Winterizing your horse trailer.

It’s that time of year when we all start to ask ourselves, “how can it already be this time of year?!” Whether you spend the warmer months camping, attending horse shows, or both, it can feel like every winter arrives sooner than the last. Before you know it, the leaves are falling, temperatures and dropping, and it’s time to pack up the trailer for the season.

But don’t snuggle up with a mug of hot chocolate just yet.

If you want to jump back in your trailer with no hassle next spring, you’ll need to winterize it properly now. Below, we’ll walk you through five practical steps to winterize a trailer so you can prevent damage from ice, store your trailer safely, and rest easy all season.

5-Step Checklist to Winterize a Trailer

1. Drain water tanks and pumps
Ice is the enemy when it comes to winterizing your trailer. As water freezes, it expands and can blow open your tanks, pumps, and the lines that connect them.

So if your trailer is going to be exposed to temperatures below 32 degrees for any sustained period (even just a few hours overnight), make sure to drain all of the water out of your trailer’s tanks.

If you have a pump, you also need to run it for 10 seconds, after the tank is empty, to push out any lingering moisture.

2. Learn how to manually override your brake controller
It’s crucial to get familiar with your tow vehicle’s brake controller, no matter the season! The brake controller sits in your tow vehicle, and powers the trailer brakes whenever you press your foot on the brake pedal. If you haven’t already, read your brake controller manual and learn how to test your brake controller’s functionality.

The manual override is usually a “squeeze bar,” slide, or button on the brake controller box. It allows you to lock up your trailer brakes directly from the controller, without hitting your tow vehicle brakes.

If your trailer is going to be on cold roads at any point this winter–even if you’re just driving it home for the season–the manual override can help if you start skidding or sliding over ice or wet roads. The override will brake your trailer and yank your truck back, stopping the slide.

Note to drivers: avoiding icy roads altogether is also an important safety step! If you don’t absolutely need to take your trailer out in freezing temperatures, why risk it?

3. Get antifreeze service for trailer living quarters
For RVs, travel trailers, or any other trailer with living quarters, a professional can run antifreeze through the water pipes to protect them from cold temperatures.

This method to winterize a trailer generally involves hooking up a bypass line to avoid the hot water heater, draining moisture from all valves in the trailer, as well as other technical processes. It can be done once at the beginning of winter.

When you’re ready to take out the trailer again in the spring, your trailer professional can “de-winterize” it by flushing out the antifreeze.

However, if you’re planning to use your trailer’s living quarters (including the water systems) during the winter, then don’t winterize. Instead, keep the heat running when temperatures are near 32 degrees or lower to prevent water from freezing in the pipes.

4. Wash off road salt
Road salt is great for de-icing pavement and horrible for your trailer’s value.

Before stowing your trailer, wash the frame and undercarriage with hot water and soap to remove any dirt or road grease. If you have to use the trailer on salted roads, wash the frame and undercarriage thoroughly just as soon as you arrive home, to remove the road salt.

Power washing is most effective, and hot water works better than cold.

5. Cover your trailer and park it off grass
Your trailer is clean, drained, and winterized. Now you just need to store it safely for the season.

First, covering your trailer will protect it from the elements–but as we’ve discussed before, not any old trailer cover will do, especially for horse trailers. Standard horse trailer covers are generally manufactured too short so they leave tires, bearings, and fenders exposed. Instead, buy an RV trailer cover to protect your trailer from its tires to its roof. Find them online and order based on your trailer’s dimensions.

Second, avoid parking your trailer on grass. Grass traps moisture and pests, which can wreak havoc over the course of the winter. Look for a gravel, asphalt, or concrete parking spot. If you can’t find one, put wood planks over grass to park the trailer on.

For any questions about winterizing your trailer or truck please call us at 704-305-8268!

After the ride, trailer tips.

You’re headed back from your trail ride. You reach the trailer, unsaddle, brush off your horse, get him loaded, and head down the road. Twenty minutes! It’s a new record time.

This is exactly the behavior that gets riders in trouble. After a long day of riding, and especially after multiday trips, it’s tempting to hurry up and get on your way. When you do this, you create chaos. You hurriedly go through the motions and leave yourself open to forget important things, such as a saddle left on the ground. You overlook the once-over that ensures that your horse is injury-free and your equipment is in good repair.

Over time, your rushed process causes your horse to become anxious at the trailer, which makes your ride back more difficult and puts a sour tone on an otherwise-pleasant experience. Here I’ll share how you can make the post-ride trailer experience a safe and positive one.

