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Protect Your Tack From Thieves

Theft is something we prefer not to think about—until it happens. But the right time to safeguard your gear is before thieves come calling. Here are the precautions you should consider in order to keep your stuff safe. (To protect your horse, see the note at the end of this article.)

Mark your tack. Your best bet is to engrave, die stamp, or emboss your driver’s license number onto all your valuable gear. Place the mark where it’s not unsightly but where law enforcement can easily find it. The markings create a significant deterrent to thieves, plus make it easier for items to be returned if they are stolen and then recovered by investigators.

Inventory it, too.
 Maintain a detailed list of your gear, and take identifying photos. File the list and photos along with purchase receipts in a safe deposit box. This is especially important for saddles and other expensive items. Update the list whenever you add to your collection. Ideally, keep two sets of everything—one for your insurance company (see box) and one for law enforcement. (Sheriff’s detectives can make good use of photos, especially, when trying to track down stolen items.) A video of your tack room, updated periodically, is a great backup to your written list.

Keep tack under wraps. At home, keep your equipment in a locked tack room (ideally one without windows, or add bars to the windows). Control who has access to that room. At shows or other events, keep tack rooms and your trailer locked. Even when you’re around, don’t leave expensive gear out where thieves can size it up. It only takes a moment’s inattention for something to disappear. Or thieves can come back later, knowing a little snooping or even a break-in is worthwhile based on what they’ve already seen. On trail rides, don’t leave valuable items visible in your trailer or vehicle; lock them unseen inside the tack compartment.

Keep track of strangers. Take note of unfamiliar vehicles in places where you wouldn’t ordinarily see them around your barn. If yours is a busy place with a lot of traffic (for lessons, horse-shopping, etc.), consider a sign-in sheet requesting in/out times and license-plate numbers.

Use deterrents. A watchful dog is best, as burglars hate noise. Floodlights or motion-detecting lights are also helpful, though the latter can result in false alarms. Barn security systems work well, and even a dummy video recorder can be effective—mount it up high where criminals can’t tell it’s not real, and be sure to post the warning signs that go with it.

Supervise your trailer. Thieves can hit rigs parked in out-of-the-way locations when you make brief rest or purchasing stops along the road. If you must park your rig out of view, have someone keep an eye on it if possible while you’re away.
Be savvy about ‘buyers.’ Barns get cased when would-be thieves respond to sale ads for horses, gear, or property. Be extra vigilant any time strangers have been to your place for any reason.

By Horse & Rider

Reminder to Equestrians to Check Tires

A flat tire is one hiccup that we all fear, especially as equestrians.  USRider reminds equestrians to check their tires as they can lose their footing long before they’re worn out. Testing by Consumer Reports shows that tread can give up a significant amount of grip when it’s still at the half-way point. Checking your tires on your tow vehicle and trailers should be part of your regular maintenance. Tires should be checked once a month.

When the grooves of a tire reach 2/32nds of an inch deep, they are considered bald. A new tire has grooves of about 10/32nds. Tire manufacturers have made bald tires easier to spot by placing a series of mold horizontal bars at the base of the grooves. The bars become flush with surrounding tread when wear reduces groove depth to 2/32nds.

With diminished tread comes the augmented risk for an accident. As a tire wears, there becomes a reduction of performance in rain and snow. When those summer storms hit, hydroplaning is a big risk due to standing water from a heavy downpour. If your tires have 2/32nds remaining tread depth, resistance to hydroplaning in the rain at highway speed is significantly increased.

If you’re about to leave on a long trip, a tire check is essential. Most people in general do not worry so much about their tire tread, but more about air in their tires. While this is just as important as your tread, checking the tire in its entirety is crucial, as tire issues are the #1 reason for disablements with horse trailers.

The best way to check the depth of tire tread is with a depth gauge. However, U.S. coins can be substituted for a tire-tread-depth gauge as tires wear to the critical final few 32nds of an inch remaining depth. Consumer Reports offers the following guidelines:

  • Place a penny into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Lincoln’s head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32nds tread depth remaining.
  • Place a quarter into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Washington’s head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 4/32nds tread depth remaining.
  • Place a penny into several tread grooves across the tire. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered by the tread, you have more than 6/32nds tread depth remaining.
  • Once you have determined the approximate remaining tread depth in the first location, you can complete your measurement of each tire by placing the coin into additional locations at least 15 inches apart around the tire’s central circumferential groove, as well as in its inner and outer grooves. This will help detect uneven wear caused by mechanical or service conditions.

While inspecting your tires’ tread depth, be sure to check for dry rot and pressure as well. Trailer tires typically deteriorate due to dry rot from age before they wear out and should be replaced every 3-5 years regardless of tread wear. In addition, trailer tires are more prone to uneven wear due to under-inflation. Upon inspection of the tire, the outer edges of tread would show more wear than the center. This condition also leads to blow-outs – the number one reason for disablements relating to horse trailers.

