra batteries, horse-health paperwork, and equine and human first-aid kits. (For what to include in the equine first-aid kit, see above.)
We highly recommend signing up for a US-Rider Equestrian Motor Plan membership in case you need roadside emergency assistance.
The day before you head out, hook up your trailer, and run down the checklist on both your tow vehicle and trailer.
After you’re sure everything is in working order, practice safely loading and unloading your horse into and out of your trailer. You don’t want to struggle with him right before you’re ready to roll.
Finally, as you head down your drive, stop, get out, and walk around your trailer to check doors, ramps, and anything that doesn’t look right.
If you’re out on the road and you feel something shift, or hear something, such as a “clunk,” pull off the road safely so you can check it out. It could be anything from a loose ball to a downed horse. TTR
RENÉ E. RILEY PHOTO The day before you haul your horse, check all your trailer’s running lights, turn signals, and brake lights.
CLIXPHOTO.COM After hooking up with a gooseneck hitch, make sure the coupler is locked or latched. You can check this by raising the gooseneck while your trailer is hitched to make sure it doesn’t come up off the ball.
CLIXPHOTO.COM To check the trailer lights, first insert the trailer plug into your tow vehicle’s receptacle, and start the engine.
You’ve invested in the right trailer for your horse, but is your rig ready for travel on the open road? Find out with these expert guidelines.
REBECCA GIMENEZ PHOTO Keep a well-stocked toolkit and emergency kit in your tow vehicle at all times. Your emergency kit should include a fire extinguisher, as well as horse and human first-aid kits.
HEIDI MELOCCO PHOTO