Trailer Safety Q&A

Trailer Safety Q&A

Teaching your horses to load quietly and calmly is one of the most important tasks that you will ever train them for, because the time that you need to trailer them is in medical emergencies or natural disasters for evacuation, Gimenez says.


Following are a few questions from attendees of our Healthy, Safe Trailering Ask the Vet LIVE event that we weren't able to get to, along with answers from panelist Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, primary instructor and president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. For the complete session recording, see

1. What improvements could be made to trailer design to increase safety?

  • Standardization of trailer hitch/hitching configurations across the NATM (National Association of Trailer Manufacturers) of all types of trailers. See for some scary statistics on trailers of all types - the trailers that come loose and injure or kill others are our primary concern for people's safety, and secondary is concerns for the animals that are inside those trailers.
  • Attention to better implementation of wiring UNDER the trailer--use of grommets, conduit, proper wiring harnesses. Too many manufacturers are selling trailers with minimal quality electrical wiring, which leads to lighting and braking failures that are huge safety concerns when traveling with horses.
  • Rear-facing trailers provide significant benefits to a horse's comfort and safety under duress when traveling; however, here in the United States these are minimally used because of the configurations for loading and unloading.
  • More work needs to be done to improve these options for the trailer buying public.

2. What aspects of horse behavior contribute to trailer accidents?

  • Horses can attempt to turn around, lay down (especially if they are suffering from some disease processes) and scramble in transit. They can also kick and bite in trailers, causing other horses to attempt to evade attack and causing weight distribution in the trailer to change dynamically. This is why the weight of the towing vehicle is important to control any sway in the trailer, and also why dividers between animals are commonly used to minimize this effect.
  • Most incidents that injure horses occur during the loading and unloading phases of transport. Teaching your horses to load quietly and calmly is one of the most important tasks that you will ever train them for, because the time that you need to trailer them is in medical emergencies or natural disasters for evacuation. Then is too late to wonder if they will go into the trailer.

3. What aspects of driver behavior contribute to trailer accidents?

Aspects of psychology that apply to car driving obviously apply to towing combinations too:

  • Alcohol use and exhaustion are two large contributors. Horse people tend to drive to events on the weekends after they have been at work all week, and lack of sleep is as dangerous as those who drink on their trail ride or foxhunt, then get behind the wheel going home.
  • Driving too fast for conditions--The combination of a towing vehicle and trailer weighs much more than a car alone, and requires significantly more stopping distance and maneuver room especially in the dark, or in rain or icy conditions.
  • Texting or talking on the phone while driving. We know the statistics with cars, and they are similar with towing combinations. Only once your tires go off the road with the trailer, it is far more difficult to regain control than with a car.
  • Use a wireless camera system so that you can see into the trailer without having to go into it. It will make you calmer and allow you to quickly react when a real emergency inside the trailer occurs.
  • Ostrich syndrome, or the tendency to say, "It won't happen to me." It can happen to you. Education of horse owners on proper hitching procedures for each type of trailer, and correct maintenance of their trailers, is our long-term and ongoing goal.

4. Is there an available study comparing the effect of electric brakes vs. inertia/surge brakes on the tow vehicle, trailer and horse in varying conditions?

Not that I am aware of. If someone does this study I want to be involved!

5. Should the emergency brake cable be attached separately to the towing vehicle or to the chains?

This cable is intended to engage the emergency brakes on the trailer if there is a separation between the towing vehicle and trailer, which often breaks the chains if it is catastrophic. Otherwise the trailer will go freewheeling down the highway until it hits something or someone. Attach the cable to the hitch on the towing vehicle, then make sure that the safety cable is correctly attached to the black plastic safety switch, which should be connected to the braking system. Also, that little battery box on the trailer should have a charged battery in it to be able to engage the emergency brakes. Please ask for assistance at a trailer maintenance dealership.

6. Should you twist the chains to shorten them instead of them dragging on the ground?

  • It's preferable to have chains that are the correct length for your towing vehicle and trailer - if not, you may twist to shorten. Also, you should cross the chains to assist with keeping the trailer behind the trailer if there is a separation.
  • Chains should be high-quality (i.e., not a dog chain) and large enough to have a chance of stopping the trailer. They should be welded to the trailer correctly and have hooks on the other end to make attaching them easy.

About the Author

Rebecca Gimenez, PhD

Rebecca Gimenez, BS, PhD (animal physiology), is the primary instructor and President of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Her first book, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, was published in 2008. She is an internationally sought instructor in technical rescue techniques, procedures, and methodologies, and she has published numerous critiques, articles and journal submissions on horse safety, technical large animal rescue and horse handling issues.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners