If your family is heading out on a winter vacation and you’re taking your horses with you, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to make sure your trip is safe and successful. First off, regardless of the weather, it’s a great idea to develop a routine prior to departure, much like a pilot conducting a preflight inspection on an aircraft. In your case, you’ll want to inspect your vehicle and trailer to make sure they’re safe and in good working condition.
While your mind will likely be on your horses, don’t forget the family. Preventative healthcare and wellness preparation can go a long way toward ensuring you and your family avoid illness during a family vacation. Working with a community nurse or family nurse practitioner before you set off can help.
Caring for Your Horses on the Road
Horses are comfortable in cold weather and will likely be fine on the road. However, you still may need to blanket them, particularly if the weather is unusually cold. There are a few things to keep in mind: Do your horses have good winter coats? What kind of openings does your trailer have? Some ventilation is good, but if the horses are going to be exposed to a lot of cold winds, blankets may be more necessary.
Keep in mind that temperatures will change as you travel, especially as the elevation changes. Even if you don’t end up using blankets, it’s probably a good idea to bring some along. It’s also a good idea to bring different weights of blankets.
You don’t want your horses to sweat, so that’s something to keep in mind to help your horses survive the cold. As they sweat, that perspiration can freeze. Dehydration is another concern when using blankets. So, make sure your horses are well-hydrated during the trip. Dehydration also is a common cause of colic, and that’s something you’ll want to obviously avoid.
Also, make sure both you and your horses have warm and safe shelter for the night, whether it’s portable, short-term options or you board your horses.
Auto and Trailer Care
When trailering your horses in winter weather, make sure they’re wearing boots or shipping wraps on all four legs. Traveling with horses in the winter is slightly more challenging, but nothing that can’t be alleviated with extra care and attention.
Make sure to inspect your trailer prior to the trip, particularly the flooring and bottom welds. There have been incidents when these welds have given out, and this leads to catastrophe. It’s also a good idea to inspect all the bolts. Horses have been known to thrash around on occasion, which can loosen bolts.
Traveling with your horses during the winter makes vehicle preparedness even more important. Especially important is the condition of your tires, including tire pressure, as this will change as the temperature changes. Pressure will drop as the temperatures drop and vice versa. Snow tires are also a good idea, and you may even be required to use chains in some states. Check with the local Department of Transportation before taking off.
Don’t forget about normal vehicle maintenance, like checking all the fluids. You may even want to consider taking your vehicle to a mechanic to make sure it’s in tip-top shape. And check the battery, as the last thing you’ll want is to get stuck somewhere in the cold because your vehicle won’t start.
Driving Safely in Winter Weather
Nothing will ruin a vacation with your horses quicker than an accident. Driving in winter weather comes with challenges, but if you exercise caution and keep these tips in mind, you should be fine.
Check weather reports before taking off for all areas you’re expected to drive through. Being prepared is key, as is adhering to the popular saying “ice and snow, take it slow.” Remember to also allow extra time and, whatever you do, avoid being in a hurry.
Weather conditions can rapidly change, especially when driving in the mountains. Keep distractions to a minimum and always be looking out for brake lights in front of you.
Following too closely to vehicles in front of you is always dangerous, but in the winter, this danger is compounded drastically. It’s a good idea to at least double your normal safe distance while pulling a horse trailer. If you’re thinking that your four-wheel drive will help you in that regard, it won’t. That misconception is just a false sense of security when driving on ice.
Keep your headlights on, even in the daylight. As the weather changes, so does visibility. When trailering horses, it’s a good practice to keep them on all the time anyway.
Ice is a big concern when driving in the winter, and even more so when you’re pulling significant weight. Gently pumping the brakes will help you avoid sliding. Keep in mind that bridges are particularly icy. Slow down for curves well before reaching them.
If you’re driving on a lengthy decline, you can put your vehicle into a lower gear to avoid using your brakes as much as possible. Less brake use is always a great idea when roads are icy.
Pay extra attention when passing snow plows and semi trucks, as visibility can be diminished very quickly and for several seconds depending on your speed. Having your wipers on in those moments will help significantly.
Don’t forget about entertainment for the humans on your trip. You can take advantage of local libraries’ digital video and e-book offerings while on the road. You can also check out libraries while on the road. Despite what you may have heard, libraries aren't dead yet!
Taking your horses with you on a winter trip can be fun and exciting for the family and your horses. Just keep in mind that this fun can be ruined very quickly if any kind of accident occurs. However, with a little planning and a few extra safety precautions, this shouldn’t be much of a concern, and you can get on with the fun.
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