Safely Towing you horse trailer is paramount when taking to the road and there are some basic principles to follow
Having your own vehicle and trailer is probably the most cost-effective way of transporting your horse, but are you travelling safely?
Having safe equipment is the first step to successful towing, so ensure…
- … your trailer (and vehicle) are both road-worthy. Trailers need servicing annually, but check the floor is safe regularly. Mark Unsworth from Horse Trailer Parts Direct recommends trailers with alloy floors not wooden ones. “Wooden floors can rot from the elements and horses’ urine does not help” he says.
Tyres must have enough tread (at least 1.6mm) and check the electrics work… your tow vehicles maximum towing weight (you’ll find this in the vehicle’s handbook or by contacting a dealer) isn’t lower than the weight you are going to be towing.
- … the trailer’s weight (with the heaviest load you’ll be towing) does not exceed 85 per cent of the car’s un-laden weight (you can get this information from the vehicle’s handbook or manufacturer). To work out your towing load, weigh your horses with a weigh tape and add it to the weight of the trailer, which you’ll find on the chassis. “By law trailers must be marked with their maximum gross weight in kg, and the police have the right to make you take your trailer to a weighbridge at any time,” says Mark.
- … you are legal to tow a trailer – you must hold a full driving licence, and if you passed your test after 1 January 1997, you’ll have to take a separate towing test. And make sure you do because you won’t get let off lightly if you get caught.
- … you have adequate insurance. Your car insurance may cover the trailer third party when towing, but this won’t include theft or damage. Always check with your insurers, do not take any chances.
- … the trailer has a partition, if you are towing more than one horse, has a breast bar set at the correct height for the horses, and a floor and ramp with good grip. If you’re only towing one horse, travel it on the right to allow for the camber of the road. If you are travelling two horses always load the heaviest horse to the offside stall.
If you’re happy that you’re road-worthy, then you’re ready to go. Hitching up takes a bit of practice, but there are ways you can make it easier for yourself. It sounds obvious, but never load a horse into your trailer before you hitch up.
1) Make sure that the trailer’s handbrake is on, and the tow bar is higher than the tow ball. Line your vehicle up so you can go back in a straight line towards the trailer, and then reverse slowly. You will find it easier to judge your distance if you have a helper.
Top tip: You may find it easier to look through the rear window of your car rather than using the wing/rear view mirrors or looking out of the driver’s window. If so, Position your head so you look through the centre of the rear window in line with the tow hitch.
2) Once you have the tow ball lined up under the tow hitch, start to lower the hitch onto the ball by turning the jockey wheel (in the right direction). Some tow hitches will automatically hitch up, but most need the handle to be held up You’ll hear it click into place as the two become connected. You can purchase a i4eye Hitching Mirror to assist with this procedure follow our link.
3) Undo the jockey wheel by turning the lever at the side, and raise it up as high as it will go. Then tighten it securely so there is no chance of it coming down when you’re driving.
4) You’ll see your trailer has a piece of wire with a hook on the end. This is the breakaway cable, and it must be attached to an eye or looped through a main brace of the tow bar, not over the tow ball. The idea of the breakaway cable is that, if the trailer and vehicle become separated, the wire actually takes up the tension and applies the trailer’s handbrake.
5) To connect the electrics, line up the gap of the car’s electrical socket with the gap in the tow hitch socket.
6) Release the trailer handbrake and check everything is working (lights, indicators and brakes). For the brake lights, ask someone to stand behind and check for you. Do a last check to ensure everything is safe before you load your horse, and never travel with the hitch lock on, because if the trailer should flip over, it is likely to turn the car over, too!
Top tip: Help prevent electrical cables becoming faulty by spraying them with WD40 (to prevent rain getting in) and pull them out before you drive your vehicle away from the trailer after unhitching (to prevent them being stretched). Keep tow balls well greased, too
- Park your trailer on as flat a surface as possible and then apply the car’s and the trailer’s handbrake.
- Disconnect the electrical and breakaway cables.
- Undo the jockey wheel until it is touching the ground, and tighten it.
- Hold up the tow hitch handle and wind the jockey wheel higher until the vehicle and trailer disconnect.
- Lock your trailer so it’s secure. To avoid the brake shoes sticking to the drums, leave your trailer parked with the handbrake off, but wedge the wheels to prevent it rolling.