Learn How to Read the Tires on Your Horse Trailer

When was the last time you took a really good look at the tires on your horse trailer? While air pressure is very important, it’s not the only thing that counts when it comes to tire safety.

Everything you need to know about your horse trailer tires is printed on the sidewall of the tires, and knowing what all those markings mean could prevent you from having a blowout:

Tire size and Application

Among the largest listings on the side of the tire will be a number that starts with LT or ST, such as ST235/85R16F.   The LT stands for Light Truck, such as an F-150 or Chevy 3500.  The ST stands for Special Trailer.  Either LT tires or ST tires can be used on horse trailers, but ST tires are specifically made for towing, and have some decided safety advantages.

Because LT tires are made for trucks, they are engineered to provide good mileage, proper traction and a good ride.  It is the last part about the “good ride” that makes them decidedly less appropriate for use on a horse trailer.  A towing vehicle (truck or car) has a sophisticated suspension with struts or shocks, torsion bars and springs.  A horse trailer has a much less sophisticated suspension.  As a result, trailer tires are forced to endure much more pounding when they go down the road.

ST tires have stronger sidewalls to handle this pounding.  When a towing vehicle rounds a corner, the LT tire sidewall actually permits the tire on the road to flex significantly.   This isn’t a problem, as the truck has a suspension that assists to compensate for this action.  However, when an LT tire is on a horse trailer with a high center of gravity, this flexing action can contribute to trailer sway, a very dangerous situation, and one that will make your horses think twice about loading for the next trip.

ST tires, with their much stiffer sidewalls, will stand up straight when cornering, which is much safer for drivers and their horses.  Therefore, ST tires are safer and superior to LT tires on a high-center of gravity vehicle, such as a horse trailer.

Load Range This is the maximum weight a tire is engineered to carry when properly inflated. For example, for tires that are listed as load range F, each tire is designed to carry 3,858 pounds when properly inflated at 90 pounds per square inch of air pressure.  The four tires will carry 15,432 pounds total, which is appropriate for the total weight of the trailer, four average horses, hay, water, tack and incidentals.

Tire Date of Birth

All tires manufactured since 2000 are required to have a Born On Date.

Here is how to find it:

Simply look for a four-digit number that will be standing all alone, such as 0612. The first two numbers are the week of the year.  So a tire with “06” was made about mid February, or the sixth week of the year.

The second two numbers are the year of manufacture.  So “12” means 2012 was the year it was made.


One thing to consider is that the ST tires are speed rated to only 65 mph.


YES, tread is important on a trailer tire, so if the tires are getting thin, it’s time to replace them. BUT, even if horse trailer tires have lots of tread left, it is the age of the tire that becomes more important.  A general rule of thumb is that five years is the maximum amount of time for the service life of a tire.

When a tire becomes aged, it can cause weakening of the tire structure, and that can cause the tire to fail—such as in the case of a blowout.

For safety’s sake, inspect the tires on your horse trailer as well as your towing vehicle.

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Winter Driving Tips From USRider

Winter is coming. For some of us winter is already here! USRider reminds everyone who travels with horses to be careful, and to invest time performing routine preventative trailer maintenance to enhance overall travel safety.

While it is imperative to maintain your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s service schedule, it is also important to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic. This is especially crucial for heavy-duty vehicles towing precious cargo. It is better to be proactive rather than reactive.

USRider recommends that you check tire pressure before each trip. This is especially essential with temperature changes. If you are traveling from a warm climate to a cold climate, air pressure in your tires will drop. On the other hand, when traveling from a cold climate to a warm climate, the air pressure will rise.

During winter months, traction tires are recommended. In order to qualify as a traction tire, tires must have at least an eighth of an inch tread and be labeled Mud and Snow, M+S, All-Season, or have a Mountain/Snowflake symbol. Since tire performance can vary, a trusted area dealer may be able to advise you on the best tires for your vehicle and your area of the country. Plus, look at the date on the inside of the tire to be sure it has not been on the dealer shelf too long.

Another travel issue that could raise its ugly head during cold weather is a weak battery. If you have a battery that is more than a couple years old, be sure to check it prior to cold weather setting in. Otherwise, you may find yourself on a cold morning inconvenienced with a dead battery.

When driving, a good rule of thumb to follow on the road is “Rain, ice & snow – take it slow.” Before setting out on a trip, take time to check weather reports and plan accordingly. Be sure to allow extra time for inclement weather. Mother Nature doesn’t care that you need to be somewhere at a certain time. Keep in mind that weather and driving conditions can change rapidly, so be aware and drive accordingly.

