Trailering and Staying Legal on the Road

Trailering and Staying Legal on the Road

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

You've checked the horse, trailer, truck, and equipment, but are you even legal to be on the road?

There's not a cloud in the sky as the sun brightens the horizon, and it appears to be a fine day for a drive. Your truck and trailer stand gleaming in the driveway, hitched and waiting. At your command, your horse clomps into the trailer and busies himself in the hay while you close the doors and secure the latches. You're loaded and ready to hit the road. This scenario occurs countless times throughout the riding season as you venture near and far to places to ride or compete. You have attended to all the recommended maintenance and servicing of both truck and trailer to ensure safety and reliability, but what about the legal aspects of hauling a horse? What must you do to comply with regulations and laws?

Horse Regulations

When traveling between states, there are specific legal documents that should accompany your horse. The first of these is a negative Coggins test, which is a blood test for the presence of equine infectious anemia (EIA). This virus is similar to the human HIV virus and is transmitted mostly by large biting flies, like horse or deerflies. A horse testing positive for EIA might be actively infected or a carrier; in either case, the horse must be quarantined for life away from other horses or euthanized. In attempts to eradicate this disease in the horse population, regulations are enforced for horses crossing state lines.

Rachel Kosmal McCart, JD, senior counsel at Equine Legal Solutions in Beavercreek, Ore., says, "Each state regulates the transport of livestock within that state, including entry requirements, therefore the requirements vary from state to state."

Some states require a negative Coggins test that was performed within the prior 12 months, while others require the test to have been done within the preceding six-month period. Many boarding and show barns often require a negative Coggins test for the horse to enter the premises.

Another required document for interstate travel is a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI). This health certificate, filled out following a veterinary exam, is meant to ensure that a horse has a clean bill of health and is not infected with a contagious disease--most notably respiratory or skin ailments. Most states require the CVI must be issued within 30 days of transport, but others only honor a CVI that has been done in the last 10 days. Your veterinarian will have up-to-date information regarding timetables for both a Coggins test and health certificate for the state(s) you wish to enter.

Some states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) are currently honoring an interstate equine passport that serves as shipping papers for a horse for six months following a veterinary health examination or until the expiration date of a Coggins test. Other states (Arizona, Montana, and Oregon) additionally require permits prior to entry; their state regulatory offices must be contacted to issue approvals and permit numbers to include on CVIs.

If you plan to haul into Canada, your horse must be accompanied by a specialized international health certificate filled out by your veterinarian and endorsed by the USDA's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Milton Toby, JD, an attorney, chair of the Equine Division at Midway College in Kentucky, and author of The Complete Equine Legal and Business Handbook, adds, "Each individual Canadian province has its own transportation department, similar to our state agencies, each with their own set of regulations."

Domestically, in some Western states, another document must accompany a horse that travels more than 75 miles from home: a brand inspection. A brand inspection is intended to certify proof of ownership, regardless of whether a horse has a physical brand or tattoo or not. A brand inspector reviews a bill of sale and registration papers when available, compares this information to the horse and its markings, and then either writes up a temporary brand inspection, or, if you desire, he prepares a laminated card that is good for as long as you own that horse.

As your rig crosses the state line, weigh stations often have a sign requesting that all towed vehicles carrying livestock must pull over. McCart advises, "Requirements for private horse owners to stop at state point-of-entry checkpoints vary from state to state. Therefore, drivers would be advised to read the signs and, when in doubt, stop and inquire."

Vehicle and Trailer Compliance

Vehicle and trailer compliance laws are mostly decided at the state level. Toby comments, "If there is a conflict between state and federal law, the federal law controls, unless the state law is more restrictive, in which case the state law will control."

He comments on federal laws that might supersede state regulations: "If you are a 'commercial' interstate horse hauler, there are many federal requirements for recordkeeping and safety equipment, among other things. It is noteworthy that a person may be classified as a 'commercial' shipper, even if not hauling horses for money. As an example, hauling horses in connection with a commercial training stable might classify one as a 'commercial' shipper."

He adds, "For interstate travel, federal regulations require a commercial driver's license (CDL) if the gross vehicle weight (GVW) is more than 26,000 pounds."

Toby suggests that it is best to check with the U.S. Department of Transportation in regard to interstate CDL/ commercial hauler requirements.

McCart similarly recognizes that every state has its own legal requirements when it comes to trailer brakes, safety chains, fire extinguishers, towing speed, size dimensions of truck and trailer, license plate placement and visibility, etc.

Both Toby and McCart strongly urge haulers to monitor each state's current information for up-to-date regulations, and to check with specific state departments of transportation through which one might be hauling a horse.

