Winter vehicle travel is hazardous enough. So, imagine hauling a horse trailer on ice and snow too. It can be risky for horses and humans.
However, with proper planning for winter trailering, you can keep your horses and yourself safe when negotiating treacherous roads and highways. Here are a few considerations if you must haul horses in the winter months.
Inspect the Entire Trailer
At a basic level, the trailer and vehicle need to be in good working condition and the tow vehicle properly rated to tow the trailer and its load.
If you’re buying a used trailer or your trailer is older, have the flooring and bottom welds inspected. The bottom could literally fall out if it’s weak. There are plenty of horror stories where highway patrol has responded to reports of horse trailer and truck accidents.
In Utah, for example, a driver was traveling in Logan Canyon when the bottom of his trailer collapsed. He didn’t realize it for several miles. Utah Highway Patrol responded, and three of the man’s horses had to be euthanized on the spot as a result of his error. The case was submitted to the county attorney to determine if charges would be filed.
It is possible to have the entire bottom removed and re-welded with a new, thicker frame and new mats. An inspection should reveal any problems. Even if you’re just traveling across town, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The entire trailer needs to be assessed for areas that can cause injuries. Horses aren’t simply standing still inside the enclosure. They kick and hit the walls, which can cause bolts to come loose and pieces of metal to jut out.
Another tip is to make sure the tail pads are replaced and make sure they have extra padded tail guards on while traveling. One of our blog commenters in a previous post about horse trailering put it poignantly: “It’s not fun for horses to have no tail to brush off flies, and it is NOT fun to have a show horse with no tail … It happens to everyone, even Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners. American Pharoah was missing some of his tail … they think another horse bit it off while out to pasture.” Even if that’s the case, do your part to protect your horse’s tail.
Check the tire pressure before every trip. It would be especially bad if you got stranded on the side of the road in bad weather because of improper tire pressure.
Air pressure drops while traveling from warm weather to a cold climate. Low air pressure can cause tire blowouts. Meanwhile, air pressure rises when traveling from cold to warm climates, which is also problematic.
Opinions vary widely on which horse trailer tires are the best, but there’s plenty of information available from experts, horse trailer owners and tire distributors. Ultimately, be sure to go with a quality, reputable horse trailer tire manufacturer.
Winter tires are made to handle the snow and ice. All-season tires handle differently, are meant for general use, and have poor traction on snow and ice. In the winter, it’s recommended to install four winter tires whether your vehicle is a four- or two-wheel drive.
A comfortable temperature inside the trailer is vital to a horse’s health. The trailer protects horses from wind, rain, snow and hail, but you don’t want to close it up too tightly because overheating is more common and hazardous than horses getting chilly.
Body heat from horses keep them warm. Heat inside an enclosed trailer increases the humidity and makes them sweat more, and can lead to dehydration. People also tend to use too many blankets on their horses which adds to their discomfort.
Windows should have screens to prevent snow, rain and any moisture from coming inside the trailer. The trailer shouldn’t be drafty and let in too much cold air into open sides. You don’t want air blasting onto them and you don’t want them to get too hot, either. It’s a balancing act. Proper air circulation may change throughout your trip, so be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. And don’t forget to stop every 4 hours to water your horses. They tend to drink less in the winter, but they still need water.
Take it slow in the winter, check weather reports and road conditions, and bring the right gear to be prepared for unexpected situations before hitting the open road. Allow yourself extra time to get to your destination, and be careful out there.