During inclement weather, always drive with your headlights on- even if it is not dark. USRider recommends when trailering horses, owners drive with their headlights on, regardless of weather because of the increased visibility afforded by headlights.

Also during inclement weather, be sure to increase distance between vehicles to allow more stopping room. USRider recommends that you double the normal distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

Since it’s difficult to know what road conditions you may encounter during your trip, make it a practice to re-fuel when your vehicle fuel gauge drops below the halfway mark. In many states, you can dial 5-1-1 for travel conditions and road closures.


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Trailer Storage Prep for Winter

If your Horse trailer is to be stored for an extended period or over the winter, it is important that it be prepared properly.

  1. Remove the emergency breakaway battery and store inside, out of the weather. Charge the battery at least every 90 days.
  2. Jack up the trailer and place jack stands under the trailer frame so that the weight will be off the tires. Follow trailer manufacturer’s guidelines to lift and support the unit. Never jack up or place jack stands on the axle tube or on the equalizers.
  3. Lubricate mechanical moving parts, such as the hitch and suspension parts that are exposed to the weather.

Note: On oil-lubricated hubs, the upper part of the roller bearings are not immersed in oil and are subjected to potential corrosion. For maximum bearing life it is recommended that you revolve the wheels periodically (every 2 to 3 weeks) during periods of prolonged storage.

Neva Kittrell Scheve is the author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer and Hawkins Guide: Horse Trailering on the Road. She and James Hamilton, DVM, co-authored Hawkins Guide: Equine Emergencies on the Road.

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The Right Trailer for your Horse

You’re committed. You took the plunge. You have bought your first show horse and are now ready to reach your goals together. The trailer you currently have suited your other horse just fine, but what about this new guy? What if he has never loaded into a slant-load trailer or used a ramp to get in? USRider takes a look at some of the important questions you should consider when purchasing a new trailer.

Almost everyone has come across a horse that does not willingly load into a trailer. For a lot of horses, loading and unloading is the most stressful part of trailering. Making this a central consideration when you buy your new trailer can be imperative for your horse.  Some trailer features can make a big difference when it comes to the ease of loading and unloading.

Food for thought (or comfort): Will your new horse travel calmly and comfortably in a slant- or straight-load trailer? A two-horse straight-load trailer is fairly uncommon these days. A slant-load trailer is a more “modern” buy. However, if you have a horse that has been loading into a straight-load trailer his whole life, you may run into a few barriers (and headaches) if you settle on a slant-load trailer. In many slant-load trailers, horses can be turned around inside and be led out, easing some of those unloading fears. Three- and four-horse slant-load trailers with a large tack room at the front are the most popular among recreational and competing riders. However, if the horse in the front stall has a problem, all horses must be unloaded to get to that horse unless you have an emergency side door.

When looking into the purchase of a two-horse straight-load trailer, consider the size of your horse. For example, if you have a large Irish Sport Horse, a straight-load may be a poor choice because it will make for a tight squeeze. If you have a smaller breed, like a Quarter Horse, he will fit comfortably and experience less stress. However, a straight-load trailer allows for more neck room and also allows for each horse to be unloaded without disturbing the other. With that said, there are arguments that a straight-load trailer is better for a larger horse as he is able to stretch out more. You be the judge. Sometimes going as far as measuring can be a big help!

So which is better suited for your new companion? Opinions vary when it comes to the experts. A few companies including Sundowner, Featherlite, Hart and CM Trailers offer both designs; however, many customers prefer the slant load. There are some arguments that a straight load is better for your horse as he does not have to balance at a slant and allows him to use both front and hind feet evenly when loading and unloading.  Ramps can solve problems if your horse is not comfortable stepping up into a trailer.

There is a big difference in two-and three-horse trailers as far as hauling preferences. A two-horse bumper-pull trailer is much more stable than a three-horse bumper-pull. If you’re committed to a three-horse trailer, it is highly recommended by experts that you choose a gooseneck style as it creates better stability for handling that amount of weight.

A few creature comforts to consider: Windows within reach. Trailers are generally very tall with some window and door latches hard to reach. Some companies, such as Sundowner have moved these latches to the bottom or their drop down windows for better accessibility. When looking for your new trailer, make sure to check how each door locks. Many door handles will have deadbolt locks. This can be a big problem when you are fiddling with a key while trying to get to a distressed horse inside. Deadbolts should only be seen on tack and dressing rooms. Make sure your trailer is welcoming. The larger the windows and vents the better; along with inviting interiors, such as dividers that swing to the side and removable rear posts. They appear more open and roomy to a horse and not like they are walking into a cave where something is waiting to eat them.

One last note: Make sure there is good lighting inside your trailer for your horse(s). This is especially important if you are traveling at night and have to stop and unload your horses to stretch their legs. Loading them back in the trailer may become a headache if you do not have lights.

