Tips for Winter Horse Hauling

With the change of seasons, USRider, the national provider of roadside emergency assistance for equestrians, reminds those who travel with horses to be careful when traveling and to invest time doing routine preventive trailer maintenance to enhance their travel safety.

"While trailering horses in the winter is not all that different from trailering any time of the year, you do need to make a few adjustments for hauling in cold weather," said equine travel authority Neva Kittrell Scheve.

She added that during any time of the year--regardless of temperatures--the basic rules apply:

  • Make sure your trailer is safe;
  • Drive carefully;
  • Make sure the horse's inoculations are up-to-date;
  • Carry a current health certificate and certificate of negative equine infectious anemia (EIA) if crossing state lines;
  • Wrap all four legs with shipping wraps or boots;
  • Carry an emergency first aid kit and know how to use it;
  • Learn to monitor a horse's vital signs;
  • Carry backup supplies appropriate to the length of the trip;
  • Carry emergency contact numbers for yourself and your horses, and keep them in a visible place; and
  • Carry a truck/car emergency kit. During the winter months be sure the kit includes a shovel, sand, red flag, horse blankets, human blankets, candle, matches or lighter, and tire chains.

Horse Care

One of the most confusing decisions when trailering in cold weather is whether to blanket your horse. Horses are very comfortable in cold conditions, and most will travel very well during the winter. Two important factors should be considered when making this decision:

The trailer should be well-ventilated. A trailer that is not properly ventilated becomes filled with toxic air from the hay dust, shavings, and any gases from urine and manure. The body heat produced by the horses also builds up inside the trailer.

Be sure to keep the horse hydrated, especially in the winter, as dehydration is a common cause of colic. Horses can become dehydrated during the winter if they do not drink or if they lose water through perspiration. A horse that is dressed too warmly will tend to lose more fluids than he should.

Be sure to dress the horse according to the situation. If the horse has a full winter coat he should not need a blanket for the trailer trip. If you have a stock trailer that does not have windows that close, a light sheet can protect the horse from the wind. If the horse is body clipped or does not have a heavy coat, he should wear the same weight blanket that he would normally wear, and trailer vents and windows should be open.

Long-distance trips require a little more preparation. Be ready for driving through different temperatures. Pack blankets of different weights so you can change them should the weather change during travel. Be sure the horse does not sweat too much, as he could get wet and chilled.

Automotive and Trailer Care

Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving. Be sure to maintain your vehicle according to the manufacturer's service schedule. It's also important to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic.

"When it comes to vehicle maintenance, especially heavy-duty vehicles towing precious cargo, it is better to be proactive that reactive when it comes to vehicle maintenance," said Mark Cole, managing member for USRider. "If you have not already done so, the time to establish a relationship with a (link to: http://www.ase.com) ASE mechanic is before your vehicle breaks down on the side of the highway while towing your horse trailer."

Check tire pressure before each trip. This is especially important 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 into a warm climate, the air pressure will rise.

The main reason for disablements is a tire blowout from temperature buildup from tires that are underinflated. Be sure to invest in a high-quality pressure gauge and learn how to use it. Check the owner's manual for the proper tire pressure for your passenger or tow vehicle. The proper tire pressure for your trailer should be stamped on the trailer tire, or contact the trailer manufacturer for that information.

A weak vehicle battery will usually reveal itself during cold weather. If your battery is more than a couple of years old, be sure to check it before cold weather sets in. Otherwise, you might be inconvenienced on some cold morning when the battery fails.

In some states and on certain highways, vehicles over 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating, including some passenger trucks, SUVs, RVs, and vehicles towing trailers, must carry chains Nov. 1 through March 31. Check with the Department of Transportation or Department of Motor Vehicles for information on the states in which you will be traveling.

Winter Driving Safety

When driving, a good rule of thumb to follow on the road is "rain, ice, and snow--take it slow." Before setting out on a trip, be sure to check weather reports and plan accordingly. Allow extra time for inclement weather. Keep in mind that weather and driving conditions can change rapidly, so be aware of changing conditions, and drive for the conditions.

It's important to look ahead to keep track of the driving conditions in front of you. Actions by other drivers can alert you to problems and give you time to react. Always be on the lookout for black ice, as ice that forms on highways might not always be visible.

Don't be susceptible to the false security of four-wheel drive. While four-wheel drive might help you go, it won't help you stop.

Always drive with your headlights on during inclement weather, even if it is not dark. USRider recommends that horse owners drive with headlights on anytime when trailering horses, regardless of weather, because of increased visibility.

Also during inclement weather be sure to increase distance between the vehicle in front of you to allow more stopping room. Double the normal distance between vehicles when towing a horse trailer. Stopping on snow or ice without skidding and/or jackknifing requires extra distance. Use brakes very gently to avoid skidding. If you begin to skid or jackknife, ease up on the brake and steer into the skid to regain control.

To help maintain control when roads could be slick, slow down when approaching curves, ramps, bridges, and interchanges. Try to avoid abrupt actions, such as quick lane changes, braking, and accelerating. Another important way to help maintain control over your vehicle is to avoid using cruise control on wet or slippery roads.

Traction tires are recommended during winter months. To qualify as a traction tire, tires must have at least an eighth of an inch of 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 might be able to advise you on the best tires for your vehicle.

Take extra precaution when snow removal equipment is being used on the roads. In some cases the snowplow operator's vision might be reduced, so give them plenty of room. While snow and ice removal differ from state-to-state, most will clear roads in the highest risk areas--such as hills, curves, ramps, bridges, and interchanges--first. When clearing roads, crews will clear far right lanes first.

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

For additional safety tips, visit the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website.

(Reprinted with permission from the Kentucky Horse Council.)

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