Tips for Winter Travel with Horses

With the change of seasons, USRider, a national provider of roadside emergency assistance for equestrians, reminds those who travel with horses to be careful when traveling and to practice 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 Neva Kittrell Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer.

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 than reactive when it comes to vehicle maintenance," said Cole. "If you have not already done so, the time to establish a relationship with a trusted ASE www.ase.com mechanic is before your vehicle breaks down on the side of the highway while towing your horse trailer."

USRider recommends that you check tire pressure before each trip. This is especially important when dealing 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 early tire failure (blowout) from temperature build-up from tires that are under inflated. So, 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 battery will usually reveal itself during cold weather. If your battery is more than a couple of years old, be sure to check it prior to cold weather setting in. Otherwise, you could be inconvenienced on some cold morning when the battery fails to start your vehicle.

Before setting out on a trip, be sure to check weather reports and plan accordingly, allowing extra time for inclement weather.

USRider recommends that horse owners drive with headlights on anytime when trailering horses, regardless of weather, because of increased visibility afforded by using headlights.

During inclement weather, be sure to increase distance between vehicles to allow more stopping room. USRider recommends that you double the normal following distance between vehicles when towing a horse trailer.

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. Be aware of the possibility of black ice, as it might not be visible as it forms on highways.

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

"Stopping on snow or ice without skidding and/or jackknifing takes extra distance. Use brakes very gently to avoid skidding," added Cole. "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 and avoid abrupt actions, such as quick lane changes, braking, and accelerating. Avoid using cruise control on wet roads.

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 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 should be able to advise you on the best tires for your vehicle.

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

Take extra precaution when snow removal equipment is being used on the roads. In some cases, the snowplow operator's vision might be reduced. Stay at least 200 feet behind.

One of the most confusing decisions when trailering in the cold weather is whether to blanket your horse, said Scheve.

Be sure to dress the horse according to the situation. If the horse has a full winter coat and does well in daily life, it will not need a blanket for the trailer trip. In this case, open the roof vents and a few windows in the back so the air does not blow directly on the horse. 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, it should wear the same weight blanket that it would normally wear, and 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 as the weather changes during travel. Be sure the horse does not sweat too much, as it could get wet and become chilled. Also, the horse can lose water through sweat and become dehydrated.

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

USRider provides roadside assistance and towing services along with other travel-related benefits to its members through the Equestrian Motor Plan. It includes standard features such as flat-tire repair, battery assistance and lockout services, plus towing up to 100 miles and roadside repairs for tow vehicles and trailers with horses, emergency stabling, veterinary referrals, and more. Read more about the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan, or call 800/844-1409.

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