10 Tips for Hot Trips

Planning a summer trip that involves a long haul? Learn what it takes to keep your horse safe on the road when temperatures soar.

An important show, a destination trail ride, a permanent move that involves transporting your horses…whatever the reason for the ride, you and your horse are facing a long-haul road trip. Not only is it a long way to go, but you’ll also travel in summer weather, i.e., the hottest time of the year. How can you minimize the risks of hot-weather travel to ensure that your horse is safe, and that he arrives in top-notch form when it really counts?

You’re smart to ask, because trailering horses is always risky. Every time you load a horse in that little metal box, close the doors, and head down the road, he could stress out, hurt himself, or end up sick. And when temperatures soar, risks increase. I’m going to explain the added risks of hot-weather travel so you’ll understand what you and your horse are up against when you travel in the heat. Then, I’ll give you 10 time-tested tips to help you keep him safe.

Oh So Hot
To help you understand the risks, let’s start by looking at the basic mechanisms that help your horse cool down—and how those cooling strategies are compromised when he’s locked in a box.

Convection: Heat is carried away from your horse’s body as air flows over his skin, as in response to a cool breeze or fan. Often, airflow in a horse trailer is severely limited, especially if it’s standing still (picture a breakdown or other long wait on the freeway). If there’s no air movement, your horse’s ability to use convection to cool is completely lost.

Heat is lost into the environment because of a difference in temperature between your horse’s body and the surrounding air. When your horse is loaded in the trailer, his body heat goes no farther than the trailer walls. Simply put, there’s nowhere for the heat to go. With other horses in the trailer, this problem just gets multiplied.

Heat is lost when liquid is converted into a “vapor” in the air; this is the mechanism that occurs when your horse sweats. Sweating is your horse’s most important cooling strategy. Have you ever unloaded your horse on a hot day, only to discover that the interior of your trailer feels a little like a sauna? Your horse’s sweat is trapped in that air, and when the air is filled with moisture, your horse stays wet. Evaporation can’t help to keep him cool.

Conduction: When your horse’s warm body comes into contact with something “cooler” (like a spray of cold water or an ice bag), the heat transfers to the cooler object. Unfortunately, the inside of a trailer is likely to be hot, and hot divider walls won’t help cool him down.

Now let’s look at your horse’s own functions. When it’s hot, a number of physiologic changes occur to allow his heat-loss mechanisms to work. These changes transfer heat from his core to his body surface, so that the heat can be lost into the environment.

First, his heart rate increases, and the tiny blood vessels in his skin and the lining of his respiratory tract become enlarged. This improves blood flow to his periphery to aid heat loss via radiation, conduction, and convection. This transfer of blood flow means that blood is being shunted away from his vital organs, including his brain. Your horse may start to breathe more rapidly, or “pant,” allowing increased amounts of cooler outside air to pass by the blood vessels in his nasal passages. Finally, he’ll begin to sweat to take advantage of evaporation. When he sweats, fluid from his body will be lost. This compromises blood flow and makes it even more difficult for your horse to cool himself. A vicious cycle begins.

When your horse can’t cool down, these physiologic mechanisms go into overdrive. His heart races, his breathing becomes very fast and shallow, and he sweats profusely. Eventually, he becomes dehydrated—compounded by the likelihood that he won’t drink while on the road. In severe cases, blood flow to his vital organs completely shuts down. Heat stress, or even life-threatening heat exhaustion can result.

10 Hot-Travel Tips
What can you do to ensure that your horse can make the most of his basic cooling mechanisms? Employ the following time-tested tips.

1. Plan ahead. Know exactly where you’re going, plotting the coolest, most efficient route to get there. Check DOT (department of transportation) Web sites for updates on construction-site detours and delays. If you’re planning overnight stays, be sure you have current directions. Getting stuck or lost on the way to your horse’s “hotel” means extra time in the trailer—and the less time he spends in the trailer the better, especially when it’s hot.

2. Prepare your paperwork. Be sure you have the appropriate travel papers in hand before you leave for your trip. Few things are worse than arriving at a border crossing, only to find out you have to wait for the local vet to arrive and inspect your horse before you can continue down the road. Oh wait, there is something that can make it worse: waiting at a border crossing when it’s very hot. Can it really happen? You bet it can. In fact, one of our Olympic team members had to cool his heels for several hours just weeks before the Games, all because of a paperwork debacle. To avoid watching your horse bake in the trailer because of paperwork problems, call your veterinarian well in advance to find out what you need, and make sure it’s all in order before you leave.

3. Set your alarm. The time of day you choose to travel can really make a difference—so plan to get an early start! Many seasoned long-distance haulers will load up and hit the road in the wee hours of the morning, when it’s nice and cool. Depending on your destination, try to plan your travel schedule so you’ll be hauling through the hottest areas when it’s cool, and resting, horses safely unloaded, when it’s hot.