Make a Checklist

At home, make a checklist before you leave on your trip. Include tack, an emergency kit, feed, buckets, and anything else you’ll need. Your emergency kit should include Banamine (as prescribed by your veterinarian) and bandage materials to treat minor cuts and scrapes until you make it to a vet.

After your ride, use your checklist to ensure that everything you’ve brought is accounted for and put away. If you break tack or lose a hoof boot, make note of it so you can replace it.


Trailering Tip #2: Keep a tidy, organized tack room in your trailer, with everything put away, so you don’t have to wrestle with your gear as you pack.

Jennifer Paulson

Post-Ride Anticipation

As you head back to your trailer, mentally prepare yourself so you don’t become overly anxious and affect your horse’s emotional state. If you get anxious your horse will, too. You don’t rush him through the trail ride; so don’t rush him headed home.

At the trailer, work your horse before you dismount; not into lather, but you don’t want him to think his job is over as soon as the trailer’s in sight. This thinking is what leads to the ride-home jig. Trot circles, bend, flex, back up, then walk him out. Make sure he’s cooled off, calm, and focused before you call it a day.

One Step at a Time

Before you load your horse, he should be relaxed and comfortable. If you rush him, he’ll feel as you do when you’re rushed in and out of an appointment—emotionally run-over. Instead, tie him to the trailer and loosen the cinch, but don’t get in a hurry to jerk the saddle off. Let him relax as you prep your tack room.

Organize your tack room so that when you take off your horse’s gear you don’t have to struggle to put it away. Hang up your bridle, pull out grooming supplies and water buckets, and make sure everything’s clean and ready to use.

Unsaddle your horse, then run your hands over his body to check for sore spots, broken hair, and other injuries. Then groom him thoroughly. I like to give my horse a liniment rubdown, which helps with muscle soreness. I also disinfect my cinches and hang them up exactly how I want to take them back down. This prevents girth itch and future skin irritation, and will make it easier to saddle next ride.

After your horse has cooled off, but before you load up, make water available. Offer it once, and don’t let him play in it. If you let him guzzle it, he can get a gut ache.


Trailering Tip #3: Complete a thorough check of your horse by rubbing your hands over his body after your ride to look for injuries.

Jennifer Paulson

Prep Your Trailer

Check your surroundings before you park your rig to give your horse the best opportunity possible to load and unload. Sometimes trailheads don’t give you many options. Choose the most level and least obstructed area possible.

After your ride, inspect your trailer and the load-up position. Not all trailers have good internal lights so bring a flashlight or head lamp if there’s a chance you’ll load up after dark. Lights in the door help illuminate the doorway. Though horses have great vision at night, they don’t seem to mind a little help.

Final Thoughts

Keep safety top of mind at each stage of your ride. Make sure you haul in a safe trailer, free of sharp edges, poor gate latches, and other hazards. Drive smoothly; don’t jerk around corners, slam on brakes, or accelerate abruptly. Be mindful of your horse’s experience, and you’ll avoid trailer balkiness, anticipation, and other unsavory post-ride troubles.

Trainer, clinician, and lifelong cowboy Ken McNabb hails from Lovell, Wyoming. He helps riders and horses build and enjoy partnerships working on the ranch and riding on the trail. His show, Discovering the Horseman Within, airs weekly on RFD-TV. Learn more about McNabb and find his clinic schedule at

Winter driving tips.

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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Cold-Weather Horsekeeping: A Blanketing FAQ

Keep your four-legged friend comfortable this winter with savvy choices, common sense and a few good tips.

Your equine might be a real “clothes horse,” with blankets and sheets galore. But unless he watches the Weather Channel and can dress himself, you’re probably wondering what he should wear—and when—as the mercury plummets.

Or perhaps you’re confused about blanket sizing, how to tell when your horse is too cold (or too hot), how to foil equine Houdinis … the list goes on.

Here are answers to some common questions about equine outerwear.

When should I blanket?

There are many opinions on when to start and stop blanketing a horse, but a few agreed-upon basics. Generally you should blanket if your horse:

  • Is body-clipped and in active work during the cold months (when having a long coat would make it difficult to cool him out properly)
  • Is old, thin or ill, with a diminished resistance to illness
  • Has recently moved to a cold climate from a warm one
  • Lives outdoors in severe weather with minimal shelter

A good rule of thumb is to consider blanketing your horse when the temperature starts dropping below 50 degrees, and consider removing his outerwear when it climbs back up above that mark. Remember, too, that wind and freezing rain are particularly hard on equines.

What types of blanket does my horse need?

hen planning your horse’s outfits, keep an eye on the forecast—but be prepared to change his clothes!

