It’s the merry month of May! This past month has been a busy one for trailering horses – many returning from down south where they spent the winter back up to where they can enjoy the beautiful weather in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Temperatures are warming up fast, schools are getting ready to close for summer and it’s time to get out of doors and do all the things we love.

It’s also time for trail riding, clinics, horse shows and the like, and for many of us who haven’t used our horse trailer during winter, it’s time to get it ready to go.

Hopefully the last time you used the trailer you cleaned out all the manure, hay or bedding that might have been left behind. It’s extremely important to do so after each use to prevent the floor from rotting out.

You’ll need to check your trailer thoroughly before taking it out for the first time. Examine the interior carefully for wasp nests, hornets or bees. It doesn’t take a busy bee or wasp long to build a nest that will soon be filled with stinging inhabitants. Clean out cobwebs especially in the ceiling and near the windows and hinges – a spider can drop onto a horse and cause a nasty bite.

Be sure that your windows are working properly and be aware of the temperature outside when you plan to trailer your horse. During this time of year temperatures can fluctuate widely, so much that you may need to stop and open or close the windows for your horse’s comfort.

Your trailer should be equipped with durable rubber floor mats with sturdy footing; pull these up to check for rot or wear on the floor. It’s best not to use shavings on the floor, which could cause the horse to slip and can contribute to dust in the trailer.

Be sure the butt bars and tie downs are working properly and do a thorough check of the doors – the passenger exit door and the back door of the trailer. Doors should open and close smoothly and easily, especially with a nervous horse. Oil or grease any parts that are sticky or not moving as they should.

Horse Tales: It’s trailer time!

Do a thorough check of your trailer before loading your horse. Inspect the doors and windows to be sure they are properly working. Photo by Judy Van Put

The tires should all be inflated to the manufacturer’s suggestion. The maximum inflation should be noted on each tire; it’s best to consult the owner’s manual for the proper operating inflation, as this will vary from trailer to trailer. You’ll have a smoother ride with better gas mileage if you follow the manufacturer’s suggestions. Don’t forget to check the spare tire for proper inflation as well.

When you’re ready to hook up the trailer, be sure it is supported well and that the tires on the towing vehicle are properly inflated. Adjust all the mirrors of the towing vehicle. Hook up your lights and have someone check that they are working properly – the brake lights, taillights and directionals as well as the hazard lights.

The safety chains should be crossed underneath. And the emergency brake cable, if you have one, should be situated properly. Should the hitch fail or the trailer come off, the safety cable will automatically engage the emergency brake on the trailer and prevent it from moving forward.

Have your trailer and tow vehicle all hooked up and ready to go before loading your horse. Take it easy and walk in confidently and calmly. Let your horse sniff the trailer and ramp and avoid pushing or prodding a nervous horse or one that you are not sure how well they will react. You might offer a small treat for a reluctant horse to get her headed in the right direction.

I remember once seeing a horse being loaded at a clinic with a lot of horses and people around. The horse was nervous and the handler was impatient – a bad combination. Rather than giving the horse enough time to adjust and sniff the trailer and perhaps overcome its nervousness at all the activity around it, the handler started yelling at the horse and got his partner to stand behind the horse with a dressage whip to force the frightened animal inside, immediately slamming the door shut. They took off before anyone could offer assistance, and it’s not known if that poor horse made it safely to its destination. There’s a good chance that the horse, with its long memory, will never again load on a trailer.

It’s a good idea for a trip that is longer than just a few miles to have a hay bag available for the horse to munch on while traveling. The hay bag should be hanging at a height and in a location that it is easily accessible.

Depending on the length of your trip, be sure to have fresh water available for when you stop. Give the horse sips of water rather than letting her gulp down her fill. Don’t give any grain or feed for a few hours before you travel to be sure it’s properly digested. After you arrive at your destination, wait a while for the horse to relax before feeding.

After trailering the horse, be sure to clean out any manure, urine, hay, etc., thoroughly and allow the trailer to dry.

Happy trailering to you and your horse this spring!

by Judy Van Put