4. Go naked! Resist the temptation to wrap your horse in clothing before you load up. Naked is best! Remove blankets, coolers, and even scrims or “anti-sweat” sheets. If it’s very hot and he’s an experienced and stable traveler, this may even be a time to forego protective boots or bandages on his legs. The more of his skin that’s exposed to the air, the better off he’ll be.

5. Open up. Open every possible vent and trailer window (those with bars or screens) to maximize ventilation. Air movement is necessary for your horse to cool via convection. And by allowing the wet, hot air within the trailer to be exchanged with the cooler air outside, you’ll help your horse use radiation and evaporation more effectively.
6. Plan a fluid pre-load. Preventing dehydration is just as important as keeping your horse cool when hauling in the heat. He needs plenty of fluid in his system to keep his cooling mechanisms functioning well. To help him load up on moisture, consider giving him soaked hay, bran mashes, soggy beet pulp, or other wet feed sources for several days before you leave. If he’s notoriously bad about drinking on the road, you might even ask your vet about administering fluids via a nasogastric tube or IV catheter, right before you leave.

7. Boost electrolytes. Your horse loses electrolytes (a medical/scientific term for “salts”) when he sweats, and his electrolyte balance is important for his fluid balance and bodily functions. If you don’t administer electrolytes on a regular basis, consider adding them to your horse’s feed or water beginning five to seven days before you hit the road. If you add electrolytes to his water, make sure to provide fresh, non-electrolyte water as well, because many horses refuse to drink electrolyte water. And don’t make the mistake of just giving your horse a dose of electrolytes right before you leave. He needs time to drink enough water to balance what you give; otherwise, the electrolytes can actually cause him to become more dehydrated by drawing fluids out of his blood stream and into his intestinal tract. Commercial preparations of electrolytes are available in paste or powder form. If you want to make your own, you can mix three parts sodium chloride (normal table salt) with one part potassium chloride (“lite salt”) and give your horse two to four tablespoons per day.
8. Carry familiar water. Nothing is more stressful than an overheated horse that won’t drink. And you know what they say about leading a horse to water! If your horse is a fussy drinker, he might refuse to drink “funny tasting” water on the road. To circumvent this, carry plenty of familiar water from home. You also can consider adding a small amount of flavoring (such packaged lemonade) to his at-home water source for several weeks before you leave and use it once you’re on the road. This will allow you to mask unfamiliar flavors and might encourage him to drink.
9. Soak his hay. If you’re going to provide hay while on the road, consider soaking it to provide extra moisture. Not only will this help keep your horse hydrated, it’ll also minimize dust and help protect him against irritation to his respiratory tract that can also threaten his health when hauling. If he won’t eat hay, a twice-daily mash or ration of soaked beet pulp could also help.
10. Arrive early. Research has shown that your horse is likely to lose as much as a pound of bodyweight per hour during travel—even in ideal circumstances. That loss is likely to be more when it’s hot. To ensure that your horse is at the top of his game come competition time, plan to arrive at the venue with enough time to allow him to recover from his travels. As a rule of thumb, if your journey is 15 hours or longer, allow a minimum of three days to recover.
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Trailer Hitching Help

Hitching up a horse trailer, especially if it’s a bumper pull, can be difficult. If you are short, your truck has an extended cab or you have a tool box in the bed, you may not be able to see your bumper or hitch ball for the horse trailer. Then hindsight may as well be zero.

Learning to hitch up quickly by yourself is imperative. If you have a veterinary emergency or have to evacuate your horses in case of a natural disaster, then the “get out, look, get in, back up, repeat” method can not only be frustrating, it can cost you precious time.

First Steps
It may seem obvious, but we’ll reiterate it here anyway: The first step in any hitching process concerns safety.

Begin by checking the interior of your trailer for bees, bad hay, dust or other health dangers. Check the soundness of the floors by poking a knife into the wood. Rotting wood will take a knife blade easily. Check your tire pressure on both the tow vehicle and the trailer, and make sure all door latches are oiled and working properly. Put fresh hay in the hay bag or manger, and sweep or pitchfork any manure remnants or wet shavings out of the trailer. Check the coupling device, so that when you get into the correct position, it will slip on easily.

Because you have to line up the hitch apparatus with a 2- to 3-inch-diameter ball, and you have to do so blind, it helps to break down the hitching process into two parts – both requiring that you estimate space and distance.

The first estimation involves centering your truck so that it meets the hitch ball. The second requires you to measure the distance between your hitch and the trailer tongue accurately, so you don’t bang into it or have to continually get in and out of the trailer.

Hitching Help

-Position your truck so that its rear tires form the top of a rectangle and your trailer’s front tires form the bottom.

-Decals or orange-dot stickers from an office supply store can help you mark helpful spots for hitching.