On occasion, a horse owner might wish to ride in the trailer when hauling a sick horse to an emergency clinic or when transporting a foal. Some states allow a person to travel in the trailer, while others do not; check your state regulations before climbing into the trailer.

There are also times when it is necessary to unload a horse from the trailer while on the side of the road. McCart clarifies some questions that come up about this issue, noting, "Laws regarding livestock on highways vary state by state. However, in general, if a horse you are unloading gets loose on the highway and someone is injured or killed or their vehicle or property is damaged as a result, you will probably be liable. For the safety of other motorists as well as your horses, only unload on the side of a highway if there is an extreme emergency."

She continues, "Because AAA will typically require horses to be unloaded before they will change a trailer tire, haulers should be prepared to change their own trailer tires. With a drive-on ramp product such as a Jiffy Jack, changing a trailer tire on a loaded horse trailer is akin to changing a tire on a truck."

In the event of an accident, McCart stresses, "Your auto insurance will generally not cover damage to your trailer or the contents of your trailer. So, if you get into an accident and your trailer, horses, and show saddle are a total loss, you will probably not receive any compensation from your auto insurance company. For that reason, a horse owner may wish to consider separate coverage, such as horse trailer insurance, equine mortality insurance, and a rider on homeowner's insurance to cover big-ticket items, such as expensive horses, the trailer, or saddles. Fortunately, your auto collision policy usually covers damage to your vehicle and to a vehicle with which you collide, as well as damage to contents. To clarify what is and is not covered by your auto insurance policy, contact your insurance agent."

Authorizing Veterinary Care

Sometimes a horse is hauled by someone other than the owner and the driver must act as a decision-making agent in lieu of an owner. One such occasion involves acquisition of veterinary care for an injury or illness. One means to do this is by a power of attorney (POA), which can be either "general" or "limited." A general POA allows the person with the power of attorney to do anything the grantor could do, while a limited POA authorizes an agent to make legally binding decisions on behalf of an absentee owner for a limited duration of time or for a specific circumstance.

Toby explains the specifics on how a limited POA works: "For example, if you are shipping my horse across the country, I can give you a limited POA authorizing you to obtain medical care for the horse in an emergency. This allows you to call a vet for my horse, and obligates me to pay the bill. A limited POA also gives you the authority to make medical decisions about the horse without having to contact me. This can be important in an emergency."

In addition, Toby notes there are situations where a horse's injuries are sufficient to necessitate euthanasia. He says, "If the horse is insured, the insurance carrier must be notified and authorization given prior to carrying out an owner's or agent's decision for euthanasia."

Insurance policies and contact information should be included with the horse's other travel papers.

McCart discusses a variation on how to obtain medical care for a horse being transported by someone other than the owner: "When a hauler (commercial or private) needs to seek veterinary care for a horse, a horse may be treated as quickly as possible if the hauler is given a document from the horse owner that authorizes the hauler to seek treatment for the horse and promise to pay the veterinarian for such care. For even faster service, a horse owner may want to provide credit card and billing information in the authorization form. Unlike a traditional power of attorney, a veterinary care authorization form need not be notarized to be effective, only requiring a signature by the horse owner."

Safety and Potential Legal Hassles

McCart offers other suggestions for safe hauling, gleaned from personal experience, for avoiding accidents and their potential legal quagmires. She recommends a thorough check of all equipment before hitting the road. "Because trailers are usually stored outside, spare tires mounted on the outside of the trailer and/or regular tires of parked trailers may be ruined by sun and weather. Use tire covers, especially if a trailer is infrequently used," she says. "Remember to rotate the tires on your trailer just like you rotate the tires on your truck. Check your lug nuts after the rotation to ensure that they remain tight."

In addition, she notes, "Not all tire irons fit all lug nuts, so make sure that the tire iron in your rig fits your trailer lug nuts. Don't count on the one for your truck to work on your trailer!"

McCart advises owners to frequently check the hitch, trailer doors, and all connections after parking your rig during a trip, stating, "You never know when some unscrupulous person might tinker with something or when something might come loose."

She urges everyone to carry flares and a powerful flashlight (with charged batteries), since emergencies don't always happen in the daytime. "And," she says, "keep a spare halter and lead with a stud chain in your trailer as an added precaution for control of your horse."

Take-Home Message

Transporting your horse is not just about trailer safety, clean air, and a comfortable environment for your horse to withstand the stress of hauling. It is also important to comply with federal and state laws about specific documents for your horse and state regulations on your vehicle and trailer.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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