photo Random horse in downtown Fort Wayne / by Katie / CC BY-NC-SA
Just because Old Man Winter comes calling doesn't mean we don't wish to still remain active with our horses or won't need to haul them somewhere in an emergency. No matter where you live, winter travel can be very unpredictable and safety precautions should be taken to ensure a safe and comfortable ride for both you and your horse.
This week I'm honored to bring you some cold weather hauling help from guest author Dan Kelly. Dan has a knack for horses that he discovered at a friend's stable as a teen. Dan has worked various stable jobs in his younger days at rodeos and race meets. He has experience with horses being hauled across the country. Dan is now retired and keeps two horses of his own in Arizona. With a heart for their strength and grace, he often blogs about general horse care between rodeos and shows, which he now mainly attends as a spectator.
Hauling horses in a trailer is a challenge, no matter what the weather happens to be; however, wintery weather poses its own set of difficulties. The three things smart horse haulers want to keep in mind are the condition of the roads, the condition of the trailer and tow vehicle and the condition of the horse.
The Condition of the Trailer and Tow Vehicle
Be sure to do the following:
- Engine Tune-Up – Take care of your vehicle’s engine, changing the oil every three-thousand miles. Have your mechanic address tune-ups and top off antifreeze. A maintained engine runs smoother.
- Maintain Tires – Check the inflation and integrity of tires before each trip. A full load places stress on trailer and vehicle tires. Mind speeds, rate of turns, and check the air pressure of tires every time you stop, which should be at least every six hours during a long haul.
- Extra Spares – Err on the side of caution, over-preparing for the journey, keeping a few spare tires in tow in case of a blowout or flat. A horrible scenario features you and your animals, stranded and cold on the side of the road, awaiting help.
- Check the Battery – There’s nothing like the cold weather to drain an already-weak vehicle battery. If you have a battery that is more than two years old, be sure to check it before the snow and cold weather sets in.
- Snow Tires and Chains – Check the winter snow tire and chain regulations at the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Motor Vehicles website for each state you travel through. In some states, and on certain highways, vehicles with over 10,000 gross vehicle weight ratings, including vehicles towing trailers are required to carry chains between November 1 and March 31.
The Condition of the Roads
Here’s what you need to know about winter roads:
- Use a GPS – Getting lost costs time and money, as well as adds to the fatigue of animals. Use a GPS system to ensure you’re never too far off course, despite alternate routes, accidents, and unforeseen detours. In addition, bring along a smart phone to access additional driving apps and enabling constant contact with home base.
- Monitor Traffic and Weather – A GPS can get you on the right route, but smart phone applications like Waze, alert you of high traffic; it’s easy to avoid accidents and traffic jams. Know about traffic spots ahead of time, so you can avoid troubling situations and keep animals warm.
Avoid traveling during bad snowstorms or ice storms, if you possibly can. Keep a close watch on your local weather, as well as the weather of your destination, just to be safe. Travel during the warmest part of the day, which is midday, instead of early in the morning or late at night when the sun sets and the roads become icy.
- Winter Driving – Remember the old adage, "In rain, ice, and snow, take it slow." Give yourself extra time in inclement weather. Driving conditions can change on a dime, so be aware of and adjust your driving to the changing conditions. Watch out for black ice and always drive with your headlights on, even if it’s not dark out, for increased visibility.
The Condition of Your Horses
Last, but most certainly not least, be aware of these winter factors and your horses:
- To Blanket or Not to Blanket – One of the toughest choices horse owners have to make is whether or not to blanket a horse. Most horses are comfortable in cold weather and travel well in winter. Pack a few blankets of various weights, so you can change them when the weather varies. Be sure the horse doesn’t sweat too much, as it may become wet and chilled.
If the horse has a full winter coat, they don’t need a blanket for the trailer trip. If your trailer doesn’t have windows that close, use a light blanket or sheet to shield your horse from the wind. If your horse doesn’t have a heavy coat or is body clipped, use the same weight blanket that you normally use.
- Water is Important – Watch for signs of dehydration, checking with the horses every few hours to ensure safety and health. Bring along a bucket and several gallons of drinking water. Some horses prefer to drink outside the heated trailer; so, let animals out to roam free, stretch, drink and reenergize.
- Trailer Ventilation Still Matters – Open all trailer vents, even in the winter. Toxins and heat can build up, especially if you are hauling more than one horse. If in need of a long-distance product, consider a 2-horse gooseneck trailer. Economical trailers only feature slats, yet bigger trailers have windows to offer more ventilation for multiple animals.