-Find the center of your trailer and the center of your truck’s bumper to line up your truck with the hitch ball.

-A stone or stick in the ground parallel with the hitch ball can help you measure the decreasing distance between your truck and the hitch.

-When attaching the coupling device, look underneath to make sure the clamp isn’t riding on top of the ball instead of below it.

The Friend Method
At first, the easiest way to learn to hitch quickly is to have a friend help you.

Place your truck in position by imagining that its rear tires are the top corners of a rectangle laid on the ground. The front wheels of your trailer are the bottom corners, and the tongue juts right into the center of that short side between your trailer wheels. The wheels should all line up, forming the long sides of the rectangle.

Use your passenger side mirror to see the right side of the truck and trailer and line them up. Ask your friend to stand outside of the rectangle on the driver’s side but parallel with the hitch ball. Never place a person between the rear end of your truck and your trailer. Even though you are driving very slowly, you never know when the trailer could roll or your foot could slip off the brake.

Have your friend outstretch her right arm and point down at the hitch. Turn around in your seat so that you are looking over your right shoulder. Center your friend’s pointing finger in the middle of your rear window and slowly decrease the size of the rectangle.

If you aren’t able to come at it straight, pull forward and start again. As you get closer, have your friend signal with the left hand to keep coming, then slow way down and finally stop, with the ball directly under the hitch.

Sometimes, even with a friend helping, you’ll need to get out and look at the last few inches to take a mental picture of the distance. Only you know your vehicle well enough to know how much release on the brake equals two inches of travel. Releasing the brake just enough, inch backwards until your friend gives you the stop sign.

It may be helpful, once you are lined up correctly with the hitch ball, to have your friend show you the distance between your bumper and the hitch by holding her two hands up in approximately the same width, bringing her hands together as you get closer, until she signals you to stop.

Hitching Up Alone
The first few times you hitch up alone will require a great deal of getting in the truck, backing up a few feet, getting out, eyeballing the distance between the hitch ball and the coupler, getting in, backing up the estimated distance, getting out, checking again and so on. It’s a long and potentially frustrating process, but there’s really no avoiding it. It just takes practice, and even trailer hitchers who’ve been at it for years have to get out and look now and then.

Still, it’s a good idea to repeat the hitching up process a few times with your friend present, for the sake of practice. While she’s there, try to find a spot in the center of your truck behind you that corresponds with the pointing finger. Later, you’ll use this spot as a marker to practice by yourself.

Finding the Center
Horse people who frequently use their trailers develop systems and habits that help them hitch up quickly. One of the most useful tips is determining a mark or spot to find the center of the truck.

Begin by lining up the truck and trailer in a straight line, in the rectangle position. Then look for landmarks you can use to center it. You’ll need three such markers if you are hitching up a bumper-pull trailer: One that marks the center of your trailer, another that marks the center of your truck bumper and a third to measure the distance between your rear bumper and the trailer tongue.

The marker can be as simple as a trailer manufacturer’s decal, an orange dot price tag that you get at the office supply store and stick on your trailer or even a scratch in the paint. Some trailer manufacturers have intentionally placed logos on the center of their trailer fronts. Aerodynamic trailers with pointy noses allow you to simply find the center of your truck bed and line it up with the point.

The next step is to find the middle of your truck tailgate or back window of your full-sized SUV. The orange-dot method can work well here, too, but they tend not to stick when they get wet, so don’t expect the stickers to be there next time you hitch up. Some people visually measure the distance between bolts in their truck bed, or you can count the number of ridges from each side of the truck bed to find the center spot. Then you can align the center of your trailer and the hitch ball more easily.

You may not always be able to position your truck so that it lines up straight. You may find yourself in a tight parking space that forces you to maneuver into hitching position at an angle. But if you can spot the rectangle from your back wheels directly behind you (it won’t line up with your trailer tires if you are coming in at an angle), know where the center of your truck’s rear bumper is and can line that up with the hitch, it will make it much easier in tight or angled spaces.

To measure the decreasing distance between the back of a truck and the hitch, you can choose a spot on the ground, outside of the rectangle. Place a stone there, or poke a stick in the ground. The spot should be lined up parallel with the hitch ball.

Once you’ve marked it, get back in the truck and, alternating between looking over the right shoulder and left, slowly close the distance between the stick or stone and your rear bumper. If you are short, you may want to angle your driver’s side mirror slightly down and toward the truck so that you can see the back fender. As you back up, continuously look over the right shoulder to check your truck bed and trailer center markers to make sure you’re on course.

With some trailers, getting within an inch of the ball is all that’s necessary. You can then remove the wheel chocks and drop the hitch onto the ball. The trailer will roll into position.

