Trailering Horses in Winter Weather
Ideally, we’d all be in Ocala or Wellington throughout the winter months, far from the snow and ice that make trailering our horses more difficult in the winter. However, the reality is that we do have to deal with winter weather – breeding season is late winter and early spring for many horse industries, competitions continue through the winter in most horse sports, and emergencies do come up at all times of the year. By taking a few extra steps and planning carefully, trailering horses in winter weather does not have to be a very difficult thing to do.
Check your vehicle and your tires. First of all, always make sure your truck and trailer are ready for the season. Test your heater and lights every time you hook up your truck, as well as checking that all of your trailer’s lights work as they should. Tire pressure is more volatile in cold weather, and good tread is even more important to have when you travel on snow and ice, so keep an eye on your wheels and keep them in good shape. Tire pressure becomes even more important when you’re traveling from cold weather into warmer weather, or vice-versa. Tire blowouts occur due to pressure changes, so be safe and carry a tire gauge to be sure your tires properly inflated. Vehicle batteries are another part that often falls victim to cold weather, so if you’ve got an older battery, be sure to check it occasionally.
Know the rules of the road. In some states and on many major highways, heavy trucks and trailers must have snow chains for their tires throughout the winter months. Be sure you know the rules from your home state and in any states you may be traveling. Even if you don’t anticipate trailering in winter, be sure to know the rules for the roads that would take you to the nearest emergency vet clinic, should the need arise.
Headlights – clean and on. While it may seem like a large truck and trailer are very visible to other drivers, keeping your headlights clean and on whenever you’re on the road is one thing you can do to help increase your visibility on the road. At the very least, be sure your headlights are on in any questionable weather, and always follow the wipers on, lights on rule.
Drive cautiously. While we’re all extra careful when we’re hauling horses, in winter weather, it pays to be extra extra careful. Allow more time to stop and be sure you brake gently, especially in bad conditions. Keep extra following distance and slow down well in advance of lights, curves, or bumpy roads. Driving carefully also means keeping your gas tank full – because you can never be sure of road conditions in winter weather, don’t let it come down to hoping the next gas station you see is open and running at full capacity.
Carry ice scrapers! We all remember the pictures from Aiken in 2014, when a rare ice storm took everyone by surprise. In addition to pictures of firetrucks filling water troughs, there was an image of four star eventer Will Coleman scraping his windshield with a cookie tray! That could have been avoided by having the right equipment in the vehicle.
Keep your trailer ventilated. While it may be tough to open a few windows when it’s very cold outside, remember that horses thrive in cold weather, and a stuffy, damp trailer environment can cause more problems for your horse than letting some air in. Stock trailers may be too open and windy, though, so if you’re hauling in a stock trailer, be sure your horses are dressed appropriately and able to stay warm.
We know that trailering in bad weather is not fun, but if you take your time and remember to check on your truck and be prepared the weather, you’ll increase your chances of having a worry-free trip. And hey, it might help to remember that even the equestrians who fly south for warmer weather have their winter weather struggles!