Most equine wardrobes start with a lightweight stable sheet or blanket for daytime wear and a heavier stable blanket for nighttime. Investing in several sheets and blankets of various weights allows you to stay flexible and rotate them when they need cleaning.

If your horse spends much time outdoors, sturdy turnout gear is a must. Look for sheets and blankets with an outer shell that is both waterproof and “breathable” to keep the rain off without trapping perspiration.

To determine the relative warmth of a sheet or blanket, check the amount of insulating polyfill (usually expressed in terms of grams) and the garment’s temperature rating. Blanket liners and hoods offer added protection against the elements.

As with your own clothing, think in terms of layers. When the temperatures fluctuate, as often happens during the autumn and spring, putting a sheet on your horse with a mid-weight blanket over it is a practical alternative to using a single heavy blanket. When you layer in this fashion, you can simply remove the outer layer(s) when the weather warms a bit.

You might also consider using a quarter sheet under your saddle when exercising your horse. This allows his back muscles to adjust gradually from the warmth of a blanket to the colder temperatures outside as he gets moving. After your ride, throwing a cooler over your horse could prevent him from catching a chill while cooling down.

What size blankets, sheets, etc. should I buy for my horse?

Because your horse might live in one form of outerwear or another all season, a good fit is essential. A blanket that is too small will cause rubbing, chafing and sore spots on the withers, chest or hips. By the same token, a blanket that’s too big is prone to slipping and twisting, which can lead to tangling and injury.

Blanket sizes are generally the measurement, in inches, from the center of the horse’s chest back to his tail. When a horse falls between sizes, it’s usually best to round up.

A blanket that fits a horse well covers his barrel and hangs below his elbows and stifles without overwhelming him. Big-bodied individuals, such as warmbloods, might require a slightly larger size, while horses with unusually high withers will benefit from cutback styles. Shoulder darts, forwardly-placed side gussets, fleece or foam padding at the withers and spacious tail flaps are features designed to improve fit and comfort while decreasing the likelihood of rubbing.

For safety’s sake, adjust each surcingle loosely enough to slide your flat hand under it, but no looser. Hind-leg straps—removable, elasticized ones are best—should be slack without hanging down to the hocks. For added security, criss-cross them or run one through the other.

How do I know whether my horse is too hot or too cold in his sheet, blanket, etc.?

A blanket that’s too heavy for the weather can cause overheating, which leads to sweating. This traps moisture against the skin, which can lead to unhealthy chilling. Check for dampness by routinely slipping a hand under the blanket in the areas of the girth and flanks.

A horse that’s too cold shivers. A lot. This might happen because he got wet under a too-heavy blanket, and then became chilled; or because he’s inadequately blanketed (or has inadequate shelter) for the conditions. A horse that is turned out can warm up by moving, but he can’t gallop around forever. Any sustained reduction in core body temperature makes a horse more vulnerable to illness.

Ouch! How do I prevent static “zap” when blanketing?

It’s not fun when you go to remove a horse’s blanket and both of you get “zapped” by static electricity. This is common during dry winter weather and can make your horse leery of his blankets!

One old trick is to rub a dryer sheet—the kind that reduces static cling in your clothes—over your horse’s back before blanketing him. You might also try spraying the inside of his blanket and the surface of his grooming brushes with a static guard product

Increasing the moisture content of your horse’s coat (without actually dousing him with water) can also help. To achieve this, use humectant-type shampoos and conditioners, or spritz a light coat polish on his hair before blanketing.

Another alternative: Consider purchasing polar fleece horse clothing made with a special anti-static technology.

My horse (or his pasturemate) chews (or rips, or removes) his blanket. What should I do?

Horse blankets are expensive, so having to address more than the usual wear and tear can be frustrating. Turnout sheets and blankets are especially susceptible to destruction and outright removal by clever equines.

To minimize damage, invest in a blanket with an outer shell of at least 1,200-denier triple weave or ripstop weave fabric. This type of fabric holds up better than most to sharp objects and errant teeth. For the ultimate in protection, some blankets have shells of high-denier ballistic nylon or an outer layer treated with Teflon coating.

In addition, there are various products on the market that can be sprayed on the blanket to discourage chewing. For extreme cases, a neck cradle or blanket bib might do the trick when the horse is stabled.

For equine escape artists determined to remove their own blankets, look for a style that fits snugly while still allowing freedom of movement. High necks, closed fronts or padded, V-front closures are other deterrents. Rubber stoppers on surcingle closures can help, too.

Last but not least: Keep your horse’s blankets clean and in good repair to prevent little problems from turning into big ones.