Gooseneck Trailers
The same theories apply to hitching up a gooseneck trailer, although it tends to be much easier because, in most cases, you can see when the tongue and ball meet. However, if you’re short, have a crew cab or have a toolbox against the cab (or any combination of the above), then you may not be able to see the ball in your bed. In this case, you have to choose a line on your lowered tailgate and keep the tongue of your trailer centered on that line as you back up.

You’ll also need to find a spot on the top of the wall of your bed parallel to your hitch ball to help you know when to stop. That could be a scratch, a mark or a measured distance between bolts.

The easiest way to line up your truck and keep the tongue on the right track is to watch the actual ridges in the truck bed or bed liner. As you back up, keep the tongue over the ridge that leads to the hitch ball. Then you can inch slowly up to the tongue and apply the brake. Remember that with automatic transmissions there will still be the tiniest bit of roll after you put the truck in park, so give yourself a half-inch or so in leeway. With manual transmissions, engage the parking brake as soon as you are centered under the tongue and park the truck in gear to prevent rolling.

Finishing Up and Hitting the Road

It may seem simple, but the next step is the most important in hitching up your trailer. Attach the coupling device, and when you think it is securely in place, look underneath to make sure the clamp isn’t riding on top of the ball instead of below it. The coupler holds the trailer to the tow vehicle.

Sometimes couplers need a little push or pull to get them to lock down. That may require inching the tow vehicle forward a hair until you feel the “thunk” that signals that the hitch ball and coupler have connected. Then crank it down on the ball and lock the coupler down with the pin (or other device, depending on your hitch).

On a bumper-pull trailer, see if you can lift the tongue. If you can, it means your hitch isn’t secure. For a gooseneck, jump up and down in the bed once or twice to see that the trailer tongue follows the truck and doesn’t come unhooked.

Hook up the equalizer bars on your bumper pull, plug in your electrical cord and loop any excess wire so it doesn’t drag or get ripped out. Attach the safety chains and the safety brake switch. Finally, don’t forget to raise the trailer jack to its highest position. And in a gooseneck, raise the tailgate and make sure it clicks in.

Then check all your electrical. Turn on each turn signal and check each time. Turn on your lights and put a book or some other heavy object on your truck brakes so you can be sure the lights are working. Pull forward a foot or two to check that your trailer and truck brakes are engaging.

When you’ve loaded the horses, you’ll have to repeat this part of the exercise and adjust the trailer brakes according to the added weight. But better to check that everything is working before you load.

You’ll also want to make sure the trailer is level, and that all the tires have the proper air pressure. Your trailer guide should give you a PSI (pounds per square inch) rating loaded and unloaded.

When you want to practice trailer hitching, choose a quiet time when you don’t have to be anywhere for a while. Give yourself time to pick out little landmarks and get a feel for how to ride the brake when you’re backing up. Just as in training a horse, correct repetition will eventually burn it into your brain and you’ll be an old hand at hitching.

Safety Tips for Driving w/ a Trailer

Take time to practice before driving on main roads and never allow anyone to ride in or on the trailer. Before you leave, remember to check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels. Consider the following safety tips each time you drive with a trailer.

General Handling

  • Use the driving gear that the manufacturer recommends for towing.
  • Drive at moderate speeds. This will place less strain on your tow vehicle and trailer. Trailer instability (sway) is more likely to occur as speed increases.
  • Avoid sudden stops and starts that can cause skidding, sliding, or jackknifing.
  • Avoid sudden steering maneuvers that might create sway or undue side force on the trailer.
  • Slow down when traveling over bumpy roads, railroad crossings, and ditches.
  • Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailer’s wheels are closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, they are more likely to hit or ride up over curbs.
  • To control swaying caused by air pressure changes and wind buffeting when larger vehicles pass from either direction, release the accelerator pedal to slow down and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.


  • Allow considerably more distance for stopping.
  • If you have an electric trailer brake controller and excessive sway occurs, activate the trailer brake controller by hand. Do not attempt to control trailer sway by applying the tow vehicle brakes; this will generally make the sway worse.
  • Always anticipate the need to slow down. To reduce speed, shift to a lower gear and press the brakes lightly.

Acceleration and Passing

  • When passing a slower vehicle or changing lanes, signal well in advance and make sure you allow extra distance to clear the vehicle before you pull back into the lane.
  • Pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance. Avoid passing on steep upgrades or downgrades.
  • If necessary, downshift for improved acceleration or speed maintenance.
  • When passing on narrow roads, be careful not to go onto a soft shoulder. This could cause your trailer to jackknife or go out of control.

Downgrades and Upgrades

  • Downshift to assist with braking on downgrades and to add power for climbing hills.
  • On long downgrades, apply brakes at intervals to keep speed in check. Never leave brakes on for extended periods of time or they may overheat.
  • Some tow vehicles have specifically calibrated transmission tow-modes. Be sure to use the tow-mode recommended by the manufacturer.