Back It Up
Reversing a trailer well will impress anyone who’s watching, whereas doing it badly will attract attention for the wrong reasons! Don’t forget that plenty of practice makes perfect, so find a nice big area and do just that. The first thing to remember is to take it very slowly – you’ll have a lot more chance of getting it right than if you try to do things in a hurry.
Before reversing, you need to find out what your trailer’s jack-knife point is. The jack-knife point is the point at which the trailer reaches a certain angle and you are no longer able to get your vehicle out of this angle by reversing. Do this by driving your vehicle forwards in a tight circle on full lock – that’s your jack-knife point!
1) First, make sure there is nothing behind you, and preferably have a helper to see you back. Where you start from will have a big influence on where you end up, so if you want to reverse around a corner, start straight and about a vehicle’s length from the area you are reversing into.
2) The main thing to remember when reversing is that whichever way you turn the steering wheel will send your trailer will go in the opposite direction. So, if you steer the wheel left, your trailer will go right. To straighten the trailer up, simply turn the wheel back the other way. Often if you get the angle wrong, you are better to go forwards again rather than trying to correct it.
Straight Line Reversing
The easiest way to do this is to use your wing mirrors. If you can see more of your trailer in one mirror than the other, then you need to straighten up. If things start to go wrong, pull forwards and correct your line.
Driving Around A Corner
It goes without saying that you should take corners slowly when towing a horse, so give yourself plenty of time to slow down. Your trailer will follow a tighter corner than your vehicle, so swing out wider on turns to allow for this. When using a roundabout, the same applies, and be aware that vehicles pulling onto the roundabout may not judge how long your vehicle is, so don’t take any chances!
Breakdown cover for your vehicle probably will not cover your trailer, so you will need additional cover for this. Again, do not compromise on this. Just imagine leaving a show and a mile up the road you suffering a major breakdown and you are stranded with car, trailer and two horses, that’s when things become expensive
To Buy or Not To Buy
If you don’t transport your horse very often, then hiring a trailer might be a better option than buying. There are lots of companies which offer this service at a good price. Ensure who you hire from are an established company with liability insurance for undertaking their business as if something goes wrong and it is not your fault but say a result of a major defect on the trailer you will be looking for recourse at the company. A reputable established company will know this and will keep their trailers in tip top condition ensuring they are regularly inspected and they will hold records to show this.
If you’d rather buy one, then buying in winter can be cheaper than in summer. “Ifor Williams trailers that normally retail around £3,300 can be bought for as little as £2,950 in winter,” says Mark Unsworth, “so it’s worth considering.” He also has the following advice: “Make sure you can get your trailer to a dealership easily for repairs and servicing, and if you buy second-hand, be really careful. I can recount many horror stories about dangerous trailers, so don’t take the risk. Always test tow a trailer before buying and if you have any doubts, forget it,” he adds.
Would you know what to do if something goes wrong when you’re towing? We offer some solutions to common towing problems
Q What should I do if my trailer starts snaking on the road?
A trailer will ‘snake’ for many reasons, such as the towing weight being too heavy for your car, big vehicles overtaking you, wind, poor roads and uneven tyre pressure. If it happens, ease your foot off the accelerator and keep the steering steady. Do not try to accelerate out of it – it doesn’t work! Drive straight home and try to find out what the cause was so you can eliminate it.
Q What should I do if I break down with my horses on board?
Try to avoid getting the horses out of the trailer, especially on busy roads. If you are a member of a breakdown service, call them immediately (the OHTO offers a full breakdown service for £72 a year). Switch off the engine and if you have one (we advise you do), place a hazard warning triangle 50 metres behind your trailer. Alternatively, put your hazard warning lights on.
On a motorway, get passengers out onto the verge, and note the number of your nearest roadside marker to tell the breakdown service. Non-members will still get help, but they’ll pay more.
Q What if my trailer gets a puncture?
Mark recommends unloading the horses if it is safe to. “You can change a tyre with horses on board and a sturdy jack, but horses are quick to sense something is wrong and may get distressed,” he says. If you do change the tyre with horses on board, be careful that the horse’s movement doesn’t knock the tyre off the jack, and check the tightness after 30 miles or so.
Speed Limits for Towing Trailers
Urban: 30 mph
Single carriageway: 50 mph
Dual carriageway and motorways: 60 mph
Remember that trailers are largely governed by the rules which apply to HGV vehicles, and one of these rules states that you only have access to the inside and middle lanes.
If you have any questions on towing or any aspect of horse trailer ownership or purchase then Mark Unsworth from Horse Trailer Parts Directs who maintains this blog is happy to assist you.