Backing Up

  • Put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. To turn left, move your hand left. To turn right, move your hand right. Back up slowly. Because mirrors cannot provide all of the visibility you may need when backing up, have someone outside at the rear of the trailer to guide you, whenever possible.
  • Use slight movements of the steering wheel to adjust direction. Exaggerated movements will cause greater movement of the trailer. If you have difficulty, pull forward and realign the tow vehicle and trailer and start again.


  • Try to avoid parking on grades. If possible, have someone outside to guide you as you park. Once stopped, but before shifting into Park, have someone place blocks on the downhill side of the trailer wheels. Apply the parking brake, shift into Park, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. Following this parking sequence is important to make sure your vehicle does not become locked in Park because of extra load on the transmission. For manual transmissions, apply the parking brake and then turn the vehicle off in either first or reverse gear.
  • When uncoupling a trailer, place blocks at the front and rear of the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer does not roll away when the coupling is released.
  • An unbalanced load may cause the tongue to suddenly rotate upward; therefore, before un-coupling, place jack stands under the rear of the trailer to prevent injury.

15 Horse Trailer Safety Tips

1. Drive carefully. With operator error factors, such as driving too fast, causing the majority of trailer accidents, it’s imperative for you to be very careful and remain attentive. Drive as though you have a cup of water on the floorboard of your vehicle, and stay slightly under the speed limit to make allowances for adverse driving conditions. Double the following distance recommended for passenger cars. Maintain that distance even when cars cut in front of you.

2. Hang up, and pay attention. Avoid talking on a cell phone while pulling a trailer. Transportation experts have determined that talking on a cell phone while driving proves to be just as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol.

3. Pull over safely. If your vehicle becomes disabled, continue driving, whenever possible, until you can pull over to a safe area. Do this even if you have a flat tire, and it means destroying a wheel. Wheels can be easily replaced. Stopping on the shoulder is extremely dangerous, particularly on an interstate highway, and can put you, your horse, and emergency responders at great risk. Pull over on the grass as much as possible, away from the white line.

4.Use your headlights. Drive with the headlights on at all times to increase your visibility.

5. Use reflective material. Apply reflective material to the back of your trailer. If you lose trailer lighting or experience an electrical failure, this material will help other drivers see you as they approach.

6. Replace your tires. Replace your tow-vehicle and trailer tires every three to five years regardless of mileage. Make sure that tires are rated to support more than the gross weight of the trailer and its contents. Check the air pressure in all tires (tow vehicle, trailer, and spare) at least every 30 days. Purchase a high-quality air pressure gauge, and learn how to operate it.

7. Check your inside dually tires. If you pull your trailer with a dually truck, check the inside tires for wear. Since these tires are “hidden” behind the outside tires, they’re easy to neglect. Also check the inside tires’ air pressure. Even if an inside tire is completely flat, it’ll be supported by the outside tire, making it appear properly inflated.

8. Leave tire-changing to the pros. Even if you know how to change a tire, don’t do it by yourself if you have an on-the-road breakdown; call for professional help. Your life is worth the time waiting for help.

9. Maintain your vehicle and trailer. Perform regular maintenance on your tow vehicle and trailer. Have your trailer wiring inspected for uninsulated, loose, and/or exposed wires, and poor connections. This applies to old and new trailers alike. New trailers aren’t trouble-free; inspect them closely. Have your trailer axles serviced annually or every 6,000 miles, whichever

10. Use ICE. Make use of the ICE program; ICE stands for “in case of emergency.” This simple program is designed to help emergency responders identify victims and determine who needs to be notified. Make it easy for first responders to know who to contact for information on handling your horse: Program an entry into your cell phone called “ICE – Horse.” Key in the contact information of someone with the authority to make decisions about your horse’s care, should you become incapacitated.

11. Draw up a power-of-attorney document. In conjunction with the ICE program, initiate a power-of-attorney document with a trusted friend or relative. If you become incapacitated, this will provide for your horse’s emergency medical treatment. Also, prepare the corresponding Notice to Emergency Responders document. Keep copies of both documents in the glove box of your tow vehicle.

12. Hitch up safely. Improper hitching is a common cause of trailer accidents. Use a hitch that’s the correct type, size, and rating to match the coupler. Make sure the hitch is properly installed onto your towing vehicle. Securely fasten the safety chains and breakaway switch actuating chain.

13. Balance your load. An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to overturn in an accident. When loading your trailer, load the heaviest cargo on the left. If you’re loading only one horse, load him on the left side of the trailer. After loading, secure trailer doors and hatches.

14. Use protective gear. To help ensure your horse’s safety, always apply shipping boots and a head bumper.

15. Carry a first-aid kit. Carry a current veterinarian-approved first aid kit.